By Kimberly Shrine, Features Writer
On Thursday, February 19, co-executive producer of beloved show Parks and Recreation, Harris Wittels, was found dead in his Los Angeles apartment. Police report drug paraphernalia near his body and suspect drug overdose as a cause of death. The comedian was only thirty years-old but admitted in the podcast You Made It Weird, with Pete Holmes, that he has been using drugs recreationally since he was twelve years-old.
In the same podcast Wittels recounts the reason he began using heavier drugs, his two bouts with rehab, and his relapse. Before getting into the more worldly (for lack of better terms) motivation for his drug addiction, Wittels discusses his views on life and death. He speaks almost nonchalantly about mortality and our society’s fear of death. Holmes lightly delivers a serious quip about how in one hundred years Earth will have “all new people”. These two men are speaking and joking about the human experience, trying to find meaning, and battling the feeling of “looking down the tunnel of infinity and feeling hopeless”, to paraphrase Wittels.
Wittels recounts his initial encounter with oxycodone. He reflects on meeting the girl of his dreams – however, she comes with one deal breaker. She and her family are scientologists. Instead of dealing with his feelings about this situation, he says that it was easier to just take drugs and not think about it. All the while he was writing and co-executive producing for “Parks and Recreation”, writing T.V. pilots, co-writing movies, and cranking out the book Humblebrag. (In sharing this with Holmes, he remarks that “writing that book on so much drugs” is itself a humblebrag.)
He talks about a pseudo intervention that his ex-girlfriend and her dad had in which they attempted to help him achieve sobriety by bringing him to the Church of Scientology. When his girlfriend finally gave him an ultimatum: her or drugs, he chose drugs. He then went on a multi-week-long bender where he did nothing but drugs.
In trying to get his girlfriend back, he agreed to go to the Church of Scientology and ended up giving them $700 – the exact opposite of what he planned on doing. Wittels reconsidered that choice and checked himself into a high-end Malibu rehab instead.
When he got out he decided that he wanted to get high for one last time, because his tolerance was back to being so low. He went back to his dealer and then he was back in the addiction game. It got to a point where he was “popping handfuls of pills like candy”. Oxycodone was no longer doing it for him. He concludes that heroin was stronger and more cost effective. This is all the self-convincing he needed. Eventually this did too much damage to his sinuses and he could no longer ingest the drug by snorting it, so he employed the help of a homeless man. The man would teach him how to shoot heroin in exchange for a ride to the hospital.
All the while, Wittels was living a double life. He was writing for Parks and Rec and leaving work to do heroin. This all finally caught up when, according to an account by Wittels before his death, he overdosed and woke up gasping. He called in sick to work that day, but continued to miss work to shoot up. Eventually he went back to rehab and this is around the time when his podcast started.
Near the end of the conversation, the two men reflect on the persistence of drug use in our society, comedy’s role against depression, and sobriety. The host states that we live in a spiritually bankrupt society that turns to drugs because it is a guaranteed experience. Holmes mentions that in comedy there is a “microcosm where the idea that life is meaningless does not exist.” The beauty of life is finding that.
On speaking about his sobriety Wittels closes with, “I feel hopeful, I feel optimistic, I feel clear-headed… And I feel like I want to do drugs.” The reality of that sentence was unfortunately brought to light on February 19. Harris Wittels was a beloved friend and genius comedy writer.
If you would like to listen to the whole story directly from Wittels, you can go to:
And if you would like to read about some of comedian Aziz Ansari’s favorite Wittels moments, could can go to: