“Addiction,” says the man on the phone, “is rampant. It doesn’t discriminate. No one is immune.”
He pauses. Then adds, with a sigh, “It was pretty rampant in my family.”
The man’s name is Bing Crosby. That’s Bing Crosby II, grandson and namesake of the legendary singer and actor.
The famous Bing and family lived, to judge from the parade of magazine spreads of the day, an idyllic life.
Trimmed trees … steaming cocoa … photograph smiles.
But things are never quite what they seem. Not in Hollywood.
As an up-and-coming young crooner, Bing Crosby overindulged in alcohol. This was no great secret — and no rarity. It was the Roaring Twenties, after all, and gin mills abounded.
With a new decade came changes, and in 1930 Bing made a pair of vows. The first, a vow of marriage, was to singer and actress Wilma Wyatt (aka Dixie Lee). The second was a vow of semi-temperance: to dramatically curb his alcohol consumption. While Bing managed the latter with little difficulty, his young wife, her career waning, herself took up the bottle. Despite the interventions of friends and family, Wilma remained a severe, reclusive alcoholic until her death in 1952.
All four of the couple’s sons — Gary, Lindsay, and twins Phillip and Dennis — struggled with addiction. Their frequent brawls, auto-wrecks and arrests attracted more notice than their short-lived Vegas singing act The Crosby Brothers. The publication of Gary’s tell-all memoir Going My Own Way, which alleged serious (and contested) parental abuse, only widened the deepening rift between the brothers.
Not one of the Crosby children was long-lived. Both Lindsay and Dennis ended their brief lives via self-inflicted gunshot wounds in 1989 and 1991, respectively.
The Crosby family story has been a dark one to date. But thanks to Bing Crosby II, it may just have a happy ending.
In one of the aptest imaginable career moves, he’s now the co-owner and CFO of a rehabilitation center.
New Method Wellness is located in the seaside city of San Juan Capistrano, California. Billed as a “dual diagnosis” facility, New Method Wellness treats “the whole body, mind, spirit.” Bing clarifies: “We want to treat the individual, not just the addiction. There’s usually something along with it … something that’s causing it.”
To that end, the team at New Method Wellness — which includes physicians, counsellors and even an art instructor — utilizes a variety of tools, some quite unconventional. These range from traditional cognitive behavioral and group therapy to massage, acupuncture, yoga, and surfing. There’s even Wolf-Assisted Therapy:
“All the clients sit in a big circle. The wolf walks around and interacts with whoever they want. They come up and lick you and want to play. And the handlers are there to deal with any aggression.”
Working at the center has changed Bing’s outlook on the realities of addiction — and his own troubled family.
“My dad [Phillip Crosby] had the lifestyle of an entertainer. He slept during the day and stayed up all night. He definitely relied on pills. Sleeping pills and I don’t know what else. My understanding before New Method Wellness was … if you’re drinking too much, just stop. But now that I’m in the field I realize that it’s definitely something [addicts] can’t control on their own. It’s a disease; they have to learn how to live with it and use the right tools to find a long-lasting solution.”
In a decade of operation, New Method Wellness has seen thousands of addicts come through its doors. While the work is difficult — not every case is a success story — Bing is proud of his new position.
“Overall, I’m just grateful. For me, personally, it’s one of the most gratifying things I’ve ever done. I love helping people. Being able to do that every day is truly amazing. You get the low part — you do lose people. But the high is amazing.”
Before saying goodbye, I ask Bing, of course, how he accounts for his famous grandfather’s enduring popularity.
He thinks for a minute. And at last, answers:
“It was his personality. He was so easygoing. He seemed like a normal guy, someone you could go to lunch with. And the voice. You don’t hear that too often. That deep baritone.”
He lets out a sigh. A happy one, this time.
Rolli is a Canadian writer, cartoonist and songwriter. He’s the author of many acclaimed books for adults and children, including Kabungo and The Sea-Wave. Rolli’s stories, poems, drawings and essays are staples of The Saturday Evening Post, Playboy, The Wall Street Journal, Reader’s Digest, The Walrus, Rattle and other top outlets.