BOSTON (CBS) – Joe Putignano is a recovering heroin addict. He’s also one of the star gymnasts in Cirque du Solei’s Totem.

WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Kim Tunnicliffe reports.

He struggles everyday to stay sober. As a young man he found himself out on the streets without a home and he was declared clinically dead twice.

“It started here in Boston, I would say the birthplace of my addiction started in the 90’s and the whole rave thing. I used to go Landsdowne Street at a club called Axis, so it was really almost terrifying to come back here with the show but it sort of comes full circle in a way.”

Putignano says growing up as a gymnast, there was a lot of pressure on him, which is part of the reason he turned to drugs at age 17.

“In the sport of gymnastics there’s a lot of perfection, you have to be the best not only do you have to be the best, but you’re judged and everyone can see your score so its almost as if the world can see your imperfections. On top of that, you take it into your own life after you do it over and over. For me, my escape from that were substances. From 17-27 I left all athletics,” said Putignano.

While the perfection and pressure from athletics drove him to drugs, getting back into gymnastics is also what saved him from his addiction. He believes there’s a deep connection between addiction and athletics.

“The same energy you carry to be an Olympian or whatever it is, the same passion the same driving force it is to be addict. It’s an energy you can take to a dark place, or a good place and that’s how I stay sober now,” said Putignano.

Gymnastics landed Putignano roles in a Broadway show and a metropolitan opera. Now he plays “Crystal Man” in Totem, a role that was made custom for him.

“It represents Darwin’s origin of species, when God brought light to man and I represent that kind of change; the evolution in people and within ourselves. And that part of your soul that wont let you give up even when you want to, wouldn’t allow me,” said Putignano.


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