INTERVIEW

'One day I’m discussing nail polish with the Olsen twins, the next I've got this huge, life-threatening disease'

STEVEN COJOCARU TALKS TO LIANNE GEORGE ABOUT GLAMOUR, THE STALKERAZZI, AND HOW IT FEELS TO HAVE A KIDNEY REPLACED-TWICE

February 4 2008
INTERVIEW

'One day I’m discussing nail polish with the Olsen twins, the next I've got this huge, life-threatening disease'

STEVEN COJOCARU TALKS TO LIANNE GEORGE ABOUT GLAMOUR, THE STALKERAZZI, AND HOW IT FEELS TO HAVE A KIDNEY REPLACED-TWICE

February 4 2008

'One day I’m discussing nail polish with the Olsen twins, the next I've got this huge, life-threatening disease'

STEVEN COJOCARU TALKS TO LIANNE GEORGE ABOUT GLAMOUR, THE STALKERAZZI, AND HOW IT FEELS TO HAVE A KIDNEY REPLACED-TWICE

INTERVIEW

In 2004, Steven Cojocaru, the flamboyant, Montreal-born fashion and celebrity correspondent for Entertainment Tonight and The Insider, was diagnosed with a potentially lethal form of kidney disease. Since then, he has undergone two kidney transplants—the first organ came from a friend, the second from his 70-year-old mother—months of dialysis, and harsh public scrutiny over his illness-related weight gain. He tells his story in his new book, Glamour, Interrupted: How I Became the Best-Dressed Patient in Hollywood.

Everyone calls you Cojo. Mind if I do?

A: No, I love it. I absolutely love having one name. My last name was so complicated—like an

Albanian riddle.

Q: How are you feeling?

A: Great. I feel better now than I even did before. I don’t have bad habits anymore. I’m forced at gunpoint by my doctors to really take care of myself. I’m on the Zone diet. I don’t eat fatty foods. I don’t eat sugar, dairy, wheat. I’m an L.A. cliché. All that’s missing is the ashram. And I hate it.

Q: Don’t you mean you love it?

A: No, I’m miserable. I need my meat and potatoes. I miss smoking. I miss drinking. I miss carousing. I miss staying up late.

Q: How does it affect how you do your job? A: Before my life was my job. I was my job. It all blurred together. But now I can work the red carpets, I can schmooze at Hollywood

parties and actually have clarity.

Q: You clearly love what you do. Did you always know what you wanted to be in this world?

A: Always. It’s almost storybook how it all unfolded. I was an awkward, glamour-obsessed child with a very strong mother. I was talking about Lana Turner and Ava Gardner at age five,before I could fully form sentences.

Q: Did you have fashion role models?

A: For me it was all about movie stars and glamour. It was never about models, never about the runway. I have been poisoned—and there is no cure—by Cher. I thought Cher was an alien. I mean, who was this woman, naked, two sequins on her nether regions, feathers and this exotic hair and cheekbones? I thought she was either an alien, or my mother.

Q: You don’t see that kind of big, extravagant glamour in Hollywood anymore.

A: Well, you’ve opened up a can of worms now. Sometimes I ask myself, “My God. Am I ancient and nostalgic already?” I came up with such a great wave of glamour girls who had pedigree, who had the whole package— Gwyneth Paltrow, Salma Hayek, Halle Berry— bona fide movie stars. Now, you’d have to interrogate me and pour boiling water on me to even get me to name one who has any charisma or gutsy glamour. J.Lo, but I’m tired of J.Lo. I have gushed about her for 15 years and she hasn’t even sent me a muffin.

Q: Celebrities seem to like you—even though you’re insulting their clothes half of the time. How do you describe your approach?

A: I do two separate things. I’m the town

crier and the jokester on the red carpet, and I criticize them. They all know that it’s done with a grain of salt. Then when I put my journalist’s hat on, I’m prepared. I am Diane Sawyer—you know, in rock ’n’ roll, Dolce & Gabbana boots. I strive for a girlfriend-togirlfriend kind of conversation. I don’t go for the gossip. I don’t care who they’re sleeping with. I care who I’m sleeping with. I know I’m the king of fluff. And it all looks easy. But it takes a lot to look professionally vapid.

Q: What do you think of how invasive celebrity journalism has become?

A: I think I’m kind of old school. I think what’s happened in Hollywood is—well, words escape me because it’s the apocalypse, that’s what I think. It’s got a Day of the Locust feel to it. Stars are being followed by packs of wolves, mangy animals. There are boundaries not just being crossed, they’re being leaped over to the point there is no control. You see footage of Britney Spears, and they’re following her into stores now. No wonder she’s lost her mind and she’s walking around in—well, I get a rash just looking at her clothes.

Q: Does it make your job harder to do—to preserve any ofthat old Hollywood glamour?

A: The veneer is almost impossible to keep up. I would like to think I came into this with [a goal of] peeling away the veneer because it was unheard of then to trash a star. But things have changed radically in the last four or five years. It’s that sudden. Before you would sort of play 1940s, and you did softball puff pieces on people. That game is still there, but the ugly side is definitely there. It doesn’t make

my job harder because I have my own little galaxy that I function in. I’m brutally honest, but I’m also having fun with them. I’m air kissing them. I’m Hedda Hopper! So it’s a strange world but, you know, I didn’t come to Hollywood for a stable, healthy job or lifestyle.

Q: Tell me about polycystic kidney disease.

