Nicholson was a magnetic screen presence, fully established as a star, and was doing so well by 1974 that he gave out “little vials” of cocaine as Christmas gifts and kept “an opulent cocaine pyramid, pointing skyward in a help-yourself bowl” in his foyer. Nicholson, we learn, also had a bowl of cash on his coffee table he left out for less fortunate friends. Later in the book it becomes a bowl of “ripped-up fifty-dollar bills” Nicholson describes as “a work of art.”
A river runs through The Big Goodbye, a river of white powder like the LA River in Chinatown that in key scenes starts with a trickle and becomes a torrent. Cocaine floods Wasson’s book, delivered like the water in the film, the source of the story’s corruption. By the end, Robert Towne becomes a fiend for it, destroying his family and spending his residuals $10,000 at a time on blow.
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