'Vinyl' and the Most Coked-Up Characters in TV History

Richie Finestre may not be Scarface, but like a lot of other TV cocaine addicts, he comes damn close. 

by Christine Jun
HBO via YouTube

One of the central themes of HBO’s Vinyl is the show’s’s self-destructive protagonist Richie Finestre’s (played to the hilt by Bobby Cannavale) increasing fondness for cocaine, what he fondly refers to as “the sauce.” The ‘70s-set series offers a variety of coke-snorting locales: Finestre blows lines in sex clubs, in his car, at the office, at home; off mirrors, prominently displayed album covers, or any available surface, really. And company is optional.

Still, since Vinyl does take place in the groovy music industry of the 70s, and what, with Finestre’s marriage on the rocks and his independent record company going bankrupt (partly because he failed to lock down The Who: big mistake, big!), we can forgive his need for a little bit of white powder just to make it through his days and nights. Oh yeah, and if your empathy still isn’t aroused, a building did fall down on Finestre’s head. Literally.

In fact, one wonders if Finestre would be half as compelling without his blow. It makes him prone to all kinds of outrageous, quasi-charming behavior, like kung-fu chopping his colleagues, bursting in on a meeting with corporate suits just to tell them to fuck off, and inspired, grandiose rants about rock n’ roll: “Think back to the first time when you heard a song that made the back of your hairs stand up. That made you want to dance, or fuck, or go out and kick somebody’s ass - that’s what I want!” On the other hand, you could also argue that Finestre’s swiftly mounting shitheap of worries has been bit set on fire by his deepening coke addiction.

Finestre may be no Scarface — who trumps every character on the big and small screen as the biggest sniffer of all time — but for now, he really does appear to be the biggest coke addict on TV. While I’m surprised that there still hasn’t been a series about coke-addled Wall Street execs, here are some other notable cocaine addicts on TV who didnt quite manage to trump Finestre — and surprisingly, none of them are from Narcos — but came very, very close:

Nurse Jackie

Jackie (Edie Falco is very aware of the consequences, which makes her addiction even more tragic (and dumb!). But what health care professional doesn’t inhale cocaine before their hospital shift — much less a prescription drug cocktail of a little “Oxy,” Vicodin, and Percocet? Apparently, it’s a lot more common than you think: a real life “Nurse Jackie” admitted to swiping medical cocaine from a Bronx hospital in 2012.

Cast of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Although every major character from this show is an alcoholic and has some level of coke addiction, it’s probably Charlie (Charlie Day) — who becomes addicted to the stuff while slinging it on the streets of Philly — and Dee (Caitlin Olson), who fails her drug test while smoking crack, who have it the worst. More minor character Rickety Cricket (David Hornsby) develops a coke addiction while selling drugs to homeless people for Dee and Charlie — which, sadly, contributes to his legs being broken and his unique nickname.

Christopher Moltisanti

Yeah, Tony is known to sniff coke while he gambles, but it’s really his “nephew” Chris (Michael Imperioli) who is the struggling addict of The Sopranos. Despite Moltisanti’s bout at Narcotics Anonymous, this wiseguy unfortunately doesn’t manage to kick his habit, and because of it, ends up accidentally crushing his girlfriend�������������s poodle to death, giving the FBI an excuse to charge him, and ultimately, paying with his life. At least Moltisanti manages to make his magnum opus of a horror flick, Cleaver, before his untimely death.


Sure, even smart guys do drugs. Although the creators of this BBC drama tried to play down Sherlock Holmes’ cocaine use, everyone knows the famous detective was constantly wired. Partly because, at least in Victorian times, the sale of the drug was legal and Victorians weren’t shy about using it, medically and recreationally. It also probably explains the otherworldly intensity of Benedict Cumberbatch’s gaze.

Tyrone Biggums

What list of TV coke addicts would be complete without flour-lipped crackhead Tyrone Biggums, Dave Chappelle’s creation from Season One of his self-titled sketch comedy show? If you’re feeling tired at the office, Biggums might convince you to set aside your usual cuppa, and try his special Red Ball drink instead: “It gives me wiiiiiings!”

Dr. John Thackery

Another medical pro (see Nurse Jackie) and moody genius (see Sherlock) who takes too much coke in Steven Soderbergh’s Starz series The Knick, Thackery’s character is actually based on William Stewart Halsted, an innovative turn-of-the-century physician who was also a coke and morphine addict. In this role of a coke fiend, I must admit that actor Clive Owen is terrifyingly convincing, particularly in the scenes when he seems more than willing to throw his illustrious career down the drain in the pursuit of the drug, and when he undergoes the desperate throes of withdrawal. And you just want to groan aloud with frustration when you see Thackery being “treated” for his coke addiction with heroin, because at the time, they just didn’t know any better. Still, like Finestre, Thackery’s addiction retains a certain glamorous allure, as he pulls off the impressive feat of endless all-nighters involving both scientific and sexual experimentation.

Entire Cast of Skins

Proving that this “teen drama” is definitely not just for the underaged, the three generations of the Skins crew start off their Monday mornings with a little bit of cocaine, and then are not above topping it off with maybe just a leetle bit more in between classes, after classes, and — heck, why not? — as a substitute for dinner. These teens may be from England, but like their high society Manhattan counterparts, they’ve got coke benders and the “Southampton diet” down to a T.

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