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Stephen Gaghan

Stephen Gaghan

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Also Known As: Died:
Born: May 6, 1965 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Louisville, Kentucky, USA Profession: screenwriter, author, director, script reader, receptionist

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Having launched his career on television, screenwriter and director Stephen Gaghan wrestled with his personal demons to emerge as the Oscar-winning writer of the acclaimed sociopolitical crime epic, "Traffic" (2000). Before that, Gaghan had risen up the ranks as a staff writer on popular shows like "New York Undercover" (Fox, 1994-98), "NYPD Blue" (ABC, 1993-2005) and "The Practice" (ABC, 1997-2004), only to hit rock bottom with his heroin and crack addictions, which forced him to finally reach out and seek recovery. When he did, Gaghan shifted gears to features, starting with the military courtroom thriller "Rules of Engagement" (2000), before working with director Steven Soderbergh on the sprawling "Traffic," which became a critical darling and box office hit. From there, he became much in demand as a script doctor on numerous studio films while continuing to move on his own projects. Gaghan sat down in the director's chair for the first time with the little-known teen thriller "Abandon" (2002) before earning the dubious distinction of being credited as one of the screenwriters on "The Alamo" (2004), one of the biggest box office flops of all time. But he redeemed himself with his second directing...

Having launched his career on television, screenwriter and director Stephen Gaghan wrestled with his personal demons to emerge as the Oscar-winning writer of the acclaimed sociopolitical crime epic, "Traffic" (2000). Before that, Gaghan had risen up the ranks as a staff writer on popular shows like "New York Undercover" (Fox, 1994-98), "NYPD Blue" (ABC, 1993-2005) and "The Practice" (ABC, 1997-2004), only to hit rock bottom with his heroin and crack addictions, which forced him to finally reach out and seek recovery. When he did, Gaghan shifted gears to features, starting with the military courtroom thriller "Rules of Engagement" (2000), before working with director Steven Soderbergh on the sprawling "Traffic," which became a critical darling and box office hit. From there, he became much in demand as a script doctor on numerous studio films while continuing to move on his own projects. Gaghan sat down in the director's chair for the first time with the little-known teen thriller "Abandon" (2002) before earning the dubious distinction of being credited as one of the screenwriters on "The Alamo" (2004), one of the biggest box office flops of all time. But he redeemed himself with his second directing effort, "Syriana" (2005), in which he again took a complex sociopolitical issue - Middle Eastern oil - and turned it into a complex, but personal drama that earned both critical praise and box office success. Gaghan's ability to weave labyrinth interlocking stories into highly-relatable entertainment made him one of the most sought-after and highly praised screenwriters of his day.

Born on May 6, 1965 in Louisville, KY, Gaghan was raised by his mother, Elizabeth, and his father, Stephen, whom she divorced in 1980. He attended the Kentucky Country Day School, a Louisville-based college preparatory school where he was a member of the state's all-star soccer team before beginning his descent into alcohol and drug addiction. On his last day of his senior year, Gaghan was expelled from Kentucky Country Day for allegedly driving a go-cart through the hallways. After later receiving his GED, he went to the University of Kentucky before attending Babson College, a private business school in Massachusetts. Because he was the grandson of Jerry Gaghan, a newspaper columnist and critic for both Variety and the Philadelphia Daily News, Gaghan harbored ambitions to become a writer. Eventually, he connected with writing partner Michael R. Perry, and made his debut on the small screen with a script for an episode of "New York Undercover" (Fox, 1994-98). The pair quickly segued to the positions of story editor and writers for the short-lived cult drama "American Gothic" (CBS, 1995-96) and the acclaimed procedural "NYPD Blue" (ABC, 1993-2005).

During their one-season stint on "NYPD Blue," Gaghan and Perry shared an Emmy Award with executive producer David Milch for the "Where's Swaldo?" episode. Meanwhile, the writing team moved over to David E. Kelley's successful legal drama, "The Practice" (ABC, 1997-2004), where they collaborated as story editors and occasional script writers, only to move on again and find their momentum tempered by the quickly cancelled "Sleepwalkers" (NBC, 1997). But by this time in his life, Gaghan's drug addiction began taking its toll. Having been arrested some 20-30 times over the years on various misdemeanor charges, Gaghan found himself staring death in the face on several occasions. He once tried to rob a crack dealer, only to have the tables turned when the dealer pulled a gun. Another dealer went so far as to put a knife to his throat. While those experiences were not enough to convince him to change course, Gaghan hit rock bottom when he discovered over the course of five days that all three of his heroin dealers had been arrested, leaving him high and dry. While locked in the bathroom contemplating suicide, Gaghan found the strength to call a friend who happened to be the only person he knew that had quit drugs. His reaching out marked Gaghan's start upon the long road to recovery.

