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Sensing thin celebrity skin, National Enquirer homes in on Culkin

Why are so many alleged heroin addicts so good-looking?

Macaulay Culkin, in the news late last week for having been accused by the National Enquirer of being a junkie with 6 MONTHS TO LIVE!, is featured on the gossip rag's cover, stylin' in a black leather jacket; showing off a powder-pale face, high cheekbones and high-artlessly tousled white-blond hair.

The 31-year-old former child-star and current club DJ is said to have a $6,000-a-month habit, and to be addicted both to heroin and Oxycodone: "Mac spends his days," reads one snitch's account, "wandering aimlessly around New York City or holed up alone in his Manhattan apartment, which has become his drug den."

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This is classic Enquirer prose, aimed at the counterfeit sympathy of a readership in the thrall of celebrity frailty, failure and, best of all, death.

In a desperate attempt to revive its popularity, the tabloid that predicted, accurately, that Michael Jackson had six months to live has been playing Death-adamus in the three-year interim.

Almost every week, a star is put on notice with headlines like "Still Tormented By Loss of His Elegant Dinner Theater, Burt Reynolds has SIX MONTHS TO LIVE!" (I made this one up, but it's not a stretch: One can practically see the thinning staff salivate at the thought of another corpse bingo.)

The Culkin story grew stocky little legs and is being reported all over the place. The actor was forced, effectively, to issue a response on the weekend – through his rep – which states that the report is "not only categorically without merit, but it is also impossibly and ridiculously fictitious." Culkin's people went on to add, "We beseech the responsible media to consider the source and its reputation and to please not perpetuate this destructive and insulting story by pursuing it any further."

The problem with the "responsible media" is its possession of eyes: Culkin looks glamorous, beautiful even, but he is wasted – picture after picture reveals a skeletally thin, poppy-eyed wraith.

He may not be an addict; he may be fasting, radically, or just really hate sleep, sunlight and nutrients. But his story, as the rat squealed, is a sad one, and the Enquirer – damn it – is not wrong to point out a possible catastrophe-in-progress.

Two things about this paper: Laugh all you like, but it staffs ace reporters and photographers, and should never be taken lightly (See O.J. Simpson and the Case of the "Ugly Ass" Shoe). And, when they are threatened, they will go after you harder. As Ray Liotta's Henry says of the mob's victims in Goodfellas, "If anyone complained twice they got hit so bad, believe me, they never complained again."

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And, undaunted by Culkin's wan denial by proxy, the paper has thrown down the gauntlet.

In an open letter to the Party Monster star (the strange 2003 film in which Culkin played the very pretty, homicidal maniac Michael Alig), the Enquirer offers him a drug test – "in an independent medical lab" – to exonerate himself.

It cites, too, the recent death of his close friend Elijah Rosello, whose family asserts that she did dope with Culkin before her overdose in March. Other media (respectable and otherwise) are musing about Culkin's half-sister, Jennifer Adamson, who OD'd in 2000 (his sister Dakota was killed by a car in 2008, which led to unkind headlines about him being "cursed").

Is this story big, at present, because of the ongoing tale of child stars gone terribly bad? Or is it because we so rarely see Culkin, the actor so many of us were enamoured of in the 1980s as he forged his iconic Munch Scream pose, or bantered with the great John Candy in Uncle Buck?

His disappearance (with the exception of a couple of films, including 2007's Sex and Breakfast, and a closely guarded eight-year relationship with Mila Kunis, which ended last year) from the public eye is legendary: Amid a plague of rumours about his family's mishandling of his great wealth, after a cute-crash in 1994's Richie Rich, he simply faded out, appearing only for the two films, and to submit testimony on Michael Jackson's behalf (at his friend's criminal trial in 2005). Why? I'm only sure that it's none of my business.

Culkin was, however, a notable attendee at Jackson's funeral, a wretched little gathering that spoke to the very solitary, isolated ends of drug abuse. The Enquirer's hostility-laced letter to Culkin also says that "it is a fact that as the Enquirer tracked Whitney Houston's descent into her drug hell, she refused to admit she had a problem – and Whitney was represented by some of those people now denying Macaulay's potentially deadly problems."

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It is impossible to believe that the tabloid actually cares about Culkin's life. Instead, its evocation of Houston is the kind of crass tough-love – or tough-luck-loser! – prose they float out whenever they sense thin celebrity skin.

It is a shame, though, that so many great talents, such intriguing, alluring people, are seduced by the kind of blissful numbness and erasure that the Velvet Underground immortalized in Heroin, a song that laid bare the draw of the "nullifying," all-healing drug, the smack that Lou Reed, and later, Denis Johnson, would use to feel "just like Jesus' Son."

Whether Culkin is clean or not, he looks as good as Matt Dillon's Drugstore Cowboy, as a young Keith Richards or Kurt Cobain or Charlie Parker.

How sad, how depraved, these men were. But Culkin has, all of a sudden, chic and stature.

May he stay around and work it.

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