Joe Eszterhas


BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: We have a Road to Damascus story today about a hard-living, cynical Hollywood writer who says he hit bottom one day and was transformed by God. He used to specialize in scripts full of sex, violence, and evil. Now he’s a family man in Ohio. Our story is from Bob Faw.

BOB FAW: Once dubbed by Time magazine “America’s king of sex and violence,” Joe Eszterhas now bears the cross. This is more than ritual.

JOE ESZTERHAS: It’s a very, very serious and sacred moment to me.

FAW: You write, “I carry the cross as though I were actually carrying Christ.”


FAW: Worshipping at Holy Angels Catholic Church in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, where he now lives, Eszterhas resembles only physically who he once was:  Hollywood’s highest-paid screenwriter, churning out erotic sizzlers like “Basic Instinct,” where depravity — indeed, evil — triumphed.

Actor WAYNE NIGHT (as Police Interrogator John Corelli in clip from “Basic Instinct”): Would you tell us the nature of your relationship with Mr. Boz?

Joe EszterhasActress SHARON STONE (as Catherine Tramell in clip from “Basic Instinct”): I had sex with him for about a year and a half.

Mr. ESZTERHAS: I was drawn to dark subjects and dark themes, and I wrote out of a very dark space at that particular point in my life.

FAW: The 16 films he wrote grossed over $1 billion, financed homes in Malibu and Maui, along with an outrageous lifestyle.

(reading from notes): “I’ve been a bad boy all my life. I was the king-daddy of sex and violence, the wild hair, the rogue elephant, the drinking, drugging, wild man, the cocaine cowboy.”

Mr. ESZTERHAS: That’s all true. Yeah, I did do all that. The booze was out of control. The waking up in the morning and not knowing where I was or who I was with was out of control.

FAW: The alcohol and the cigarettes almost killed him. In 2001, doctors removed 80 percent of his cancerous larynx and inserted a trachea for breathing. Unable to change his ways, high-flying Joe Ezsterhas crashed.

Joe EszterhasMr. ESZTERHAS: It was probably the most desolate moment of my life, and a block away from here I sat down on a curb, sweating, shaking, trying to get the bugs out of my trachea, trying to breathe properly, and I started to cry.

FAW: Slumped on that curb, Eszterhas says he felt a dazzling presence, and he heard a voice within.

Mr. ESZTERHAS: And I kept hearing this voice saying, “Please God, help me,” and I realized it was my voice inside my head and that I was praying.

FAW: He was, he writes in his memoir “Crossbearer,” God-struck, and the ultimate Hollywood animal who had scorned religion did not find God. God, he says, found him.

Mr. ESZTERHAS: When you’re absolutely cracked open, and you’re completely vulnerable and desolate, when I opened myself up to the possibility of God entering my heart, I think God did. That day I was ambushed by God.

FAW: That recognition of weakness, says Rabbi David Wolpe, who has studied and written about how the desperate find faith—that recognition is the beginning of strength, even salvation.

Rabbi DAVID WOLPE (Sinai Temple, Los Angeles, CA): I do think that great joy and great sadness or illness sort of crack open something inside you, and it makes you open to things that you before that thought were absurd or ridiculous.

Father Dan SchlegelFather DAN SCHLEGEL (Church of the Holy Angels, Chagrin Falls, OH): Somebody wrote God comes through the wound, and, you know, sometimes it’s not until we’re really broken people that God has an entryway into our lives.

FAW: Father Dan Schlegel is Joe’s priest at Holy Angels.

Fr. SCHLEGEL: For Joe, I think that there were other gods before him, whether it was alcohol, or whether it was power or money or prestige, or whatever it was, and when all those things didn’t work anymore and he was broken, in  a sense there’s an openness for God to come in.

FAW: Joe Eszterhas had lived through radical change before. Born in Hungary during the Second World War, he spent nearly five years in refugee camps. But the change, which began on that sidewalk in 2001, his wife Naomi recalls, took some adjustment.

NAOMI ESZTERHAS: His transformation, to use that phrase, was so gradual. It was very gradual. Joe is a cynic. He’s had a very — he had a hard life, you know. He ate pine-needle soup in the refugee camps. He was scalded in the refugee camps. He had rickets. He lived in abject poverty. So when he first took those baby steps toward God, it wasn’t without cynicism. I think he went, “OK, I’m going to go down this road.”

FAW: For Eszterhas that road meant, with his entire family, starting to attend church weekly, also reading and studying widely about God and theology. Still, he found himself unsure, tentative, even wary until one Sunday when his former priest, Father Bob Stec, approached him after a service.

Father Bob StecFather BOB STEC (Pastor, St. Ambrose Catholic Church, Brunswick, OH): I was literally just drawn to stop and simply share with him a simple phrase: “Joe, the best is yet to come”— with a message of hope, a message of assurance that it was going to be OK. It was just as if God said, “Joe needs to hear these words today.”

