The original manuscript of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, complete with the founders’ edits scrawled on the pages, went on display for public viewing for the first time on Thursday (April 18) in Indianapolis.
The Big Book, the vessel for the 12-step program for getting and staying sober, was first published in 1939 and has since sparked a global movement.
The 161-page manuscript—with the original markings made by the founders including Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith as they passed the draft amongst themselves—went up for auction last May. Before then, it was the subject of some controversy as AA World Services fought for ownership of the document.
Ultimately, the manuscript was purchased for $2.4 million by Jim Irsay, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts. Irsay himself is in recovery, as he detailed to the Indy Star in 2014 following a DUI arrest earlier that year.
“It’s an unusual disease in the sense that the person has to diagnose himself,” Irsay said at the time. “He has to realize that there’s this genetic disease you have to deal with through treatment. My grandfather and father both died of the disease, and you realize you’ve spent a lot of time on this path.” He revealed that he struggled with his use of pain medication, like many Americans trying to manage pain.
Irsay attended his first AA meeting 25 years ago, and still goes to meetings to this day. He said in his interview that he had remained alcohol-free for more than a decade.
“It’s been a long path. I still have chronic pain… It’s an ongoing thing in one’s life when recovering from any disease,” he said. “There’s a lot of gratitude and spiritual growth. And it’s rewarding because it makes you more virtuous when you have success.”
By putting the manuscript on display for all to see, Irsay “wants the book to be a beacon of hope for those afflicted with addiction issues” and to “help reduce the stigma of addiction,” said Larry Hall, vice president of special projects and historical affairs for the Colts.
The manuscript was on display at Fairbanks Hospital’s annual fundraiser dinner at the Westin Indianapolis. Its next stop is Akron, Ohio, where it will be on display for the first weekend of June at the home of Dr. Bob Smith for Founders Day.
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