The wayward son saved by a president’s love

Family embrace: Joe Biden kisses his son Hunter at the presidential inauguration. © Getty

Is Hunter Biden brave to publish his life story? The book, out yesterday, describes his battle against addiction and the role of his father Joe Biden in putting his life back on track.

The addict was living alone in Washington DC. After years of struggling with drugs and alcohol, the loss of his beloved brother had brought him to rock bottom. He was, he says, “basically drinking myself to death”. But one person refused to give up on him – his father. “He was there constantly: he literally showed up at my door… He called me every day. He never let me down.”

The father in question was not just any concerned parent. He was Joe Biden, then the vice-president of the United States, who had left his desk at the White House to persuade his son to undergo treatment. “He saved me then,” says Hunter Biden, now 51. “But he saved me so many times… I know no one has ever loved his son more than he loved me.”

This moving testament to family devotion is central to Hunter’s autobiography, Beautiful Things. Already a bestseller, it takes its title from his brother Beau’s last words to him: “You focus on beautiful things, and everything else will make itself readily apparent.”

Hunter’s life has been marked by both privilege and tragedy. When he was two, his mother and baby sister were killed in a car accident; he himself suffered head injuries, and his brother Beau a broken leg.

This shocking event took place just as Joe Biden was making the first serious steps in his political career as a newly elected senator for Delaware. But his family rallied round, with his sister Valerie moving in to run the household and his brothers Jim and Jack also helping out. The love and support of the whole family was, Hunter says, “the greatest privilege that I had.”

Joe Biden never neglected his role as a father. Rather than base himself in Washington DC, he made the two-hour journey from Delaware every day. “My dad never missed a football game,” says Hunter, “never missed a debate I was in; put me to bed every night.”

Though his father sometimes had to make trips for work, there was a rule in the family: “At any time my brother and I could say, ‘Dad, I want to spend the day with you.’”

Hunter went on to train as a lawyer, before moving into the business world. But in early adulthood, addiction got the better of him, and things became even worse when Beau developed terminal brain cancer. At one point, Hunter was dependent on crack cocaine and living with a drug dealer.

It was not only this that made him a liability for a father hoping to be elected president. Hunter became involved in business dealings in Ukraine and China which brought accusations that he was misusing his father’s influence.

To Donald Trump, he represented Joe Biden’s Achilles heel. Trump’s first impeachment trial centred on accusations that he had misused his own influence by trying to pressurise Ukraine’s president into investigating Hunter’s affairs.

But Hunter presents himself in many respects as an ordinary man. “My story is not unique in any way… It’s a book about the redemptive power of unconditional love.”

Is Hunter brave to have published his life story?

Biden confides

Some say, yes. He has already been pilloried for his shortcomings by Donald Trump, who brought them up in an election debate watched by tens of millions of people. To confess to alcoholism and drug addiction in public after that requires real courage – especially when you are trying to sustain a business career, and your father is the top target of America’s right-wing press.

Others argue that he did not have anything to lose given the accusations that were made against him before the election. It would have been braver – and more sensible – to turn the other cheek instead of trying to justify himself and embarrassing his father in the process. Trump supporters are unlikely to buy the book, so most of the people who read it will be well disposed towards Hunter.

You Decide

  1. Should a politician’s private life be taken into account when judging his or her competence?
  2. Joe Biden has now banned his family from having foreign business interests. Should every politician do the same?


  1. Paint a group portrait of the members of your family closest to you.
  2. Write the first chapter of your autobiography.

Some People Say...

“It’s about time we started looking at addiction as a mental-health issue, rather than an ethical or moral issue.”

Hunter Biden (1970 – ), American businessman

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that Donald Trump developed an obsession with trying to discredit Joe Biden through Hunter. His hopes rested on the fact Joe Biden had been in charge of US-Ukraine relations at a time when Hunter was a director of a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma. Trump blocked military aid to the country before asking its president to investigate the Bidens.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate is around whether Hunter does in fact have something to answer for. He has acknowledged that it was foolish of him to accept the job with Burisma; however, investigators have found no evidence that he influenced his father’s dealings with Ukraine. He was also offered a stake in a company with Chinese interests after accompanying his father on a vice-presidential visit to Beijing – but did not accept it until after Joe Biden had left office.

Word Watch

Biden held this position under Barack Obama from 2009 to 2017.
Beau Biden was a successful lawyer who served two terms as Delaware’s district attorney. He was also a major in the National Guard, decorated for his service in Iraq. He died in 2015 aged 46.
Situated on the east coast, it is the second smallest state in the US.
She helped run the family until Joe Biden remarried five years later. She has played a prominent role in all his political campaigns.
Achilles heel
Weak spot. In Greek mythology, Achilles’ mother tried to make him immortal by dipping him in the sacred River Styx as a baby, but the heel she held him by was left vulnerable.
Ukraine’s president
Volodymyr Zelensky has been president since 2019. Before his election he was an actor who played the president of Ukraine in a TV comedy show.
Investigating Hunter’s affairs
Trump also sent his lawyer Rudi Giuliani to Ukraine in search of incriminating evidence. There he met a politician believed by US intelligence to be in the pay of the Russian government.

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