Mr. ESZTERHAS (praying): …to Christ our Lord. Amen.

FAW: Now, devoted to his wife and four young sons and pronounced cured of cancer by his doctors, Joe Eszterhas says life has never been better.

Ms. ESZTERHAS: I think he’s more careful. He’s more Christian. He’s more—less cynical and more willing to believe the goodness in people than he is the darkness. I always tell him, “You’ve been co-opted by God, and now you’re working for him, because you used to dance with the devil.”

FAW: The question you would ask yourself is, then, why do I deserve to be singled out like this?

Mr. ESZTERHAS: I don’t. I don’t. I don’t know why God has blessed me and graced me the way God has. In terms of my own view of my life, you know, it’s something miraculous. I thank God for gracing me. I always will. But in my own mind I don’t deserve it.

FAW: And it is that sense of mystery, even wonder, which he conveys at public readings of the book he subtitles “A Memoir of Faith.”

Mr. ESZTERHAS: This is how I found God, or how God found me.

Rabbi David WolpeFAW: Recently Eszterhas has completed two screenplays, each one a thriller, but neither focusing on the perverse or the tormented.

FAW: You can’t write “blood and hair on the walls” with God in your heart?

Mr. ESZTERHAS: Yeah, you know, to get involved in that thought process, I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to do that.

FAW: Walking with his wife, or alone, three times every day Joe Eszterhas prays — mostly what he calls “thank you” prayers.

Mr. ESZTERHAS: I pray for God’s presence to be in my heart, to continue to be in my heart

Rabbi WOLPE: What I tell people to pray for who are in trouble is closeness, is to not be alone; is to feel that God is with you. That prayer — that’s a powerful prayer. That’s a real prayer, and that’s a prayer I believe that gets answered.

FAW: And seven years after being what he calls God-struck, Joe Eszterhas, a lifelong skeptic, has no doubts that his prayers have been heard.

Mr. ESZTERHAS: I think questioning and doubt are good, and I think they build faith, in my own particular case. Seven years down the line I can say to you that my life has been transformed, and I find a sense of solace and strength that simply wasn’t in my life before.

FAW: Joe Eszterhas then, born anew — from Malibu to Ohio; Jack Daniels to Sprite; Sharon Stone to Jesus. From darkness into light.

For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, this is Bob Faw in Chagrin Falls, Ohio.

  • Janet Carlen

    Thank You…Thank You!! You are truly at your best when you feature these stories of INDIVIDUALS transformed by faith.

  • susan fisher

    Excellent interview by Bob Faw and inspirational message shared by Joe Esterhas!
    Thank You!

  • Virgilijus Kaulius

    The story theme is not new in either Salvation History or in the Catholic Tradition. It should be divorced from naive interjections of youth history: I’m sick and tired of contemporary culture’s naive application of pseudo social science for interpreting scenarios like his! I too spent 5 years in a DP camp, I too ate grass while fleeing through the front lines in WWII, I too lived with rickets, but I was never cynical. Grace was there for the “choosing!” It always is: to everyone. He chose not to choose it until he hit rock bottom, while I chose it from day one and only deepened it as the rest of my life ever will! So, such stories should go to Tradition, and not to irrelevant and irreverant youth issues! And Tradition has tons to say on the subject, filling many books, and many lives! With a dominant motif: the Hound of Heaven!

  • Pixie

    I know why God chose Joe Eszterhas! We needed a “modern” day version of St. Paul! You, Joe are that man! Knocked off the “Hollywood Horse” & brought to your knees! Continue to lift high The Cross! God’s Blessings to you & Naomi! Your book is inspiring and right on target, sharing many of your views.

  • GeorgeV

    Eszterhas: A journey from one extreme to the next – sign of emotional imbalance. What a pity.

  • Cheryl

    What a wonderful testimony you have. God is full of Grace and Mercy if we turn our lives to him before it is too late. You say that God found you. I would like to correct that. God always new where you were and was always right there waiting on you to hear him knocking, and you finally did. You found him. He was with you all along. God bless

  • sandragulian

    THis testimony is inspiring. Like Saint Paul, I probably wouldn’t have put him on my prayer list. I would test his sincerity, knowing that he had nothing to lose at the bottom. What did he do withall the money he earned in his decadence. Is he still enjoying a lavish life style, earned from the profits? He shouldn’t publish his charity, but his lifestyle will speak of his sincerity. I pray that his children can adjust to their ambivalence.