A Polycystic kidney disease is a genetic condition where cysts grow on your kidneys, so many they start to eat away at the tissue. The kidneys become very enlarged and they start to press against organs and it gets very uncomfortable and it gets dangerous. I was very close to my kidneys shutting down.

Q: When you first found out your diagnosis, you were reluctant to tell anyone. Why?

A: First, there’s the emotional fear. One day I’m doing cartwheels in Fred Segal—and I can’t even begin to describe the fluff—I’m discussing nail polishes with the Olsen twins. Then the next day, I’m in the doctor’s office and I’m diagnosed with this huge disease which could be life-threatening. But I didn’t really allow the emotional part. One of my first thoughts was, ‘Oh my God, my career is over.’ Because I’m a careerist, demonically possessed when it comes to my career, and I thought I’m damaged goods. No one will see me as vibrant and employable because people are very disposable in show business.

Q: You talk a lot about the intense gratitude and guilt involved in taking a kidney from a loved one. How was the first operation different from the second?

A: The first time was the great unknown. It felt very life-and-death. My kidneys were shutting down and what a miracle that I got a kidney from a best friend. It felt like a clock ticking and a bomb was going to go off. It was that dramatic. The second time it was even more excruciating because I’d been through it and now I was really sick. The first time I was shielded by the disorientation of being felled by a disease. You get a certain cushion there because it takes a long time to absorb that kind of shock.

Q: How is your mother doing?

A: My mother is a shining example and a poster child—a poster senior—for what can happen with organ donation. If a 70-year-old woman can give an organ and save a life then people half her age can do it. I’m so proud of her and what she represents. Obviously the mission for me is the message about organ donation. She’s barely five feet tall and she’s Hercules. Hercules with a little Prada bag.

Q: It sounds like you received very good care at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Hollywood’s “hospital to the stars.”

A: I was very fortunate. I definitely had the

privilege of many choices. I take great pride in firing doctors. I had a lot of doctors who were really old coots, very Dick Cheney-ish, and I don’t respond to that. I only allowed Democratic doctors to treat me.

Q: Is it true the hospital has a club floor restricted for celebrities?

A: There is this very nice floor and it’s filled with celebrities and people who have pull, and regular people, too, depending on their condition. But most celebrities are put on that floor because it’s the comfiest and it has views. It’s like a little junior suite.

Q: And there was a deluxe menu?

A: You pay for it, but yes, you have a deluxe menu and you can order lobster bisque or filet mignon.

Q:Tell me about the room you ended up in.

A: I was in the same room that Audrey Hepburn had been in. I dubbed it the Audrey Hepburn Memorial Suite. It’s got couches and a dining table and a flat screen TV and a beautiful bathroom. Compared to the Tijuana prison cell I was in on the kidney floor, this was like a key to the Ritz.

Q: What got you through this experience?

A: People think I was brave. Not at all. Courageous or noble? None of the above. It was my gritty diva-ness—the ghost of Bette Davis—that got me through this.

Q: How do you mean?

A: Well, just making over the nurses. I had some female doctors that came in with bad hair and it raised the beast in me. I could’ve sunk into despair, but I’d have these nurses come in, these nice nurses, and they had sideburns and a moustache and there I was, halfdead, attached to three machines, and I would go, ‘You need to wax.’ I made over so many nurses. And the nurses spoiled me.

Q: Your own physical appearance changed quite dramatically. What was that like?

A: Before, I wanted to look really thin. I was on the eastern European supermodel diet. I was a chain-smoker and I was drinking diet soda all day long. I was emaciated. I had body issues. All I ever wanted was to look like a rock star. I never wanted to look like Superman or a steroid monkey with bulging muscles. I wanted to look like Iggy Pop. My lowest weight, at six feet, was about 145-

Q: At your heaviest, you weighed 220 lb. You blamed it on the “karmic fashion police.”

A: Every time there’s a crisis when your kidney function levels are up, in order to bring that down, you’re just attacked with steroids and that’s when I would blow up. Also with the dialysis. I had all this water and that’s when I was 220.1 have to tell you, when I was in it, I didn’t realize how big I was. It was really afterward when I got back in the swing of things that there have been moments of torture. Recently, I’ve been up and down

and I can’t put on my clothes.

Q: What has that been like for you?

A: It was very difficult and traumatic being heavy. It was embarrassing. It was also infuriating because I went to find clothes—I needed clothes for the Academy Awards—and I’d never experienced this, something women experience every day, where I went into stores like Dior Homme and they didn’t have jackets my size. It is the most degrading thing—for somebody to say “You’re too big; you’re not worthy of our clothes.” I think it was a lesson I was supposed to have.

Q: Has your illness made you appreciate Hollywood more or less?

A: Both. The way I see Hollywood is I’m allowed to trash it, but it’s my home and it’s in my heart so I do it with affection the way one makes fun of one’s family. At the same time, I have no time for the absurdity—I’m

'I'm the king of fluff. And it all looks easy. But it takes a lot to look professionally vapid.’

certainly not going to sit there and kiss some B-list television star’s ass.

Q: Would you have done that before?

A: Yes. If I had to.

Q: How does your illness affect you now?

A: I think I take about 30 pills a day, maybe 35But it’s so second nature that I don’t feel restricted. I live. And I shop. I really shop.

Q: Bought anything good lately?

A: Yes. I’m going on a book tour! I raided Yves Saint Laurent. I had every cobbler in Milan making me shoes. This is an event. I have one name now. That’s made me even huger. In my mind I’m Madonna! M