Tag Archives: heroin

Johnny On the Spot

By the late 1990s heroin was cheaper, purer, and stronger than it had ever been. Twenty dollars would buy two bags, or “enough to make a beginner feel good all night. As youth icons Kurt Cobain and River Phoenix succumbed to romantic and widely publicized heroin addictions, the fashion world glamorized a beauty ideal known as heroin chic. Junk was intrinsic to the zeitgeist of the age

In prior decades, a heroin high was achievable only through direct injection, but the potent heroin of the 90s was easily smoked or snorted casually at parties.  Unsurprisingly, the decade witnessed a surge in casual teen use of the drug.

The Partnership knew what they wanted as their poster child for heroin addiction: a nice suburban teenager from a typical all-American family.  They needed a kid who had gotten hooked on heroin the 90s way—not by shooting up, but by snorting or smoking the drug once at a party—and who was now a full-blown addict.  The Partnership needed to make an example of someone for America’s youth, and they needed a junkie with puppy dog eyes to serve as a warning.

The Partnership called Jon Kane to find this kid.

Jon knew that junkies love sugar and money.  He went to Tompkins Square Park and advertised that he had more than enough of both; soon, Jon had booked two solid days of meetings with homeless addicts.  He held the interviews at the old opticnerve™ studios on 22nd Street with a large bowl of cookies, a wallet full of $20 bills, and the help of his pretty assistant.

Jon still has a stack of DAT tapes of these interviews stored behind the DJ booth in the studio.  There is no DAT player; the tapes haven’t been heard in years.  What they contain, Jon says, is “All real sad, all real desperate.”

After two days of unhappy stories, Jon found five young addicts who fit the profile The Partnership wanted.  He told them each that, if selected, they would need to go to rehab after the shooting was done.  All the kids had been in and out of rehab more than once and Jon asked each one why this time was different.  Johnny said it was different because this was national television.   “Nobody else said that,” said Jon.  He believed in Johnny the most.

Jon called Johnny’s family to ask their permission to shoot.  Johnny’s father said he was a good kid and not to trust him at all.  Johnny’s tiny Italian grandmother gave Jon her blessing.

Johnny never got high, only sick when he didn’t have heroin. Once you’ve done enough heroin, you never get high.

Heroin costs money, and you do different things to get it.  Some junkies steal meat from large chain grocery stores and sell it to the bodegas that line Manhattan’s streets– they call this cattle rustling.  Johnny stole lots of things, but mostly books, because he liked reading; there’s a name for that too, but Jon doesn’t remember what it is.

Jon needed to keep Johnny in one place and out of prison for a week so they could film.  Jon got Johnny a motel room and paid him to stay there.  Not wanting Johnny to overdose, Jon sent the money to the motel in $20 increments via his assistant. He didn’t know how much heroin $20 would buy or for how many people;  Jon’s assistant told him she needed to go there every three hours, and she did.

This arrangement seemed to work out well.

There’s Johnny.

Once the week was out, Jon had the footage he needed.  It would be two weeks before the government-run rehab had an opening.  Jon gave Johnny $150 and told him to take the PATH train back to New Jersey and call when he got home.  Johnny promised.  They had become very close.  They hugged goodbye.

Jon waited by the phone all night and into the early hours of the morning. The phone didn’t ring.  Johnny didn’t get home.


Mariah Carey Lets Her Hair Down


In 1973, Mariah Carey was three years old and learning to sing by practicing Verdi’s Rigoletto in Huntington, Long Island. Jon Kane was eleven and sitting on his front porch in Pittsburgh with his hand wrapped in an Ace bandage. In East Bruinswick, New Jersey, “Johnny” was still three years away from being born.  Mariah would grow up to become the bestselling female vocalist of the millenium, Jon would become a ski-racer, then a DJ, then a film editor, and Johnny would become a junkie.

Anyone who has ever done heroin will tell you it is the world’s most beautiful feeling, but most people prefer to listen to Mariah Carey. That’s why Jon Kane met Mariah, in 1998, and why, thirteen years later, over 60% of readers on the opticnerve™ blog voted to hear a story about a famous singer instead of a junkie.  (We don’t have a childhood photo for “Johnny,” but that doesn’t matter.  His story ends here.)


It was 1998 and Jon was filming a series of promotional spots for VH1: Behind the Music.  Earlier in the year, he had interviewed Jewel in Alaska surrounded by her close family and organized a surprise reunion between John Cougar Mellencamp and some of his long lost childhood friends. When Jon’s not beating them at arm wrestling, he likes to film his celebrity subjects off their guard.

Mariah Carey feels most at home in water.  At least, that’s what she had her people tell Jon Kane. That’s why he arranged to shoot her in a rooftop pool.

Jon was to meet Mariah at 8:00 PM in Manhattan, the day after his second daughter was born.  The hotel rooftop was cleared of civilians and the lights and equipment set up.  Nine o’clock passed, then ten, then midnight.  Finally, at two in the morning, Mariah—along with an entourage of twenty— made her entrance. They had come from a night on the town and the atmosphere was festive, if unprofessional.  Mariah was in what Jon would describe delicately as “a party kind of mood.”

She was wearing a one-piece bathing suit and jeweled stiletto heels and armed with an uncompromising manager and an exacting contract.  “You can’t get her hair wet,” everyone kept saying.  Jon tried to film Mariah on an inflatable raft but that didn’t work.  She was unfocused; her entourage was noisy; it was three in the morning; it was getting later.

Finally Jon put his foot down and insisted that everyone leave.  Except for Mariah and her manager, everyone did.  And then, very quickly, they captured the intimate scene you see here.

Jon didn’t say anything when Mariah dipped her head in the water, but he did ask her about those shoes.  “It’s fine,” she said.

Then everybody went home: Jon to his new baby girl, Mariah to her mysterious dreams. “Johnny” was somewhere in New Jersey, asleep on a doorstep, his story erased before it had ever been told.