WE LOST two fabulous British talents last week, with the passing of the Thin White Duke (aka David Bowie) and actor Alan Rickman.
Rickman became famous after starring in the Harry Potter franchise, but I knew him best from his role as the cellist Jamie in the wonderful 1990 romantic comedy/drama Truly, Madly, Deeply.
It was released the same year as Patrick Swayze's Ghost; the storylines had a vague similarity - women grieving for their dead partners caused them to reappear in ghost form. The Swayze film was a runaway success, and Rickman's movie (which was superior) suffered as a result of the intersecting theme.
Both Rickman and Bowie passed away after private battles with cancer. Bowie's well-documented involvement with illicit drugs prompted a reader of a Sydney newspaper to write last week that he didn't know what the fuss was about; Bowie hadn't contributed anything to society and was just an addict who died of cancer probably brought about by his own lifestyle.
This prompted an outpouring of rage from fellow readers and caused me to ponder on what exactly it was that Bowie had achieved.
He brought a great deal of pleasure to millions through his music and innovative video clips (Aladdin Sane and Ziggy Stardust were the soundtracks to my teenage years), and who knows how many kids he inspired to pick up an instrument.
If we all lived our lives according to the judgemental criteria expressed in that letter, the world would have no works by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Vincent van Gogh, Lewis Carroll or Brett Whitely. No Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Amy Winehouse or Sammy Davis jnr.
The list is long and distinguished - Robert Louis Stevenson is reputed to have written The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde while on a huge cocaine binge (which explains an awful lot, really).
None of us know if the creative genius inhabiting any of those people would have found a voice without the use of their particular drug; it's quite likely that they were self-medicating to treat some form of emotional pain.
What's clear is many of us enjoy an altered state from time to time - some more than others. It's even evident in the wild; Google drunken animals and you'll come up with a whole raft of videos of various beasties getting loaded on fermented fruit.
Of course, drugs and alcohol are not the only method. Some people achieve a high from meditation, an endorphin rush through exercise, or from religious hysteria.
I prefer a nice glass of pinot grigio than run a marathon or faint after speaking in tongues, but however we achieve that high, as long as we do no harm to anyone but ourselves, is it anybody's business but our own?
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