  • Carol

    I am always interested in other faith’s readings of a story. I was so glad to see Rabbi David Wolpe and hear him. I believe he was also in on a video my library has, called “Who Wrote the Bible?” by A/E Home Video. I thought his impressions were very good. I also have one of his books and enjoy it alot. I hope to see him more on media that gets a wide audience. I also liked the story last year about Rabbi Schneerson on Religion and Ethics and look forward to the documentary. Maybe Rabbi Wolpe will be part of that! I hope. Otherwise, I don’t like to judge a program. This was a short segment on a conversion story and was inspiring. I would like to hear Mr. Kaulius’ further views. What do you mean by “naive interjections”? And how did Tradition play a part in someone’s life who wasn’t looking for “religion”? I guess it was tradition for G-d to act in this way. Is that what you mean?

  • Carol

    Sorry but I meant to say the upcoming PBS documentary is probably on Rabbi Abraham J. Heschel, not Rabbi Schneerson. Sorry sorry. I am bad with names.

  • Pixie

    In reading this blog, my heart hurt!How can anyone claim to love Jesus Christ & God the Father, yet continue to JUDGE their Brother? We all have stories to witness our Lord to others, this is Joe’s! Talk about being being cynical, let’s look for the PLANKS in our own eyes before we try to judge others. Again, God Bless You Joe, I’m proud to call you my Brother in Jesus!

  • Nancy Grace

    I thought it was an excellent testimony of God’s gift of His Holy Spirit and furthering His Kingdom. God’s “New Creation” is an awesome thing to experience.

  • michael

    I, too, am a little surprised at the rashness to make assessments of another person’s life, particulary based on a mere 8 minute story. Modern-day Solomons we don’t seem to be.

  • Donna

    Baring ones soul in a courageous manner is a rare thing to behold. Step by step – culminating in an obvious transformation in tone is something I admire and appreciate beyond words. Truly an inspiration.

  • mary petersen

    Jesus is the way. God saves all who turn to him.I am praying that Paul Verhoven who directed Basic Instinct repents, too! Burn your idols and permanantly turn to him who loves you eternally!!

  • Bill Hays

    Reading about Joe’s daily routine, a fifth of Jack Daniels, cocaine and a stripper, convinced me that Joe has an addictive personality. He’s substituted “god” for all the other stuff, but the “happy” neurotransmitters still plug into the same receptors. Joe, admit that you’re STILL addicted, and God is just a substitute for other stuff, and maybe you can actually kick the habit. Until them, you’re just an addict. god isn’t real, but your delusion is very real.

  • Danny Lopriore

    God is not an addiction because you can easily detach from faith day by day. Joe’s “relationship” with God is a fulfillment not a crutch.

  • Teri Crane


  • Kyrah

    Unless someone has been through something like Joe, one truly cannot understand how and why something wonderful like this can happen. Hence the remark above about God being an addiction. God is true. God is real. The proof is found in the testimony of people like Joe Eszterhas. I feel to judge him is wrong. Just looking at his journey, that is, where he was and where is now, should be all the proof one needs.

  • A. Zs. Huber

    If God is an addiction, so is life! WHOever, WHATever IS, still IS!
    I came to the same neck of Cleveland as Joe, but after 1956, attended the same schools, scout-troop outings, we subscribed to his dad’s Sunday newspaper and attended the same social gatherings and experienced the same High School rivalries.
    The 60’s were a time of inner turmoil: i.e. For awhile it was expected that the Vatican would O.K. “The Pill” based on the premise that it poses “no physical interference in the act of making love.” I remember being told in Pre-Marriage counseling in ’67, to make up our own minds according to our conscience.

    The 60’s were a time of inner discovery: Besides Sputnik and the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space program,
    I remember, that after 4 years of attending an all-boys, parochial high school, I was utterly unprepared for the limitless experiences available at Ohio State. Having grown-up in the same insular, ethnic community, I suspect Joe was similarly unprepared for what surrounded him in Hollywood. To boot, when first out on your own, everything looks like forbidden fruit.

    It was also a time of loss: Not only have we lost “Abraham, Martin and John,” and Bobby; but by 71, Joe and I lost personal friends to Vietnam. Looking back, it seemed quite natural to adopt a devil-may-care, “fire all of the guns at once and blast off into space” attitude.

    What goes around, comes around; and I take heart in Joe’s new-found solace. I wish him and his, Peace and Harmony. Father Schlegel, keep seeking Blessings for your flock.

    And for the one who seeks to define “Addiction:” I believe humans are the ones seeking to define, to put in a box on an “appropriate” shelf. WHO IS does not seek definition. Our definitions are important to us, BUT NO LESS VALID, HELPFUL AND REAL.

  • Charlie M.

    Joe’s testimony is another of the highest expressions of God’s Love and Mercy.
    Independently of rational or psychological arguments, He keeps healing and changing lifes.
    Thanks Joe, Naomi and kids. Thanks PBS too.
    God bless you all.
    Charlie M.