Bela Lugosi Discusses His Drug Habit as He Leaves the Hospital in 1955

In 1955 Bela Lugosi was in a sad state. The once-handsome, Hungarian-born star of Dracula had seen his career degenerate over the previous two decades until at last he was reduced to playing a cruel parody of himself in some of the tackiest B horror films ever made. Along the way he picked up a drug habit. In late April of 1955 the 72-year-old actor, destitute and recently divorced from his fourth wife, checked himself into the psychopathic ward at Los Angeles General Hospital. A few days later, in a hearing held at the ward, Lugosi pleaded with a judge to commit him to a state hospital. A United Press article from April 23, 1955 describes the scene:

Although weighing only 125 pounds and only a shadow of his former self, Lugosi’s voice was clear and resonant as he told the court how shooting pains in his legs led him to start taking morphine injections in 1935. Without morphine, he couldn’t work, Lugosi said.

“I started using it under a doctor’s care,” he said. “I knew after a time it was getting out of control.”

“Seventeen years ago, on a trip to England, I heard of Methodone, a new drug. I brought a big box of it back home. I guess I brought a pound,” Lugosi said.

“Ever since I’ve used that, or demerol. I just took the drugs. I didn’t eat. I got sicker and sicker.”

The judge commended Lugosi for taking action to fight his addiction, and committed him to the Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk, a suburb of Los Angeles, for a minimum of three months and a maximum of two years. During his time in the hospital, the old man plotted his comeback. In The Immortal Count: The Life and Films of Bela Lugosi, Arthur Lennig writes:

While at the hospital, Lugosi had been given the script of his next Ed Wood picture, The Ghoul Goes West, a strange concoction in which a mad doctor goes out west to carry out his scheme to make super-creatures out of cowboys and rule the world. The actor looked forward to this forthcoming production, which he believed would begin about ten days after leaving the hospital, and brandished the script as proof that he would start work. “It’s very cute,” he said to the reporters. It probably wasn’t, but Lugosi no doubt believed that all the front page publicity, however notorious, would aid in his comeback, a comeback that would eventually raise him above the lowly ranks of Ed Wood’s shoestring productions. Bela posed for a photograph with the script in one hand while his other hand was dramatically raised in an assertive fist.

The interview above was filmed on August 4, 1955, one day before the actor’s release from the hospital. In the clip, Lugosi smiles and declares himself “a new man.” Less than three weeks later he married his fifth wife, an obsessed fan who reportedly sent him a letter every day he was in the hospital. The Ghoul Goes West never materialized, but Lugosi collaborated with Ed Wood on a couple of other projects, including a movie that some critics would eventually call “the worst film ever made,” Plan 9 From Outer Space. As his hope of a genuine comeback crumbled, Lugosi drank heavily. On August 16, 1956–barely over a year after his release from Metropolitan State Hospital–Lugosi died of a heart attack. He was buried in his Dracula costume.

Several Lugosi films appear on our big list of Free Movies Online.


by | Permalink | Comments (25) |

Comments (25)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  1. Alex says . . . | January 9, 2013 / 11:57 pm

    Drug addiction is the worst..it kills..

  2. Linda says . . . | March 23, 2013 / 11:26 am

    Really wish things had worked out better for him, that he’d had again the career success he wanted; he deserved more. :(

  3. shamrock gamble says . . . | April 16, 2013 / 2:07 pm

    Bela was the best at what he do. Nobody plays Dracula better than Bela!!!!!

  4. Larry Talbot says . . . | May 21, 2013 / 11:47 am

    It is a shame that society dramatized Lagosi. We should let junkies be junkies, booze is what killed the Count , not dope.

  5. Bela lugosi says . . . | October 2, 2013 / 6:40 am

    I love Bu00e9la no matter what anyone says Bu00e9la was the best Dracula ever I’m 12 and I’m literally addicted to Dracula I keep on getting it out at the library I’m still reading the book on my iPad (it’s free on iBooks) every one thinks I’m weird just because I know a lot about Vlad Tepesh but I can’t help myself Dracula is the best and so is the actor who played

  6. Williek says . . . | October 27, 2013 / 6:36 pm

    Willie when I was youngster and a Dracula movie came on TV and the star was Bella Lugosi we would all ways say look the real Dracula in on.

