All Research

Beautiful Boy: History vs. Hollywood

Timothée Chalamet
Born: December 27, 1995
New York City, New York, USA
Nic Sheff
Born: July 20, 1982
Birthplace: San Francisco, California, USA
Steve Carell
Born: August 16, 1962
Concord, Massachusetts, USA
David Sheff
Born: December 23, 1955
Birthplace: Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Amy Ryan
Born: May 3, 1968
Queens, New York City, New York, USA
Vicki Sheff
Born: December 15, 1951
Maura Tierney
Born: February 3, 1965
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Karen Barbour

Questioning the Story:

At what age did Nic Sheff become an addict?

In researching the Beautiful Boy true story, we learned that Nic's life of addiction began with vodka when he was 11. A year later, he was smoking marijuana, which turned into a daily habit by middle school. He was soon experimenting with drugs like acid, ecstasy, mushrooms and cocaine. At the age of 18, he tried crystal meth. It made him feel like he could achieve anything. "I felt like a rock star," Nic says of the first time he used it. However, his feeling of euphoria didn't last long. As the fix wore off, the good feelings evaporated and his body writhed in agony. To keep the good feelings alive, he became an habitual user. He did everything he could to avoid crashing. As a result, the addiction consumed his life and directly affected the lives of his family members. The movie does a good job depicting this.

The real David Sheff with his son Nic Sheff in the late 1980s.

What led Nic Sheff to become a drug addict?

Nic's parents, both journalists, divorced when he was 4 years old. He ended up splitting his time between his mother, Vicki, in Los Angeles and his dad in San Francisco. On the surface, he seemed to handle it fine. He got good grades and was captain of the water polo team. However, the emotions he was bottling up couldn't stay suppressed forever. "The world was really abrasive and overwhelming, and I felt really hopeless. When I started drinking [alcohol], I couldn't stop," Nic says of his first foray into addiction at age 11.

"I mean, I'd always felt so, you know, ugly and weak and pathetic," says Nic. "I felt sick and defective. I felt like there was something deeply wrong with me. I hated myself. I hated having to live with myself. At first getting high seemed like the only thing that could ever make me feel any different."

"Every time I did a shot, I truly felt like it was gonna be the shot that finally fixed everything for me. I thought if I could only do enough of whatever drug it was, I would eventually feel whole—no longer like the alien. ...the more drugs I shot in me, and the more sex for money I had, the more f**king depressed and suicidal and crazy I became. Because it wasn't working. I knew it wasn't working. But I kept trying and trying. I didn't know what else to do." -The Fix

Did Nic really keep journals throughout his life?

Yes. Like in the Beautiful Boy movie, the real Nic Sheff kept journals. He used them as a resource when writing his bestselling memoir Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines, which chronicles his experiences as a teenager addicted to drugs. Both Tweak and Nic's father's book Beautiful Boy provided the basis for the movie.

Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines by Nic Sheff is one of two books on which the movie is based. The other was written by Nic's father and is featured below.

Were Nic's parents really at first in denial about his addiction?

Yes. "I kind of think we parents are wired for denial because to see the trouble that our child is in is so painful. It's so terrifying," said Nic's father David Sheff. "I would hear the good things; I'd see the good things. I'd block out the terrifying course that we were on until it was impossible to deny anymore."

Despite a significant number of absences from school, teachers and counselors weren't overly concerned, with one saying that college would straighten Nic out. They noted his good grades and large number of friends. At first, David kept his son's addiction hidden from family and friends, not wanting them to think badly of his son and how it reflected on him as a parent.

Did Nic really get into the colleges he applied to?

Yes. Even by his senior year, drugs hadn't had a severe effect on Nic's academics. Like in the Beautiful Boy movie, the true story confirms that he got into the colleges he applied to but first ended up in rehab instead. When he made it to the University of California, Berkeley, he dropped out during his freshman year.

Did Nic Sheff's dad, David Sheff, ever use drugs?

Yes. "When this hit our family, we were like so many families in this country," David Sheff says. "I was not naive about drugs. I used drugs when I was a kid. ... But I still thought, like most of us, 'This could never happen to our family.' When it did, we were so blindsided. We were so devastated that I realized that this is something we have to talk about." That realization led David to write his book Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction, which was published in 2008 and became a #1 New York Times Best Seller.

David says that he had shared and discussed his own history of drug use with his son, a decision that he questions today.

The real David Sheff (left) admits to using drugs when he was younger, a fact that he shared with his son. Steve Carell as Sheff in the Beautiful Boy movie.

Was Nic's dad, David Sheff, really a well-known journalist?

Yes. David Sheff's lengthy experience as a journalist includes writing for Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Fortune, Wired and NPR. He has interviewed numerous famous subjects, including Steve Jobs, Carl Sagan, Frank Zappa, Jack Nicholson and John Lennon. In addition to penning the book Beautiful Boy on which the movie is based, he wrote the books All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, China Dawn, and Game Over.

As we researched the question, "How accurate is Beautiful Boy?" we discovered that Nic's mother, Vicki, is also a respected journalist with her own impressive list of celebrity interviews that includes Billy Joel, Dennis Hopper and Eddie Van Halen.

Did David Sheff smoke a joint with his son Nic?

Yes. This comes straight from David's memoir Beautiful Boy. He said that making the decision to share a joint with his son is one that he still regrets. "It was not something I'm proud of," says David, going on to explain that he was just trying to find a way to connect with his son.

Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction by David Sheff is the second of two books that inspired the movie.

Did Nic's father, David Sheff, remarry and have two small children?

