A two-part documentary on Australian football star Ben Cousins has drawn millions of viewers. It dramatically captures the player's long-running battle with drug addiction.
The Seven Network's documentary, Such Is Life: The Troubled Times Of Ben Cousins, was watched by 1.996 million viewers, making it the number one program of the evening.
AdvertisementThe documentary easily beat its rivals in the 8:30pm to 9:30pm timeslot. Seven won the Wednesday night ratings with a 32.9 per cent share, leaving Nine well behind in second place with 25.7, the ABC third with 21.7 and Ten fourth with 15.0.
Benjamin Luke Cousins, 32, used to be a top draw with the Australian Football League (AFL) and his football career has been marred by highly-publicised off-field incidents involving recreational drug use, traffic convictions and association with criminal elements. On several occasions he was fined or sanctioned by his club, the West Coast Eagles, culminating in his contract's termination in October 2007. A month later he was banned from AFL for one year by the AFL Commission for "bringing the game into disrepute." Cousins was cleared to return to football in 2008, but he is retiring next week.
In the documentary, Cousins bares his soul and he doesn't dodge any of his tawdry fall from grace: from his relationship with underworld identity John Kirzon to his failed attempts at rehabilitation, to being rushed to a Los Angeles hospital following a five-day bender.
More controversially, the documentary shows Cousins taking drugs and explaining how he thought he was entitled to indulge in drugs because he trained and played so hard for his team.
He said he viewed the use of illicit drugs as an incentive to bust his gut and look forward to using them as a "ultimate reward" for hard work.
Cousins said he started using illegal drugs when he was "17 or 18" and went into it with as much passion as he put into his football.
"I was taking drugs regularly and hard," he said. "I may have been predisposed to this (addiction) before I picked up a drug.
"From that very first time it opened up a gateway for me that very quickly, if not instantly, became an obsession."
He said his drug of choice was cocaine, but valium and the anti-anxiety medication, xanax, were also part of his regular intake.
"I don't think I'd had any sleep for six nights," he says of infamously passing out outside Crown Casino in December 2006. "I'd been on a lot of cocaine. A lot of ice. I remember one of the coppers asking for my name. I said it's Ben Cousins. The female copper said, 'Ben Cousins doesn't look like that'. I remember ripping my shirt off and saying, 'Well, he did a week ago'. Even then, I still wasn't realising what I really am or aware of what I'm grappling with."
He beat a pivotal drug test in 2008 with a newly shaved head. In the final instalment he revealed he had been paranoid about the test, which could detect illicit drug use in the previous three months. He was determined the test would be negative.
He was then shown getting his head shaved by a hairdresser, and then asking the hairdresser to keep it secret. In the next scene, Cousins feigns ignorance when the woman who arrives to test him is aghast that he has shaved his head and has no other body hair long enough to test.
It was filmed over a two year period by Cousins and co-producer Michael Gudinski and directed by Paul Goldman.
Gudinski said the film would send a "powerful message to young people about drugs".
"It's a cautionary tale - the inside story of a superstar footballer who made some bad choices along the way and ended up in a titanic struggle with drug addiction," he said.
The AFL said it supported Cousins' documentary and the message it had portrayed to the community.
"If one person seeks help as a result of this documentary, then it has created benefit," AFL's general manager of football operations Adrian Anderson. Anderson said.
"If one person has a better understanding of addiction and that it is an illness that needs to be treated, then it is a benefit.
"If one player, one kid thinks twice before trying drugs as a result of this, then it is a good thing."
Seven reportedly paid $800,000 for the controversial documentary and promoted it during popular family shows such as Packed to the Rafters.
During the program the network ran drug and alcohol counselling service numbers, but that hasn't stopped some medical experts from saying the program is irresponsible as it shows actual drug use.
But John Rogerson, a commentator wrote, If there's one thing I've come away with after watching this program, it's the reminder that parents have a strong role to play around their kids' drug use.
"Cousins had a big support network and was able to seek treatment, two things I'm sure have kept him alive.
"Parents are not powerless and can gather the right information to educate kids and support those with a problem. One of the most powerful things parents can do is set an example by our own drug use. When we use pharmaceuticals, alcohol or tobacco, we are setting the tone for our kids - whether there is a respect towards drugs and potential harms.
"There is a lot parents can do to become more informed on the issue of illicit drugs.
"...Cousins had lost control. His drug problem almost cost him his life, his football career and his family.
"Documentaries like this might help us understand the difficulties that people who use drugs face.
We must start treating this issue as a health problem."