The Darker Side of Owen Wilson

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Mark Mainz / Getty

Actor Owen Wilson.

It's rarely a shock when a star's personal demons rear up in the form of a police blotter. Robert Downey Jr.'s '90s jail stints, Christian Slater's 59-day stay behind bars on assault charges in 1998 and Lindsay Lohan's alleged coke-fueled car chase this summer all followed a pattern of prior troublesome behavior. Each performer was known to have spent time in treatment for addiction. For these celebrities, a mug shot somehow seems as appropriate a career visual as a red carpet wave.

But the hospitalization this week of Owen Wilson, 38, after police responded to a report of a suicide attempt at his Santa Monica home, astonished anyone who knows him simply as the affable, blonde man-child from Wedding Crashers and You, Me and Dupree.To us outsiders, Wilson's partying seemed to be of the happy-go-lucky, nobody-gets-hurt variety. While other stars got DUIs, Wilson always appeared to have a ride home with one of his cool actor-brothers, Luke, 35, and Andrew, 43, or someone as blonde, pretty, rich and famous as he, like Kate Hudson. When he wasn't busy filming blockbuster comedies that played off his lovable slacker image or writing smart scripts like Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums with his friend from Texas, director Wes Anderson, Wilson's life as documented by the tabloids consisted of tossing a football at the beach, riding his scooter alongside his dog, Garcia, and dating whatever impossibly beautiful woman he wanted. The gossip site awarded Wilson the moniker "The Butterscotch Stallion," a nod to his, er, appetite for female companionship.

Obviously something darker was going on amidst all those flaxen-haired mellow good times. The only comment from Wilson, who's said to be in good condition at Cedar's Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, has been to issue this statement: "I respectfully ask that the media allow me to receive care and heal in private during this difficult time." Nevertheless speculation about his drug use, depression over his May break-up from Hudson and a recent fight with a friend have peppered the coverage of Wilson's hospitalization. A People magazine cover story out Friday quotes a friend as saying: "Owen was very despondent. He slit his wrists. He almost did not make it."

It's unusual that an actor in his professional prime should suffer such a dramatic meltdown. Wilson dropped out of Tropic Thunder, a Dreamworks comedy he was set to start shooting in a few weeks with buddy and eight-time co-star Ben Stiller. And it's unlikely he'll participate in any publicity for The Darjeeling Limited, his new film with Anderson, which opens the New York Film Festival in September.

Of course, Wilson's career is the least of the concerns of the people showing up to visit him at Cedar's, including his family, Anderson and friend Samuel L. Jackson. A suicide attempt, if in fact that's what happened, signals that a person is in the deepest kind of pain. While it may be a surprise to those of us who know him only by his twinkly-eyed screen persona, Wilson's crisis probably didn't sneak up on those close to him. And the actor and his loved ones likely won't return to the good life quickly, either.