Hunter Biden’s memoir started trickling into the world today. Controversy has dogged the President’s 51-year-old son for the last few years, from a public struggle with drug addiction to the conservative media frenzy around his business dealings in Ukraine. Biden tackles all that and more in Beautiful Things, writing with a rare candor about the lowest and ugliest parts of his life. That includes moments as recent as the time in 2018 when he plucked parmesan cheese out of the rug in his room at the Chateau Marmont and smoked it, thinking it was crack.
Feeling trapped in the Beltway, Biden had flown to California in the spring of 2018 intending to settle down and start fresh. “I wanted a new place to be lost in and a certain level of anonymity. I wanted to get away from Washington and every bad reminder and influence there. I wanted to go someplace that wasn’t always gray. I wanted a do-over. I planned to find a rental, settle in, and stay.” he writes. “Instead, I holed up inside the Chateau for the first six weeks and learned how to cook crack.”
Biden was aware of the Chateau Marmont’s reputation. It’s the creme de la creme of LA hotels and a luxe hangout for Hollywood talent, but it also has a reputation as a den for hedonism—John Belushi famously overdosed there in 1982 and Jim Morrison allegedly jumped out a window before overdosing in Paris shortly thereafter. “I was acutely aware of the hotel’s more depraved history,” he writes. “It was part of the attraction.”
The Chateau Marmont is good for many things—a COVID bunker, a splurge vacation, spotting Keanu Reeves. For Biden, it turned into a pretty good place to cook crack: “I became absurdly good at it—guess that 172 on my LSAT counted for something.” The hotel bungalows offer privacy and fully functional kitchen amenities, whether hosting an exclusive dinner party for movie stars or boiling cocaine with baking soda. For Biden, cooking at the Chateau was much safer than what he was doing before, i.e. driving into dangerous parts of Los Angeles alone at ungodly hours for a fix. Instead, he settled into a steady rhythm of poolside highs. “I didn’t leave the Chateau’s lush hillside grounds for a week or more at a time,” he writes. “I cooked and smoked, cooked and smoked.”
Unsurprisingly, things started to spiral. The parmesan story is illustrative:
I’d reach for rocks I’d left on a bedside table and then find, to my horror, that they’d been blown all over the room—somebody left a door or a window open. I’d get down on my hands and knees to scan the floor and comb through the rug with my fingers. Half the time I had no idea what I was picking up: Is this a flake of Parmasean from the cheese platter we ordered last night? Or crack?
It didn’t matter: I smoked it. If it was crack, great. If it wasn’t, I’d take a hit, exhale, and exclaim: “Shit, that’s not it—that’s the fucking cheese!”
Eventually Biden left the Chateau to bounce around hotels and AirBnBs, trolling around LA between midnight and sunrise. He built a reputation, and hanger-ons started to roll through his luxury hotel rooms:
An ant trail of dealers and their sidekicks rolled in and out, day and night. They pulled up in late-series Mercedes-Benzes, decked out in oversized Raiders or Lakers jerseys and flashing fake Rolexes. Their stripper girlfriends invited their girlfriends, who invited their boyfriends.
When they finished, two or three days later, they’d walk out with the hotel’s monogrammed towels and throw pillows and comforter and ashtrays.
Biden was left scrounging for friendship from strangers, but they too ended up spending his money or just stealing it:
Once in a great while, some tender, desperate soul would float into the room who still seemed to possess a trace of kindness or concern. I’d wake up and find all my clothes folded and put back in the chest of drawers. I’d think, “Wow, she is really sweet.” Then I’d find out she folded my clothes after through all my pockets, taking everything and anything she could find. Others did the same thing with my bags or my car. Just cleaned them out.
I lost count of the stolen wallets and credit cards. Charges rolled in: Gucci loafers, an $800 sport coat, Rimowa luggage.
Ultimately, Biden credits his deceased brother Beau as the inspiration behind his turnaround. In moments of relative clarity, Hunter wrote letters to his brother, which helped him come to terms with his addiction. With support from his family, especially his dad (the uh, current President of the United States) and his uncle, he eventually checked into a rehab facility in Brentwood.
“The self-loathing of that world only perpetuates itself. I wasn’t without an understanding of the depravity of it,” writes Biden. “It makes you hard in a way that’s difficult to come back from. You’re basically banishing your better self. Once you decide that you’re the bad person everyone thinks you’ve become, it’s hard to find the good guy you once were.”
The awful bits pile up in Beautiful Things. Profiles in Courage this is not. Hunter Biden has experienced some harrowing shit. But his willingness to look back on his ugliest moments without blinking is a genuine achievement. In the past 4 years, we’ve seen plenty of political memoirs with lurid details and wild accusations from those close to the Oval Office. But few have been so honest about their most humiliating moments and open about the hard, slow work of healing and reconciliation.
“My lesson after a spring and summer of nonstop debauchery: no lesson at all,” writes Biden. “Just that it was awful. Unimaginably awful.”
These days, Biden’s living sober in California with his wife Melissa Cohen. Despite the ugliness of spring 2018, something turned him on to the peace that the state could offer. In between binges, he thought, “This was a place of beautiful things, if only I could keep my eyes open long enough to appreciate them.”