  7. The Pywackett says . . . | November 2, 2013 / 10:07 am

    So does Hoolyweird and it’s lack of compassion.

  8. Justin Swartz says . . . | December 23, 2013 / 12:53 pm

    Be’la Lugosi was a few generations ahead of his time.nToday him and Charlie Sheen would be Winning

  9. William Davidson says . . . | January 17, 2014 / 3:09 pm

    When we think of the count we picture Bela Lugosi and the fact that this one character has made him immortal in the eyes of his fans, he deserved better being one of the greatest actors of his genre, he lives forever in the minds of his fans.

  10. James ayers says . . . | February 20, 2014 / 8:21 am

    He was the best at what he did people should not judge him for his drug habit drug use is a sickness

  11. James ayers says . . . | February 20, 2014 / 8:40 am

    I’m just saying I know first hand I watched my best friend destroy his life by using strong pain killers and smack and methadone and in the end he died all alone in a empty house all alone of a overdose he lost every thing his wife his cars its not just a habit it’s a sick ness and there is no know care

  12. Sandra Pinnel says . . . | March 5, 2014 / 3:24 pm

    Bela Lugosi was an extraordinary stage actor prior to his Count Dracula role in 1931 – he was largely unrecognized and unappreciated for the depth and range that he truly possessed. He was grateful for, and appreciated, his American citizenship and valued America’s liberties. Still, he shined in any role and brought dignity and class to the screen anytime he appeared. Women swooned over his Count Dracula role on stage and in movies, as he evoked a kind of sensual charm & savoir faire along with an aristocratic air of dignity. May he rest in peace.

  13. Vivian McAlexander says . . . | March 8, 2014 / 11:17 am

    Oh my! What an extremely sad and unfortunate ending for one of the greatest actors ever to step on stage or infront of the camera. Bela Lugosi was a beautiful, charming, kind, highly intelligent, hard-working, brave, talented, and ethical man. I grew up watching his movies, and as an adult he is like a dear old friend to me. I too suffer as Bela did with chronic pain as well as addiction to opiate pain meds. The opiates damaged my liver and breathing. Even under a doctor’s care pain meds are very seductive and ease the pain. Later they lose their effectiveness so you want more. I’ve always been against drug abuse, and never intended to be a drug addict. Obviously Bela was no strung-out junkie, and neither was I. It can happen to anyone. I will forever love Bela Lugosi. He was a great man. May Bela be in Heaven with God’s warm and gentle love surrounding him. -Vivian McAlexander

  14. charlie says . . . | June 27, 2014 / 4:11 pm

    Dear Mr Lugosi, I grew up watching your Dracula character-No one has & no one will hold that candle to your seductive hypnotic interpretation. That sleek hair combed back and that voice/priceless. Hollywood forgot to “thank you” for your entertainment But we the people in America will always see you as the one that hypnotized us.. I have never seen a more fantasy driven moment than when you starred in Abbott & Costello meets Frankenstein.. The scene at the door of the castle when you turn from a bat to human form in my words was undeniable amazing considering the year it was produced and the special effect tech that must’ve been used for that little number..And so you were on drugs and so what.. You had pain killers to correct a personal matter and you became addicted.. you had the instinct to go for help and at 74 you tried your best.. thanks for the memories Mr Lugosi.. I didn’t know that you were buried in your Dracula cape.. You are the Count…

  15. Amanda Marsh says . . . | October 26, 2014 / 4:49 pm

    I am a huge fan of Bela Lugosi especially as Dracula. He still is the Best Dracula to me. No offence against Christopher Lee. But to me Bela is and Always be Dracula. “To be dead, to be truly dead why that must be glorious” & “There are far worse things awaiting man than death my friend” & many more. My fave line. “I have chartered a ship to take us to England, we will be leaving, tomorrow evening”.

  16. Amanda Marsh says . . . | October 26, 2014 / 4:51 pm

    “Excellent Mr R Enfield Excellent!!”

