Found last weekend overdosed on a cocktail of cocaine and performance enhancers in a brothel 70 miles outside of Vegas, former NBA star and Kardashian-in-law Lamar Odom is hospitalized with a prognosis uncertain. Personally, I hope he pulls through because nobody, beyond fictional characters, deserves to have their narrative stitched into the fabric of the saddest of all American clichés.
Like an old dog who crawls under the porch, Lamar Odom went to Vegas to die.
It’s not an unusual thing. In Las Vegas, death by suicide happens twice as much as anywhere else in the country. One recent study revealed that 600,000 suicides have have taken place in Vegas over the last three decades and that doesn’t include the “accidental” overdoses, collisions, falls, chokings, drownings and failure(s) to simply wake up.
Within the construct of our American Life, until we make physician-assisted suicide the law of the land, Las Vegas is the quickest, most convenient—and in some not-so-obvious ways—the most socially acceptable place to perish. Vegas is marketed as a Lost Weekend and, no matter what age or layer of the socio-economic strata one occupies, the sandpapery side of human behavior, the kind that you don’t want the rest of the vanpool to find out about, is accepted, encouraged even.
But there are limits. The way the mass of us dump out of our coach seats and into cabs and into casinos and into shows and back into cabs and back onto the flight in itself is limiting. We might as well just stand in one long circular line in the desert and give our pittance to grubby strangers as we go. We are hamstrung by lines of credit and the flickering 3 a.m. memory that this trip is nothing more than Christmas Tree lights and corn syrup. Our real life: the visits to the eye doctor and the less-than-year-old flatscreen that’s on the fritz and the magazine drives, is what waits. And so we scoop out a pleasant kind of mourning at the comped buffet, grab a Starbucks, pack up the carry-on and head on back.
Except when we don’t. Except when there are no limits.
Mike Figgis was on to something in 1995 with Leaving Las Vegas—an adaption of a John O’Brien novel that somehow 20 years later still resonates. Nicholas Cage’s Ben Sanderson, an onset middle-aged screenwriter on the back nine of his relevance in Hollywood finds addiction and proceeds to lose his family, home and prospects. Even his once loyal court does a very public shedding of Ben’s skin in the first act. He’s got nowhere to go and nothing to do but jump on the 15 east, stop in Barstow to load up on booze and melt his way into Sin City. It’s a crawl of desperation that leads him to find temporary shelter in the arms of an equally sliding, though overall better off, call girl.
The story ends how it should, the deconstruction of the American three-act: Success, failure and redemption; just add Vegas and redemption turns to demise. That’s the narrative, that’s the pattern. That’s the plan. Because nobody leaves Vegas a winner. Be it as simple as a transactional loss to something as difficult as trying to gauge how much of your body and soul you left behind—and how long it might take, if ever, to recoup through your daily doings.
Lamar Odom was leaning into that third act as he took his post-fame brand to Vegas several weeks ago and played the familiar hand. He surrounded himself with randoms—the most harmful of all apologists. He fell into the clutches of the carnival barker brothel owner Dennis Hof. And don’t be mistaken, Dennis Hof is the devil himself, disguised as the grim reaper—or maybe it’s the other way around.
Odom had fading-star status and that granted him access to the clubs and the drugs and the drink and the women in such grandiose amounts that it’d either end up the friends-shaking-heads segment before the break on his 30-for-30 or Boyz II Men belting one over his 7-foot hole in the ground.
Hanging out with Vegas types as you’re climbing the ladder in reverse is the good-idea equivalent to walking into your local 7-Eleven at 1:30 a.m. and inviting everyone in there up for a sleepover. Odom’s sad choice comes with a media chase complete with cloying, detached headlines like USA Today’s: Lamar Odom’s friends are hoping for him to rebound. Get it? These unhealthy missives envelop the actual people in his life who continue to fall into whatever vicious nightmare Odom’s lived from the first time the E! camera got shoved down his maw a little more than a half-decade ago.
Like celebrity itself, we continue to accept Vegas and all the awful it implies because it’s a lot like life insofar that you don’t play the hand you deserve, you play the hand you get. Maybe Odom discovered that right in time.
Maybe he discovered it a little too late.