Written By: Ben Cosgrove

 

‘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, 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.]

Heroin addicts, New York, photographed by Bill Eppridge

Karen and John were the main subjects of a LIFE story on heroin addiction. Here Karen had her arms around John and his brother, Bro— also an addict—as they lay on a hotel bed.

Bill Eppridge The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Needle Park, LIFE magazine, Feb. 26, 1965

Needle Park, LIFE magazine, Feb. 26, 1965

Needle Park, LIFE magazine, Feb. 26, 1965

Needle Park, LIFE magazine, Feb. 26, 1965

Needle Park, LIFE magazine, Feb. 26, 1965

Needle Park, LIFE magazine, Feb. 26, 1965

Needle Park, LIFE magazine, Feb. 26, 1965

Needle Park, LIFE magazine, Feb. 26, 1965

Needle Park, LIFE magazine, Feb. 26, 1965

Needle Park, LIFE magazine, Feb. 26, 1965

Needle Park, LIFE magazine, Feb. 26, 1965

Needle Park, LIFE magazine, Feb. 26, 1965

Needle Park, LIFE magazine, Feb. 26, 1965

Needle Park, LIFE magazine, Feb. 26, 1965

Needle Park, LIFE magazine, Feb. 26, 1965

Needle Park, LIFE magazine, Feb. 26, 1965

More Like This

Santa Claus lifestyle

The Enduring Appeal of Santa

Pies lifestyle

American Pies

Drum Major at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1951. lifestyle

Welcome to LIFE.com

World Series celebrations lifestyle

The Thrill of World Series Victory

lifestyle

Cool Car Shots

Women's Work-Life Dilemma lifestyle

The Women’s Work-Home Dilemma, 1947