Gaghan segued to the big screen with his first writing credit on the horror sequel "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer" (1998). He moved on to write "Rules of Engagement" (2000), an old-fashioned military courtroom drama directed by William Friedkin and based on an idea from former U.S. Navy Secretary James Webb. Though the film enjoyed some success, it was nothing compared to his second screenplay of that year. For "Traffic" (2000), helmed by Steven Soderbergh, Gaghan turned a six-hour British television miniseries from 1989 into an engrossing, multilayered, critically acclaimed examination of the seeming futility of the War on Drugs. Drawing from his own experiences as an addict, Gaghan wove together the strands of three separate stories on both sides of the Mexican-U.S. border: a relatively honest Tijuana cop (Benecio Del Toro) struggling to balance his professional loyalties with his personal ethics; a San Diego socialite (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who takes over her husband's drug smuggling business after facing the threat of losing everything; and an Ohio jurist (Michael Douglas) newly appointed as the nation's new drug czar, who finds himself fighting a war on drugs much closer to home when his teenage daughter (Erika Christensen) succumbs to addiction. Both richly complex and deeply intimate, "Traffic" struck a chord with both audiences and critics, becoming not only a box office hit, but also an Oscar winner, with Gaghan being rewarded with the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Gaghan was in demand following his triumph with "Traffic," particularly as a script doctor, which led to writing uncredited drafts for movies like "Black Hawk Down" (2001) and "Phone Booth" (2003). He made his directing debut with the thriller "Abandon" (2002), crafted from his script about a reckless college student (Charlie Hunnam) whose disappearance leads a detective (Benjamin Bratt) to conclude something more sinister has happened. He moved on to write "The Alamo" (2004), an overinflated endeavor about the famed battle during the Texas Revolution that earned considerable critical scorn en route to becoming one of the biggest box office flops in cinema history. After receiving story credit on the teen-themed melodrama "Havoc" (2005), Gaghan assumed the director's chair for the second time for "Syriana" (2005), another complicated, multi-character exploration of a politically charged subject: this time the behind-the-scenes machinations over Middle Eastern oil. The result was an intriguing exploration of the issue through various points of view, including a burnt-out CIA agent (George Clooney) abandoned by the government he served; an idealistic analyst (Matt Damon) who becomes obsessed with helping an oil-rich nation develop after the death of his son; and a canny attorney (Jeffrey Wright) investigating the propriety of an oil deal. The result was another critically acclaimed hit that earned Gaghan a nomination for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards. After several years removed from feature filmmaking, Gaghan returned to television as the creator of "S.I.LA." (NBC, 2011- ), a procedural that followed the intertwined worlds of politics, law enforcement and crime in contemporary Los Angeles.

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
  Syriana (2005) Director
2.
  Abandon (2002) Director

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Alfie (2004)
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Raised in Louisville, Kentucky
:
While attending college in Massachusetts, began catalog company called Fallen Empire Inc; company eventually failed
:
Moved to NYC
1992:
Arrested on felony drug charges for possession of cocaine and heroin in October; later pleaded guilty to lesser charges of drug possession; sentenced to conditional discharge
1993:
Settled in L.A.
1995:
With Michael R Perry, served as story editor and teleplay writer for the short-lived CBS series "American Gothic"
:
Was on writing staff of the ABC drama "NYPD Blue"; shared Emmy award for the "Where's Swaldo?" episode; Perry also contributed to award-winning script
:
Served as executive story editor and occasional writer on the ABC drama series "The Practice"; continued collaboration with Michael R Perry
1997:
Served as co-producer on the extremely short-lived (two episode) run of the NBC series "Sleepwalkers"; also co-wrote episodes
2000:
Feature film debut as screenwriter, "Rules of Engagement"
2000:
Penned the screenplay for "Traffic", based on the British miniseries "Traffick"; as he told <i>The New York Times</i> (February 5, 2000), some aspects of the film were based on his own experiences as a drug addict; received Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay
2002:
Made feature directorial debut with "Abandon"; also scripted
2005:
Helmed the geopolitical thriller "Syriana," based on the real-life memoirs of CIA agent Robert Baer and starring George Clooney and Matt Damon; earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Kentucky Country Day School: Louisville , Kentucky - 1983

Notes

Gaghan had his short story, "The Year With No Winter", published in The Iowa Review in 1990.

On his upbringing in Louisville, Gaghan (who admits to having "an addictive personality"), told the Los Angeles Times (January 7, 2001):

"It's a town where smoking cigarettes is jingoistic," he says, referring to the local tobacco industry. "It's a city that's all about booze, tobacco and horse racing. . . .

"In Louisville, there are a lot of euphemisms. I remember when an aunt or an uncle would disappear for two weeks, we were told, they were 'taking the waters,' which I later learned meant they were drying out somewhere. It was a hard-drinking environment. In Kentucky, you learn how to drink bourbon."

"People were asking me about where the movie came from, where I got the characters and situations for 'Traffic,' and I found myself starting to speak in code," he said. He would talk about research he had done in the drug culture, about unnamed acquaintances, but he never admitted the core truth: that a lot of it came from his own life.

"Part of the recovery process is a commitment to truth, and I began to feel that I was not being truthful," he said. "The stigma and shame of drug addiction is part of what makes it difficult for people to raise their hand and ask for help, and I felt that by not being completely honest I was, in a way, perpetuating that stigma." --From The New York Times, February 5, 2000.

Gaghan estimates that he had been arrested some 20 to 30 times for misdemeanor charges related to his addictions, including three D.U.I.'s.

"I smoked crack in my office on the Universal lot, always with some heroin to even it out," he said. "I smoked crack in my office on the Fox lot. Oh God, what are people going to think when they read this? I will never work in this town again." --Gaghan to Rick Lyman, quoted in "The Screenwriter for 'Traffic' Says He Drew on His Past of Drug Use" in The New York Times, February 5, 2001.

Companions close complete companion listing

companion:
Michael McCraine. Photographer. Met during his recovery process from drug addiction.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Tom Hague.
mother:
Betty Hague.
son:
Gardner Gaghan. Born c. April 2000.

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