For a notoriously fickle industry, fashion turns out a surprisingly robust share of comeback stories. Many models take time off for school, or to raise children, but Hedquist’s hiatus was entirely unplanned. In 2006, after years of spectacular success, he lapsed into a coma after a prescription drug overdose from an almost lethal combination of sleeping pills, painkillers, and alcohol, and did not regain consciousness until three weeks later, then spent well over a year working to regain full use of his motor skills.
A native of Pennsylvania, Hedquist was discovered at the age of sixteen in a cafe in Stockholm, where his family was living at the time after his father had been transferred there for work. Hedquist picked up modeling jobs quickly, and tried to balance his new career with his schooling after he moved to California to study psychology at the University of San Francisco, but soon found it difficult to devote enough time to either.
Hedquist’s accident was the result of a toxic mix of alcohol and prescription drugs, including sleeping pills, which he had been prescribed to help deal with the pressures of the job and the stress of constant travel. “I was really high-strung and anxious when I was little,” he explains, “and, when you’re a model, there’s this projection put on you that you are special in some way that you have to embody on set. That pressure is sometimes hard to compartmentalize in your real life.”
“It was a maturity issue,” Hedquist emphasizes. “I was not equipped enough mentally and socially to deal with it. I wasn’t mature enough to work like a normal person.” He insists that he accepts responsibility for his addiction, and he is not looking to blame the industry for his mistakes.
Even as he became increasingly dependent on the pills, he says that he believed that he was still in control. “I thought I could handle it, but just like everybody else who’s in that position, they’re in denial and they think they can handle it until they can’t and they end up in a coma. I couldn’t, and I failed.”
Coming out of his coma, Hedquist was initially unable to see and was a quadriplegic. His doctors told him he was unlikely to walk again, which he refused to believe. At first, he spoke only French, his native tongue, but he says that he felt strangely relaxed as he learned to make his way through the world again. “Surprisingly enough, I was the most calm I’ve ever been,” he recalls. “For the first time, nothing was expected of me.”
Follow Hedquist’s journey on Instagram at @julienhedquist.