By Cheryl Steinberg
One of the decade’s biggest hits Sons of Anarchy is created and written by Kurt Sutter, an ex food- and drug- addict.
Kurt Sutter, the visionary who has given us the ultraviolent, superbloody motorcycle psychodrama and mega FX hit, is no stranger to pain and drama. Overseeing everything that has anything to do with the show, Sutter doesn’t just write the scenes and dialogue. He’s ‘at the office’ every day discussing with his creative team how each scene will play out – the camera shots and angles and how to make sure each bloody, gory scene is authentic and realistic.
Sons is the biggest hit in the history of the network, averaging 2.6 million viewers an episode in its first season (2008), jumping to 4.5 million its second year, and this fall 10.6 million people watched the premiere of Season Seven.
Before Sons, Sutter was a writer on FX’s The Shield, a Golden Globe-winning series about corrupt L.A. cops, a position he held from 2001 to 2008. Sutter climbed his way through the ranks to an executive producer, but before that he was nobody. A typical day in the life of Kurt Sutter involved churning out spec scripts and attending AA meetings.
And that was about it. Until Shawn Ryan, the show runner of The Shield, called him in for a meeting based on a West Wing spec and quickly snatched him up. Their meeting actually consisted more of Sutter’s past troubles with alcohol and drug addiction than anything else and Ryan quickly realized that the now-sober Sutter could bring “a really fantastic perspective” to his show.
“He became a very, very valuable member of the team,” says Ryan, “though he was definitely not the most beloved member. He wasn’t always the nicest to people in the writers’ room.”
Ryan also added, “There are two Kurt Sutters. There’s the outlaw rebel he likes the world to see, and there’s a more sensitive, thoughtful Kurt. It’s not that the rebel is an act. It’s more like a wish-fulfillment deviation and way to mask the pain from what he was as a kid and a young adult.”
As a kid, Sutter spent most of his time isolating in the basement of his childhood home. His dad was a General Motors executive and was basically emotionally-distant. His mother became a full-blown alcoholic by the time he was 13, and he had two older sisters who weren’t really in the picture.
Sutter says that he started eating obsessively around the time his mother started drinking. “She was my only friend, and when she checked out…I started to eat. Food was my first drug of choice. By the time I was a teenager, I weighed 400 pounds. I didn’t really have a girlfriend.”
“I was very much isolated,” he adds. “My dad was disappointed in me, because I was obese and he was a sports guy. As a result, I spent a lot of time in that basement. I could go down there and escape and be whatever I wanted to be. I had a huge fantasy life. It always involved vengeance. I was really angry, which I coupled with rage and fear, all of which somehow plugged into my imagination.”
After high school – Sutter graduated in 1978 – his eating addiction was still in full swing but he started adding alcohol to the mix. He studied mass media and English at Rutgers, and added exercise and cocaine to his bag of tricks. For the first time, Sutter says he gained some perspective: “I’ve been self-medicating since I came out of the f*cking womb,” he says. “But at a certain point, I realized I’m never gonna get f*cking laid at 400 pounds, and that’s when I flipped the switch on the food addiction and swapped it out. I got down to literally half my size in less than a year. Yeah. I halved my body size and doubled my insanity.”
When Sons began, Sutter, then 40, was sober for nearly a decade. After two years of doing the grunt work, Ryan snagged him and the rest is history; Sutter has finally become just what he was meant to be all along.
“He’s a rock-star show-runner,” says FX president John Landgraf, fondly. “I really love Kurt. We’ve had our big blow-out fights, but he doesn’t go around unconsciously scorching the earth. He’s extremely self-aware and willing to expose the more primitive and unsavory side of his personality. He’s an artist. He’s a provocateur. He’s one of the most entertaining characters there is.”
Recovery from addiction to drugs, alcohol, food – whatever – is possible. And recovery can bring with it so many gifts. What many people don’t realize is that life is livable without substances and that a life of sobriety doesn’t mean just not using. You can finally find your passion(s) and follow through with your goals and dreams. So many successful and even famous people are also in lifelong recovery from drugs and alcohol. Call toll-free 1-800-951-6135 to find out how you can turn your life around today.