  17. Michael T. Cassidy says . . . | October 28, 2014 / 3:26 pm

    Bella was the man !!!
    When it comes to scaring you out of your boots he could do it !!!
    I’m sad to hear the end of such a brilliant life !
    His movies will live on forever !

  18. Cindy Legorreta says . . . | November 6, 2014 / 1:08 pm

    In a documentary I watched a few years ago on Lugosi, they interviewed his son. One of the things I clearly remember: Lugosi Jr. mentioning was, HE always thought his father showed extraordinary courage for candidly speaking about his addiction, originally because of escalating pain meds given for an injury. Then he sought treatment. (remember this was in…what, the 1950’s, right? Long years would pass before “Celebrity Rehab”) Drugs and getting clean from them are not viewed today as they were then. In fact, we who have been through the struggle to get clean/sober can well appreciate just how difficult that can be. And the stigma is nowhere what it was back then. So, my heart goes out to Bela Lugosi. A unique, fine actor who never did resume his career as he should have. For that, all of us are the poorer!

  19. Jam says . . . | November 20, 2014 / 2:42 pm

    why dont you pitty yourselves instead? This men had it all. What did you gain so far out of your coward miserable lives? ask yourselves before you pitty a men for being an addict.

  20. Numbers says . . . | November 26, 2014 / 7:06 pm

    Great comment Jam! I concur.

  21. bela blah blah says . . . | November 27, 2014 / 7:07 pm

    He was a junkie and a drunk and deserved what he got. Boris was king!

  22. Michael Harris says . . . | November 29, 2014 / 11:45 am

    I met Lugosi in 1955 at a theater in San Bernardino Ca. He was charming and polite while signing autographs! He played that great role of Dracula right down to the end. What a professional.

  23. cwoods says . . . | November 29, 2014 / 7:43 pm

    I cant believe so many people liked those old boring movies.

  24. H. Schlitz says . . . | November 30, 2014 / 11:53 pm

    To clarify some misinformation and negative comments above, regarding Béla Lugosi’s addiction and the presumption that there was wealth to be squandered.

    Lugosi became interested in theatre while a teenager and in 1913, at the age of 31, was accepted into The Hungarian National Theatre in Budapest. WWI began in 1914, and although members of the National Theatre were exempt from military service, Lugosi, politically active and patriotic to the extreme, enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian Army as an infantryman. He was promoted to captain in the ski patrol, and one night, while guarding the Russian front, had a violent fall, and injured his lower back. The pain from his lumbar injury was treated with morphine. Lugosi was discharged in 1916, decorated with a Wounded Medal, but his lumbar pain and co-occurring addiction to opiates would plague him for the rest of his life. (Incidentally, Frank Sinatra helped cover Lugosi’s rehab expenses, and visited while he was in treatment, much to Lugosi’s amazement, as they didn’t know each other; Sinatra anonymously paid for Lugosi’s funeral costs).

    Addiction/alcoholism is a progressive mental illness, a disease just as serious and life-threatening as having cancer. When a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, it would be ludicrous to say that something that person chose to have or do caused the cancer. An addict doesn’t choose to be an addict; it’s not a moral consideration. Addiction is hereditary and once triggered, the addict is powerless. In the past 15 years, the topics of addiction and recovery have appeared as never before, frequently part of feature films, scripted TV series, reality programs, talkshows, celebrity tabloid shows, newsmedia, and the infinite amount of information found on the internet. We’ve seen the consequences: the loss of relationships, employment, belongings, and finances; the risk of homelessness, institutionalization, and imprisonment; the final destination point due to the body’s inability to physically compensate or recover, or due to an accident or overdose or alcohol poisoning or suicide, when addiction kills the addict. However, if lucky, an addict can have just enough connection to reality to ask for help and to choose the pursuit of ongoing recovery (no such thing as “recovered” because when you’re a pickle, you can’t go back to being a cucumber).

