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‘Halston': Was His Phone Really Full of Cocaine?

Halston’s cocaine habit was legendary, but was this specific detail from the Netflix series an embellishment?

(Some light spoilers ahead for the fourth episode of “Halston” on Netflix)

The new Ryan Murphy-produced Netflix show “Halston” is quite a thing to behold, with a hugely entertaining five episodes full of fun, gossipy material. The show is salacious enough that Roy Halston Frowick’s family has already disavowed it as “an inaccurate, fictionalized account” — though they might just be making that claim because while the series clearly holds Halston in reverence, it doesn’t shy away from his warts.

One example of those warts is the show’s depiction of Halston’s cocaine habit. Over the course of those five episodes, Halston develops a “Scarface”- level obsession with the drug. At one point, Halston demands his assistant Sassy get more coke after they ran out — in reply, Sassy complains that they ran through a two-week supply in two days.

One of my favorite bits of the story comes in the fourth episode, during a particularly chaotic stretch of the series. After a particularly upsetting night at Studio 54, Halston goes home and calls up his BFF, Liza Minnelli. But she can’t hear him, despite a couple attempts to get a better connection.

The connection wasn’t the problem. The problem, as we learn when the telephone repair guy shows up to try to fix it, is that Halston’s phone receiver was full of cocaine. As his friend Joe tells it, Halston made a frequent habit of using coke while talking on the phone — every time dropping a little bit into the receiver until it eventually clogged up the works.

This detail, as far as I can tell, is exclusive to the book that the Netflix series was adapted from, rather than a famous anecdote that’s been spread widely. The book, “Simply Halston” by journalist Steven Gaines, was released in 1991, not long after Halston’s death — and it’s the sort of detail that not many would be able to confirm if they wanted to since most of the characters in this story have died.

As Gaines tells it, though, the context was pretty different than what we see in the Netflix show. Gaines says this anecdote came later, after Halston sold his company and received his AIDS diagnosis, both of which happened after this scene in the show.

But that’s pretty standard artistic license with these sorts of biographical productions. They can never truly provide the full picture of a person, and so there’s always some amount of remixing involved in the interpretation.