‘Two Lives Lost to Heroin’: A Harrowing, Early Portrait of Addicts

Needle Park, LIFE magazine, Feb. 26, 1965
LIFE Magazine
LIFE magazine, Feb. 26, 1965. Note: Best viewed in Full Screen mode; see button at right.
Bill Eppridge
'60s

‘We are animals in a world no one knows’

In February 1965, LIFE magazine published an extraordinary photo essay on two heroin addicts, John and Karen, in New York City. Photographed by Bill Eppridge, the photographs — and the accompanying article, reported and written by LIFE associate editor James Mills — were part of a two-part series on narcotics in the United States. A sensitive, clear-eyed and harrowing chronicle of, as LIFE phrased it, “two lives lost to heroin,” Eppridge’s pictures shocked the magazine’s readers and brought the sordid, grim reality of addiction into countless American living rooms.

To this day, Eppridge’s photo essay remains among the most admired and, for some, among the most controversial that LIFE ever published. His pictures and Mills’ reporting, meanwhile, formed the basis for the 1971 movie, Panic in Needle Park, which starred Al Pacino and Kitty Winn as addicts whose lives spin inexorably out of control.

Here, on the heels of the awful, sobering news of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death, reportedly by drug overdose, LIFE.com presents Eppridge’s “Needle Park” photo essay in its entirety, as it appeared in LIFE — a portrait of two young people who have become, as they themselves put it, “animals in a world no one knows.”

[See more of Bill Eppridge's work.]
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