Australian golden boy Kim Hughes was the life of the party. But then his alcohol abuse caught up with him. The former Test captain says it took almost everything to lose before he accepted it was time to pull some stumps.
Wayne Clark recalls his heart sinking when he received the phone call.
His friend was at an event, walking around and finishing drinks for other guests at the end of the night.
“I got a few calls from guys at a Hall of Fame ceremony,” Clark recalled.
“Kim got drunk again. He was just embarrassing himself.”
Kim is former Australian cricket captain and beloved personality Kim Hughes, who was plagued by a spiraling alcohol addiction.
It was a tragic fall for one of Western Australia’s favorite sons.
The one that cost him his marriage, isolated him from his family and could have ultimately cost him his life.
Hughes, once the nation’s second highest office holder, has now been 18 months sober, has rebuilt his relationships and embarked on a new mission: to help those struggling with addiction.
Golden Boy’s Rise to the Top
For Aussies of a certain vintage, Kim Hughes is still a household name.
Cricket fans around the world remember the dashing right-hander, cutting beautiful cover drives to the limit, his golden locks clearly visible beneath his ample green.
In 1978, aged just 24, he became one of the youngest Test captains ever when he took over the role during a tumultuous time in Australian cricket.
His captaincy was contested and saw him move in and out of the top job for periods of time, before leading the national side to the World Cup in 1983.
He was also constantly attacked within the ranks of the players and in the media. Vice-captain David Hookes publicly pleaded for a new captain after a disastrous World Cup.
The pressure was relentless and he sensationally resigned from his role the following year, halfway through the second Test match against West Indies in Brisbane.
“The constant speculation, criticism and innuendo from ex-players and sections of the media over the past 4-5 years has finally taken its toll,” he said at the time.
Wayne Clark, who played with Hughes for Western Australia and Australia, has undoubtedly contributed to drinking this time in his life.
“Everything he’s been through, there’s been a lot. I think it has a lot to do with his drinking,” Clark said.
“To be honest, I think he almost had a breakdown then, just dealing with all of this, under the pressures he had.
“And at that time, there was no help.”
The circus stopped, but the drinks kept flowing
Cutting a confident image on the cricket pitch, Hughes was popular with the public and the media, his “nice boy” image leading him to build a career as a speaker after his playing days ended.
He’s been a mainstay on the circuit in Western Australia for years, with his charismatic nature and charm making him endearing to crowds who want to hear the stories of WA’s only Test captain.
“He would be out there, the life of the party,” Clark explains.
“But it was about drinking. I think when he left [speaking engagements]he didn’t have much else.
“I think there was a bit of loneliness involved in that.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic dragged on, Hughes’ speaking engagements unfolded.
He fell deeper into the clutches of his addiction, withdrew from his family and isolated himself.
“I was just going through the stages. The corporate talk has dried up and things can get very, very lonely,” he says.
“The thing that I was really struggling with was that I was distancing myself, or my kids were pulling away from me, or I was from them, because I didn’t want to be with them feeling the pain. alcohol.”
White wine was his favorite drink. The first glasses were poured in his apartment early in the morning, then he drove to his favorite watering holes.
“It was a car accident waiting,” says his son Bradley.
“Now was the time to get help before something like this happened, then it’s too late.”
The fear that Hughes was headed for jail, or worse, death, spurred his family and friends into action.
“I was hearing from Wayne and a few others that he wasn’t doing very well,” Bradley said.
“We talked about it and said, ‘it’s at this stage where something serious could happen’.
“‘He’s not well. He needs help.'”
Pull out the stumps
The day Bradley, Wayne and fellow friend Richard Menasse sat him down for an intervention at a Leederville cafe is etched deeply in Hughes’ mind.
“[Drinking] had already cost me my marriage,” admits Hughes.
“It was a really brutal honesty that I really needed to take the next step.
“Don’t tell us. Don’t talk about it. Do something.”
Menasse arranged a stay at a rehabilitation center, where Hughes spent two weeks.
“We were able to get him to accept that he needed to go to rehab. He needed to get away from things. He needed to get out of society for a while,” Clark recalled.
When Hughes returned home, he was assigned a nurse who visited him weekly to provide counseling and support.
“We would be really in the thick of it about my past, psychologically, and all of those things,” he says.
Hughes hasn’t had a drink in 18 months, but that’s not the end of the battle.
“We found out that Kim had a habit with alcohol. But that was a consequence of what I think was a depression that we’re still dealing with,” Menasse said.
“He absolutely understands that every day is a new day. And he remembers that. That he has to do the right thing on his own.”
Walking along the shores of Scarborough Beach, Hughes recognizes how his trip might have turned out.
“I could have ended up drunk on the street,” he says.
“”Oh look, there’s a former Australian cricket captain. Watch it now”.
“I was an asshole.”
Hughes hasn’t touched alcohol since his time in rehab, but his battle with addiction is ongoing.
He now uses his public speaking engagements to share his true story and raise awareness about mental health.
An avid golfer, he admits temptation is never far away, especially on the green.
“It was a very hot day,” he says of a recent trip around the golf course.
“A friend of mine was in the wagon and he had a Crowny cold.
“I was like, ‘Damn, I wish I had one’. I was a little tempted.”
In his youth, as a rising star in cricket, Hughes was brash. He would lose patience building an innings and would often fold his wicket.
Over the years he has developed his ability to stay focused while punching – a tactic he now uses in his recovery.
“If someone says you’re going to go a year without a drink, that’s too far,” he says.
He also keeps a diary which he updates every Friday, documenting the weeks since his last drink.
“Inch by inch, it’s a cinch. It’s not out of sight, it’s just out of reach,” Hughes says with a smile. It’s his favorite motto.
His son Bradley is happy that his father is back in his life and that of his children.
“He’s a lot healthier. He’s got a lot more energy. And we see him a lot more, obviously,” Bradley recalled.
“He’s pretty involved with the kids and their sport and everything, which is great.”
Hughes knows second chances don’t come all that often and he’s determined not to throw his wicket away again.
“I will never go back to how it was before,” he says.
Words: Tom Wilde
Photographs: Armin Azad, Cason Ho, Robert Koenig-Luck
Production: Fran Rimrod
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