Joe and Marjorie Walsh were honored Monday night by the nonprofit Facing Addiction with NCADD for their support of the recovery movement and their efforts to raise awareness about drug and alcohol abuse.
And they got a little help from their friends, namely the Eagle’s brother-in-law, Ringo Starr, Vince Gill and Michael McDonald, during a fundraising gala supporting the work of the recently combined advocacy groups offering a range of services and programs focused on prevention, treatment and reform.
The soon to be 70-year-old Walsh, with a lift from Gill, McDonald and the younger Butch Walker, entertained the crowd under the twinkling chandeliers of the Rainbow Room with a few rock standards, including Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good,” as Ringo and his wife, Barbara Bach Starkey, watched from a table near the small stage.
Walsh, sober for 25 years, told his own story of alcohol and drug dependence, as did his wife when she introduced him to the crowd, many of whom have been touched in some way by addiction. He told of his rocky childhood in the 1950s struggling against what are now recognized as attention-deficit disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and Asperger’s syndrome.
“There was no awareness of what that was. … You were just difficult. I was difficult,” he said. “I was different that way from the other kids, and because of that I was terrified. I was truly terrified because I felt stupid and alone and that nobody understood. … In my late teenage years I tried to play guitar in front of some people and I couldn’t do it. I was so scared. I could not do it. I hyperventilated. I started shaking. I started crying.”
But Walsh said he eventually discovered that after “a couple beers,” he could. “That planted the seed. I thought alcohol was a winner.” In college he came across cocaine and other substances and soon began writing well received albums. “And later on when I did an album that didn’t do so good I thought, well obviously I’m not drinking nearly as much as I need to.”
“My higher power became vodka and cocaine,” Walsh said, until he hit rock bottom. “I burned all the bridges. Nobody wanted to work with me. I was angry. … I turned into this godless, hateful thing.”
That’s when he sought the help of Alcoholics Anonymous. There, “I met some old timers,” he said, his voice cracking at times. “Gradually they showed me that I’m not a unique individual, one-of-a-kind person. I’m just an alcoholic, and for the first time in my life I felt like I was somewhere where I belonged.”
Walsh said he chose to drop the traditional anonymity of AA members to help others, and because “most of the world knew I was a mess anyway.”
Walsh and his wife, who is the sister of Bach Starkey, helped launch Facing Addiction on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in 2015. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence was founded in 1944.
Ringo, also a recovering addict and alcoholic, didn’t perform but told The Associated Press in an interview before the evening got under way that he, too, wants to help people before they hit rock bottom. As a Beatle, he said, it didn’t take long for the band to realize drugs and alcohol did nothing for the music.
“We did try some nights to play bombed. It was useless,” he said. “The next morning you’d go, oh my god are you crazy.”
The Walshes received the Adele C. Smithers Humanitarian Award, named for a longtime advocate of the cause and a former board member of the NCADD. Past recipients include Meryl Streep, former first lady Betty Ford and John Larroquette.