Films from Eszterhas’ screenplays have grossed over one billion box office dollars. Time Magazine once called him “America’s king of sex and violence.” Jack Valenti, the late head of the Motion Picture Association, once labeled him “desperately ill and in need of medical attention.”
Once Hollywood’s highest-paid screenwriter, Eszterhas has said he’s “been a bad boy all my life. I was the king-daddy of sex and violence, the wild hair, the rogue elephant, the drinking, drugging, wild man, the cocaine cowboy.”
Eszterhas’ Hungarian childhood included almost five years in refugee camps. Acutely poor, he ate pine-needle soup and suffered from rickets. Smoking and alcohol use begun in youth haunted his adulthood. He had surgery for throat cancer; medical experts warned that continued substance use would kill him. With a family he cherished, Joe was desperate to live. But he couldn’t relinquish his addictions.
Finally, feeling hopeless, sobbing alone on a curb, “I cried and begged God to help me,” Eszterhas writes. “I hadn't prayed since I was a boy. I had made fun of God and those who loved God in my writings. And now, through my sobs, I heard myself asking God to help me … and from the moment I asked, He did.”
“I didn't at first understand why He did. I didn't deserve His help, I thought. I was unworthy. I ignore Him for forty years and then suddenly I ask Him to help me and He does? It took me some time to understand that God helped me because He loves me. Because even though we don't deserve God's love, God loves us – all of us.”
Eszterhas replaced his excesses with prayer and long walks. He’s written a memoir, Crossbearer, “as a thank-you to God. Not just for saving my life, but for saving me.”
The front of the book quotes this New Testament statement: “Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Also through Him, we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” Faith, peace, access, hope; sounds as if it could be Eszterhas’ new personal theme.
Will It Last?
Road to Damascus? Perhaps. Skeptics watch. Some feel he’s just swung from one emotional excess to another. But it has been seven years. His wife, Naomi, says the transformation has been gradual but real. It appears to be lasting. They’re living in Ohio, raising their sons and continuing to give thanks:
“I am witness to and the beneficiary of God's love for all of us,” Joe writes. “I am witness, too, to the fact that His love is so strong that it was even able to open my rusty old closed heart.”
“I will thank Him forever because He gave me new life and a heart which is truly able to love for the first time in my life. His love is mine.”
A hopeful postscript: Eszterhas says his throat surgeon has pronounced him “cured.” The man who removed about eighty percent of Joe’s larynx says the tissue has regenerated such that evidence of the cancer is gone. The surgeon called it “a miracle.”
Amazing medical development. Amazing life changes. Amazing grace.