    Furthermore, Béla never “had it all” even from his start in the USA. Although Lugosi’s seductive, refined, authentically Transylvanian portrayal in the Broadway production & U.S. tour of Dracula from 1927 through 1929 created the buzz for the property, when Carl Laemmle Jr. optioned the rights from Bram Stoker’s widow, he intended to make it a vehicle for Lon Chaney, who died during negotiations. Despite Lugosi’s diligence in campaigning, using his influence to persuade Widow Stoker to give the rights to Laemmle, and his willingness to provide time and talent gratis, for other Universal-related projects, Laemmle didn’t offer Lugosi a contract until the film was already in production. AND, to add insult to insult, the contract offered Lugosi $500 per week for seven weeks. He didn’t try to negotiate, even though the offer was less than that being made by actors in the film’s minor roles. He eventually made some money in the mid to late 1930’s, but success as an actor eluded Lugosi, due to being typecast as Dracula or as villain from Eastern Europe, the change in public taste, the banning of horror films in the UK, and the gossip about his addiction. With intermittently few offers of film roles in the 40’s and early 50’s, and with the responsibility of being the provider for his wife and their only child, Béla Jr., he diversified, often spending months away from home, doing summer stock or regional theatre on the east coast, or appearing as Dracula at screenings or promotional events. But as hard as he worked, he lived the majority of his adult life deeply mired in debt, due to Universal’s typecasting and ruthless compensation system and his own careless spending.

    Without consideration of taxes withheld, Lugosi grossed $3500 for Dracula, the equivalent of $54,672 in inflation-adjusted 2014 dollars. Meanwhile, Béla’s image and voice earned Universal untold millions, from the film’s initial release in 1931, through the ensuing decades of domestic re-releases, televised airings, 16mm rentals, foreign distribution, merchandizing, and as a prominent feature luring SoCal visitors to The Universal Studios Tour. Béla Jr. grew up to be an attorney, and in 1966, brought Lugosi v. Universal Pictures to the California Supreme Court, suing Universal for using personality rights without the heirs’ permission (and without compensation). In 1979, after ELEVEN YEARS of litigation, Jr. won the case. The court awarded him a small settlement of $70,000, ordered Universal to cease any merchandizing or promotional materials in Lugosi’s likeness, and set a precedent for other families. Universal’s legal cabal appealed and within months, the court overturned the decision, ruling that personality rights did not pass to heirs as a copyright would, and that any rights of publicity, including the right to his image, terminated with Lugosi’s death: “the right to exploit one’s name and likeness is personal to the artist and must be exercised, if at all, by him during his lifetime.” Amazingly, there IS a happy ending and Team Lugosi’s ethic ultimately prevailed. Because of Béla Jr.’s efforts, the Lugosi v. Universal Pictures case provided the foundation for the California Celebrities Rights Act of 1986, a civil code that makes a person’s name or likeness an inheritable right, up to 70 years after death.

    Béla Lugosi kicked ass as the underpaid-yet-ultimately-iconic Count Dracula. But maybe even more ass was kicked with the transparency, honesty, courage, and enormous degree of humility he had, in discussing addiction and recovery with the media in 1955, moving that skeleton from the closet to the spotlight. Béla left a legacy of Dracula, of addiction and recovery, and with his son, of respect and financial compensation given to a celebrity’s family when the celebrity is used for corporate profit.

    “The bats have left the bell tower, the victims have been bled. Red velvet lines the black box. The virginal brides file past his tomb, strewn with time’s dead flowers, bereft in deathly bloom, alone in a darkened room, The Count. Béla Lugosi’s dead. Undead undead undead.”

  25. Sh3p says . . . | December 8, 2014 / 6:53 pm

    Sir. Bela Lagosi is Dracula and always will be. He has that on lock down. Off hand I can’t think of any other actor that has played good ole Vlad… even though theres been tons…. ok thats a lie, I guess I remember Gary Oldman. Mr. Lagosi was a phenomenal actor who could play a variety of roles that never were taken advantage enough.
    Anyway, I hate how much the article tears down Eddie Wood (Ed. Wood Jr.). Ed wood was the only director giving Mr. Lagosi work. After hollywood milks Mr. Lagosi and kicks him to the curb Ed took care of him and played a big part in convincing him to get commited. He even had a carrot at the end of the stick being a script ensuring that Mr. Lagosi had something to look forward to as well purpose to defeating his addiction to opiates. I have been clean for years now, so I know how tough it can be, and couldn’t even imagine how it would be in the fifties and I commend him beating the narcs…

Add a comment

Quantcast