There are no numbers by which to account for the legions of the successful or the self-destroyed. But there are related statistics.
There are more than 3.5 million households in the United States with a net worth at or above $1 million - more than ever before. For the first time in U.S. history, more millionaires are below age 50 than are above it. We are gaining wealth faster, sooner - and in greater-than-ever abundance. At the same time, more and more people are being diagnosed with depression: More than 17 million people in the United States suffer from some form of depression. According to the makers of Zoloft and Prozac, more than 22 million people take such mood-lifting drugs. Is our quest for money, power, and glory yielding a generation that is unparalleled in wealth, accomplishment - and chemical dependency?
I went looking for the twin faces of success and excess - and I found them in the streets of New York, in the suites of Houston, and in the studios of Hollywood (see "Art of Darkness"). I found remarkable and courageous people - people who have drunk from the cup of success and found its contents to be both intoxicating and toxic; people who have simultaneously hit the heights and bumped the bottom; people whose striking authenticity reveals their genius and their flaws, their perfection and their vulnerability; people who have learned the lessons of ambition and of self-destruction; people whose pain and whose recovery from pain have a lot to teach us about the true meaning of success.
People are reaching the top, using all of their means to get money, power, and glory - and then self-destructing.
Francis Ford Coppola has explored the heights and the depths of the human spirit, from the haunting closing notes of "The Conversation" to the defeat-snatched-from-the-jaws-of-victory conclusion of "The Rainmaker."
A version of this article appeared in the October 1998 issue of Fast Company magazine.