Books

‘I HAD 15 TEETH LEFT’

Celebrities who once lost it to booze or drugs recall their big-time flame-outs

JOHN INTINI July 4 2005
Books

‘I HAD 15 TEETH LEFT’

Celebrities who once lost it to booze or drugs recall their big-time flame-outs

JOHN INTINI July 4 2005

‘I HAD 15 TEETH LEFT’

Books

Celebrities who once lost it to booze or drugs recall their big-time flame-outs

JOHN INTINI

POOR KELLY OSBOURNE. A few weeks ago, Ozzy’s daughter tripped back into rehab—about a year after enlisting professional help for an addiction to painkillers. Apparently, her recent visit was related to problems with weight, but the wannabe rocker chick, along with her brother, is no stranger to substance abuse (Jack sought counselling for dependency on booze and pot in 2003). Whether you blame her troubles on her dad’s own drug-filled life or just an inability to handle the Hollywood lifestyle, Kelly’s fast becoming a celebrity cliché.

Rehab has long been a popular holiday destination for overindulgent celebs. In the 1980s, Betty Ford provided a safe haven for the rich and famous to kick their nasty habits. And more recently, Joaquin Phoenix (alcohol), Ben Affleck (alcohol), Billy Joel (alcohol), Whitney Houston (drugs and Bobby Brown) and serial rehabber Robert Downey Jr. (cocaine, alcohol, etc.,) have all spent time at a high-priced, cold-turkey resort (at some, full-body massages are included).

Screaming tabloid headlines make it seem that celebrities are more susceptible to addiction than, say, your average grade-school teacher. Most experts say that’s not so, but stars who’ve been substance abusers beg to differ. They point out that, along with their counterparts in sports, they have 24/7 access to an open bar and medicine cabinet. “A housewife will never say to the plumber fixing her toilet that she just scored some heroin and that he should come to the den and have some after he finishes,” says comic Richard Lewis, a recovering alcoholic who’s been dry for 11 years. “Celebrities live a very different life.”

In The Harder they Fall, Lewis and 20 other big names from the 1960s and ’70s share their stories of substance abuse and survival. Public relations executive and former film producer Gary Stromberg compiled the first-person accounts for his new book by conducting extensive interviews with the former addicts—including shock-rocker Alice Cooper, Jefferson Airplane vocalist Grace

Slick and funnyman Richard Pryor. Stromberg, himself a wild man in his heyday, represented some of the biggest bands in the world, including the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and the Doors. “I didn’t hang out

‘A HOUSEWIFE will never say to the plumber, he should come and have some heroin after he finishes’

with anyone who wasn’t getting high,” says Stromberg, now 63 and clean for nearly 23 years. “We were all on a suicide mission. Not living life fast was more of a concern to me than dying.”

One of the most compelling, and certainly most extreme, addict-dotes in Stromberg’s book is courtesy of Chuck Negron. After the meteoric rise of his band, Three Dog Night, Negron found himself in a heroinand cocaine-induced nosedive that landed him in a cardboard box on the streets near skid row in L.A. “I had 15 teeth left, weighed 126 pounds—even though I was more than six feet tall—and was going to jail,” says Negron, now a 63-year-old father of six who has been clean and sober since 1991. “To stay out of jail, I got into Cri-Help, my 37th rehab, and on the first night prayed to die. I fell asleep, and when I woke up, I knew I had to ask for help.”

Lewis, who forgot an entire four-month relationship with a woman while he was committed to the bottle, agrees that celebrities are somewhat predisposed to addiction. “People who want public adulation are needy in one way or another,” says Lewis. “People love celebrities, but not for who they really are. That’s why a lot of celebrities think of themselves as a hoax. That can get depressing after a while and be something a person wants to escape from.” Often, he adds, support doesn’t come from those closest to you—especially when a celebrity is at their peak. “Not many managers,” says Lewis, “have the balls to pull their client out when they’re in trouble.”

And the artist’s lifestyle—mind-altering drugs and all—is still widely accepted by the public, even romanticized. “It’s long been said, especially with jazz music, that you get creative by getting high,” says Stromberg. “We all know that Ernest Hemingway took a couple of pops before he sat down at the typewriter, and think of all the rock stars who’ve taken a couple of hits of cocaine before going out on stage. So, many of today’s stars consider it almost like a tradition.” I?1