TIME LIFE Photo Essay

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

In the wake of the news that heroin deaths in the U.S. quadrupled during the last three years, LIFE.com presents a seminal 1965 photo essay on heroin addiction.

‘We are animals in a world no one knows’

In February 1965, LIFE magazine published an extraordinary photo essay on two New York City heroin addicts, John and Karen. Photographed by Bill Eppridge, the pictures — 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 sobering news that heroin-related deaths quadrupled in the U.S. in the last three years, 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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