Short circuits in a wired life

CHASING THE DRAGON By Cathy Smith

BARBARA RIGHTON October 15 1984

Short circuits in a wired life

CHASING THE DRAGON By Cathy Smith

BARBARA RIGHTON October 15 1984

Short circuits in a wired life

CHASING THE DRAGON By Cathy Smith

(Key Porter, 168 pages, $16.95)

Catherine Evelyn Smith, drug addict, alcoholic and veteran groupie, begins her book with a tired explanation: “I want to tell my side of things as honestly as I can, in the hope that someone might learn from my experiences.” Then she excuses the sordid life she is about to detail by adding, “The point of my story is that what happened to me could happen to anyone.” What happened to her was that in 1982 a

famous comedian died after a week in her company. Smith’s subsequent interview in the U.S. tabloid weekly The National Enquirer, headlined “I killed Belushi,” which she does not mention in her book, led to her indictment in California on 13 counts of furnishing and administering controlled drugs and one count of second-degree murder. The State of California is still trying to extradite her from Toronto, which may be why Smith—so garrulous elsewhere—is notably tightlipped on the circumstances surrounding the comedian’s death. She admits only to “the guilt that comes from not having been more aware of what was really going on.”.

But because of John Belushi’s death, Cathy Smith, 37, has achieved celebrity status after 20 years of carousing with the stars and walking in their shadows. She emerges, the publishers write, “from the heart of the fan generation, a young woman” making “painful attempts to rebuild her life.” But personal insights elude Smith, and her book will appeal only to those who crave intimate details about Gordon Lightfoot’s rages

or Keith Richards’ ability to go without sleep. And her claim that “anyone” could have led Cathy Smith’s life is demonstrably absurd.

Smith’s evident instability stemmed from her early childhood. An adopted j child, like her older sister, Smith lived in Burlington, Ont., with a stepmother \ who drank heavily and spent time in hospital because of depression and a stepfather whose best advice to her when she quit school at the age of 16 was to take up data processing. At 17, Smith had an affair with the drummer Levon Helm. She became pregnant, but Helm

refused to support the child, whom she eventually gave up for adoption.

Smith moved to Toronto, where she met and slept with some prominent local music celebrities and a major Hollywood actor. She lived with Lightfoot for almost four years, and Chasing the Dragon luridly accounts her alleged misadventures with him, countryand-western singer Hoyt Axton and The Rolling Stones. Said Smith: “I was at the top as far as vicarious living went.” But the Stones soon tired of her. By then, Smith was over 30 and, she recounts, “the sense of abuse was strong, and it was beginning to feel like a pattern by this time.” It had taken 15 years.

Chasing the Dragon—the term means heroin—is a seamy chronicle in which Smith never attempts to analyse anything. Writing about the last few days she spent with Belushi, she recalls that “it was just another Hollywood party that last week with John. If it hadn’t had such a tragic ending, it would hardly be worth remembering.” On the basis of Smith’s shallow and tawdry account, neither is she. -BARBARA RIGHTON

BARBARA RIGHTON