Bono and Richard Harris: Irish Connectedness and Harm Reduction


Two Irish superstars who have led very different lives each illustrate the power of local connection in dealing with alcohol

Stanton Peele, Ph.D.

The Life Process Program

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At the end of his interview with Norah O’Donnell in the pub in the Irish village where he grew up, rockstar Bono and O’Donnell were joined by Bono’s wife. A server brought the three of them each a Guinness. How Irish!  Guinness is regarded as a proud national treasure and symbol in Ireland. 

Wait a second!  Isn’t Bono “sober”? That’s what he announces publicly, including during his interview with sober David Letterman in Letterman’s recent feature about Dublin. (In which, BTW, community drinking was ubiquitous.)

Maybe an Irish person and a Midwestern American like Letterman don’t mean the same thing when they say they’re sober.  Bono apparently doesn’t seem to count Guinness as drinking. Bono — the whole Irish culture — is about harm reduction around Guinness!  

The point of having the interview in his hometown pub was to emphasize Bono’s connectedness. He still plays with his original band mates who are from this part of Ireland. He has remained married to the same woman he met in that early period.  Bono’s emotional life has been very local, and stable, even as he became an international artistic and political figure.

That stability hasn’t been present for another well known Irishman: actor Richard Harris. Harris has wandered and worked widely, throughout the UK,  US and Europe. He even retired to the Bahamas for a time before he returned to Ireland.

Harris’s life was marked by great turmoil.  Harris was married and divorced twice, while remaining single the latter part of his life. Most notably his career and life were marred by his howling, self-harming drinking during his heyday.  Thankfully he stopped drinking, a fact he often described publicly, along with his alcohol-fueled misadventures.

However, in his late years, as a grandfather and part of an ensemble cast in the worldwide mega-hit Harry Potter series, he returned to Ireland. He began to frequent his local pub for a Guinness. He was seemingly drawn there: “My dead relatives would be turning over in their graves if they knew I was still walking the earth and not drinking Guinness!”

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My memoir is titled A Scientific Life on the Edge: My Lonely Quest to Change How We See Addiction.

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