Australia’s golden boy Kim Hughes used to be the life of the party. But then his alcohol abuse caught him up with him. The former Test captain says it took losing almost everything before he accepted it was time to pull up stumps.
Wayne Clark remembers his heart sank when he received the phone call.
His friend was at an event, going around and finishing other guests’ drinks at the end of the night.
“I got a couple of calls from some guys at a Hall of Fame function,” Clark recalls.
“Kim had got himself very drunk again. He was just embarrassing himself.”
Kim is former Australia cricket captain and beloved personality Kim Hughes, who was in the throes of a spiraling alcohol addiction.
It was a tragic fall for one of Western Australia’s favorite sons.
One that cost him his marriage, isolated him from his family, and could have ultimately cost him his life.
Hughes, once the holder of the second-highest office in the land, has now been sober for 18 months, rebuilt his relationships and taken on a new mission – helping those battling addiction.
Golden boy’s rise to the top
To Australians of a certain vintage, Kim Hughes is still a household name.
Cricket fans around the world remember the dashing right-hander, carving beautiful cover drives to the boundary, his golden locks clearly visible under his baggy green.
In 1978, at just 24 years of age, he became one of the youngest ever Test captains when he took over the role during a tumultuous time in Australian cricket.
His captaincy was challenged and saw him move in and out of the top job role for periods of time, before he led the national team to the World Cup in 1983.
He was also constantly under attack from within the playing ranks and in the media. His vice-captain David Hookes publicly advocated for a new captain following a disastrous World Cup.
The pressure was relentless and he sensationally stepped down from the role the following year, midway through the second Test match against the West Indies in Brisbane.
“The constant speculation, criticism and innuendo by former players and sections of the media over the past 4–5 years have finally taken their toll,” he said at the time.
Wayne Clark, who played with Hughes for Western Australia and Australia, has no doubt this time in his life contributed to the drinking.
“All that stuff he went through, there was a lot. I reckon that he had a lot to do with his drinking,” Clark says.
“To be fair I think he nearly had a breakdown then, just coping with all that, under the pressures that he had.
“And in those times, there wasn’t any help.”
The circus stopped, but drinks kept pouring
Cutting a confident image on the cricket field, Hughes was popular with the public and the media, his ‘nice guy’ image leading him to build a career as a public speaker after his playing days ended.
He’s been a mainstay on the circuit in Western Australia for years, with his charismatic nature and charm endearing him to crowds who want to hear the stories of WA’s only Test captain.
“He’d be out there, the life of the party,” Clark explains.
“But it was all about drinking. I think when he left [speaking engagements]I didn’t have much else.
“I think there was a fair bit of loneliness involved in that.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic dragged on, Hughes’s speaking engagements tricked off.
He fell deeper into the grips of his addiction, withdrawing from his family and becoming isolated.
“I was just going through the motions. The corporate speaking dried up, and things can get very, very lonely,” he says.
“The thing that I was really struggling with was that I was distancing, or my children were distancing themselves from me, or I was from them, because I didn’t want to be around them smelling of alcohol.”
White wine was his drink of choice. The first glasses were poured in his apartment early in the morning, then he would drive himself to his favorite watering holes.
“He was a car accident waiting to happen,” his son Bradley says.
“The time was right to get the help before something like that happened, and then it’s too late.”
The fear of Hughes barreling towards prison, or worse death, spurred his family and friends into action.
“I was hearing through Wayne and a few others he wasn’t doing too well,” Bradley says.
“We spoke about it and said, ‘he’s at that point where something bad could happen’.
“‘He’s not in a good way. He needs help.'”
Pulling up stumps
The day Bradley, Wayne, and another friend Richard Menasse sat him down for an intervention at a cafe in Leederville is sharply etched into Hughes’s mind.
“[Drinking] had already cost me my marriage,” Hughes admits.
“It was a real brutal honesty that I really needed for me to take the next step.
“Don’t tell us. Don’t talk about it. Do something.”
Menasse organized a stay at a rehabilitation facility, where Hughes spent two weeks.
“We were able to get him to agree that he had to go to rehab. He had to get away from things. He had to get out of society for a while,” Clark recalls.
When Hughes returned home, he was assigned a nurse who visited him weekly to provide him with counseling and support.
“We would really get into the nitty-gritty of my background, psychologically, and all those things,” he says.
Hughes hasn’t had a drink in 18 months, but it’s not the end of the battle.
“We discovered that Kim did have a habit with alcohol. But it was a consequence of what I think was a depression that we’re still managing,” Menasse says.
“He absolutely understands every day is a new day. And he’s reminded of it. That he’s got to do the right thing by himself.”
Walking along the shores of Scarborough Beach, Hughes acknowledges how his journey could have gone.
“I could have ended up a drunk in the street,” he says.
“‘Oh look, there’s a former Australian cricket captain. Look at him now.’
“I was a dickhead.”
Hughes hasn’t touched alcohol since his stint in rehab, but his battle with addiction is ongoing.
He now uses his public speaking engagements to share his true story and raise awareness about mental health.
An avid golfer, he admits temptation is never far away — especially on the green.
“It was a very hot day,” he says of one recent trip around the golf course.
“A mate of mine was in the cart and he had a cold Crowny.
“I was thinking, ‘geez I’d like to have one’. I was a bit tempted.”
In his youth, as a rising star of cricket, Hughes was impetuous. He would lose patience while building an innings and would often throw his wicket away from him.
Over the years, he has developed his skill to remain focused while batting – a tactic he now draws in his recovery.
“If someone said you’re going to go a year without having a drink, it’s too far away,” he says.
He also keeps a diary that he updates every Friday, documenting the weeks since his last drink.
“Inch by inch, it’s a cinch. It’s not out of sight, it’s just out of reach,” Hughes says with a smile. It’s his favorite motto of him.
His son Bradley is glad his dad is back in his and his children’s lives.
“He’s a lot healthier. He’s got a lot more energy. And we see him a lot more, obviously,” Bradley reflects.
“He’s pretty involved with the kids and their sport and everything, which is great.”
Hughes knows second chances don’t come around that often, and he’s determined to not throw his wicket away again.
“I’ll never go back to what it was like before,” he says.