Nephew's Overdose Death Led Michael Keaton to Award-Winning Role in 'Dopesick'

Michael Keaton (right) and his deceased nephew Michael Douglas Scichilone (left)

"Given the subject matter, this is for my nephew Michael and my sister Pam," Michael Keaton said in his acceptance speech at the SAG Awards on Feb. 27. "I lost my nephew Michael to drugs, and it hurts." Keaton had just won the prize for his depiction of Dr. Sam Finnix in the Hulu miniseries Dopesick about the rise of Purdue Pharma and its opioid, Oxycontin. 

"In Dopesick, when you talk about addiction, the way to heal the problem is to accept that you have a problem," Keaton told TribLive in October. "Not our country — the entire world. Economically, racially, socially, financially. There’s massive inequity in the world. There just is. There’s fair, and there’s unfair. There’s not a lot of room in between.”

Keaton's nephew, Michael Douglas Scichilone, died on Nov. 26, 2016 from a fentanyl/heroin overdose. His mother, Pam Douglas, is Keaton's sister. Scichilone lived in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania, about 11 miles from where Keaton grew up in Kennedy Township northwest of Pittsburgh. Scichilone was in his mid-30s.

Michael Keaton on Purdue Pharma: "They were priming everybody. Compare that to some kid selling some weed after he gets off of work at McDonald’s. How much harm is that fucking kid doing? This is just some sort of insidious greed.”

Keaton, who played a recovering alcoholic in 1988's Clean and Sober, says about the opioid use portrayed in Dopesick:

“It’s a different kind of addiction, but it’s addiction. I remember the day I broke it down to basics… And I think addicts will bear me out on this: Get up in the morning thinking about where am I going to get dope? That’s all you think about until you get dope. Then you enjoy the dope… or do it to maintain to get you to the next point where you go, ‘Now how am I going to get it?’ It consumes all of you and it’s heartbreaking and sad and it happens to really, really good people. We shouldn’t look down on these people. This is a disease that happens to great, great, great, great people.”

Michael Keaton with Mehgan Scichilone in 2004 (via Post-Gazette)

When Dopesick showrunner Danny Strong reached out to the iconic actor about playing Dr. Finnix, Keaton told him about MIchael. “If it had not been well written, I probably wouldn’t have done it,” Keaton says. "But it was really good.”

Though the show is set in the fictional town of Finch Creek, Virginia, Keaton was able to add some PA touches. “If you listen real closely, there’s language that I use and expressions that are used that come from that part of the world that you’re familiar with,” he notes. “And Danny said, ‘Why don’t you make him from Western Pennsylvania?'"

Five years after Scichilone's death, Keaton dove into the role. Not only does Dr. Finnix prescibe increasingly high doses of fentanyl to his patients (several work in the area's coal mines), he gets hooked on the drug himself.

"You start really reading, and you go, ‘Holy shit, this makes the tobacco industry look like shoe salesmen,"" Keaton told The Hollywood Reporter about Purdue. "They were priming everybody. Compare that to some kid selling some weed after he gets off of work at McDonald’s. How much harm is that fucking kid doing? This is just some sort of insidious greed.”

The Michael Douglas Scichilone Foundation and KICK IT for Mike educate "children and parents about the dangers of drug use and the disease of addiction." The organization donates proceeds to The Matilda H. Theiss Child Development Center at UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital.

Keaton also won a Golden Globe for Dopesick in January. He previously was awarded a Golden Globe for 2014's Birdman, which he received an Oscar nom for as well. Keaton's probably best known for playing Batman in 1989 and 1992.


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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.