Yes. In the movie, Nic's second wife, Karen (portrayed by Maura Tierney), and their two small children, Jasper and Daisy, are all based on real people. Like in the film, they too suffered as David became obsessed with saving Nic. Jasper and Daisy idolized their older brother, who was their friend and playmate. They couldn't comprehend what he was doing to himself and how it was affecting the family. Nic knew that his drug use was destroying his family. He kept using in part to stop the guilt from sinking in.

Did Nic Sheff really run away from home and live on the street?

Yes. As years of drug abuse mounted, Nic eventually ran away from home. He lived on the street for some time, sold his body for cash, dealt drugs, and stole money from his family.

Did the real Nic Sheff sell his body to other men for drug money?

Yes. Sheff, who is a straight man, says that he also did it to feel wanted and to find value in himself. "I mean, don’t get me wrong, I needed the money. But, more than anything else, I wanted to feel beautiful," says Sheff. "I could’ve made money in other ways. Prostitution was something I wanted to do. That sounds crazy f**ked up, but it’s true. And when I was out there, you know, hustling, I’m telling you, a lot of the kids I met were just like me. They wanted to feel like I wanted to feel. They wanted to feel wanted."

"Of course, I’m straight, so I would’ve preferred to be wanted by women for sure. But, hell, I’d take what I could get. And men did seem to like me." Friends and family felt that he should leave the short period of time he spent prostituting himself in San Francisco and New York out of his 2007 book, Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines. It is not depicted in the movie. -The Fix

The real Nic Sheff (left) goes into more detail in his book Tweak with regard to the things he did for drug money, including selling his body.

Did Nic Sheff steal money from his seven-year-old brother?

Yes. He says that stealing money from his little brother's piggy bank in order to buy drugs is one of the lowest things he's ever done. "I would have practically done anything to anybody in order to keep getting it," says Nic. He also tried to steal a computer from his mother, Vicki. She found him in a paranoid state hiding in the ceiling rafters in the garage. -The Fix

Did Nic Sheff overdose and end up in the ER?

Yes. With his body frail and ravaged by meth use, Nic overdosed and ended up in the ER. He says that he was too ashamed to call his father. "There was just this idea that I was just going to shoot drugs until I killed myself," says Nic.

Did David Sheff really check morgues and hospitals to make sure his son hadn't overdosed?

David Sheff says that this indeed happened. For a period of time when his son was at his worst, David would check morgues and hospitals every couple days to see if Nic had died or overdosed. In the movie, Steve Carell's character calls hospitals in search of his son.

Did Nic Sheff almost lose an arm from an infected needle hole?

Yes. Though it's not shown in the film, the Beautiful Boy true story reveals that Nic almost lost his arm when an infected needle puncture grew to the size of a baseball. -The New York Times

The real Nic Sheff (left) as a young man and actor Timothée Chalamet (right) as Sheff in the movie.

Did Nic Sheff go to rehab?

Yes. Fact-checking the Beautiful Boy movie reveals that Nic eventually agreed to seek help. At first, rehab helped him to recognize that he had a disease, despite still believing that he could control his drug and alcohol use. As in most cases, staying clean was hard to maintain. He relapsed multiple times, and as of 2009, had been through five rehabilitation programs.

Did David Sheff suffer a brain hemorrhage?

Yes. As both David and Nic were working on their books, David suffered a brain hemorrhage, and his son, who had been off drugs for 18 months, relapsed. The hemorrhage affected David's brain in such a way that he had to relearn how to write. It is left out of the film. -The New York Times

How did Nic Sheff finally turn his life around?

"How is it that, today, I actually don’t totally hate myself?" Nic said in an article he penned for The Fix. "The only thing I can say is that I actually started listening and started doing what those counselors and psychiatrists and people in meetings were telling me to do. Hell, it was no big secret. They’d been prescribing me medication, telling me what outpatient groups to go to, what doctors to see, what steps to take. I just didn’t listen. I didn’t listen and I didn’t believe."

Does Nic's father David blame himself for Nic becoming involved with drugs?

David says he struggled with blame and has often thought about what he could have done differently to help his son. "I think I could have intervened sooner," he told The New York Times in 2008. "Before Nic turned 18, I could have forced him into a program. I could have dragged him in, and at least it would have gotten him off the streets."

"I feel dad did really the best he could, you know, and my mom did the best she could," said Nic, "and they really, really tried really hard, you know, and at a certain point, there was nothing that they could do. There was not one thing that they could do that was going to make me not go down the path that I went down." -Oprah

The real David and Nic Sheff attend the Toronto International Film Festival in 2018 and discuss Beautiful Boy.

Where does the title "Beautiful Boy" come from?

The movie is based in part on David Sheff's book Beautiful Boy. The book title comes from the 1980 John Lennon song "Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)." Sheff interviewed John Lennon and Yoko Ono in September 1980, roughly three months before Lennon's murder.

What happened to Nic Sheff after the publication of his book?

In addition to working on his second book, Nic was living in Savannah, Georgia with his girlfriend and working as a nude model at a local art school. In 2011, he married Jette Newell, a model, actress and television writer. "That's what I care about now," he said in an article he wrote for The Fix, "I want to provide for the people I love. I want to take care of my dogs and to have kids one day and all that." Nic's second book, titled We All Fall Down, was published in 2011 and focuses on his ongoing efforts to stay clean as he suffers relapses and is in and out of rehab centers. He has since gone on to write for the Netflix TV show 13 Reasons Why.

David and Nic Sheff Interviews & Related Videos

Explore the Beautiful Boy true story further by watching an interview with the real David Sheff and son Nic Sheff.