Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Celebrity Rehab and Mike Starr's Death

I haven't had a television in over two years - but before you think I'm a total bookworm, the truth is that watching TV on the computer is a perfect replacement. There are tons of websites that host full series of television programming, so I really can watch anything I want to. For some reason the series that caught and held my attention the MOST over the past few months was "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew."

Though this show may seem like an exploitative way to showcase celebrities at their very worst, I have to say that most of the time it's completely irrelevant that the people involved are celebs of greater or lesser fame. You might have an American Idol runner-up next to someone huge like Dennis Rodman; or a country western singer you never heard of in the same group as Rodney King. Yes, Rodney King -- who, by the way, is a charming and handsome man with lifelong alcohol issues. Rodney took his sobriety very seriously and Dr. Drew was so moved by his hard work that the show rewarded him by completely renovating his home so he could enter sober living in a much better setting.

Dr. Drew Pinski - for however you may remember him on that call-in sex show with Adam Carolla-- is in fact an excellent doctor and addiction specialist. His calm presence and empathetic demeanor ground everyone to reality and gives the show an authentic, clinical edge. The patients adore him and open-up candidly about their past: trauma, abuse, rampant sex and excessive drug use. Sometimes he brings the celebrity's mother or adult child in to help the healing process--as so many addicts have destroyed relationships with family.

In any case, all this makes for extremely compelling television; and on my computer I can watch show after show within a given series (there are 4 total.) After patients finish their 28 days in the Pasadena Recovery Center they often sign up for "Sober House" which is run the same exact way, but the patients, no longer de-toxing, are eased back into the real world with all its imminent temptations.

Mike Starr was the former bass player for Alice in Chains. Not a band I ever followed nor a “celebrity” I would have ever recognized in a million years. In fact, he was kicked out of the band while it was still at its height of fame and harbored intense guilt and remorse over lead singer Layne Staley's overdose and death.

Mike was originally filmed doing drugs with his father, which had become a regular ritual for him. He entered rehab trying to kick methadone, which I understand is a long and arduous process--far harder than kicking heroin itself. He suffered intensely--often behaving badly like an ornery teenager---getting on people's nerves frequently, yet always redeeming himself by being so sweet and likeable. In one episode he went toe-to-toe with Tom Sizemore who nearly punched his lights out. The whole time he was getting spewed in the face by Sizemore's ranting, Mike just looked at him and quietly said, "I love you, man...don't fight with me." VH-1 staff tried to help him in recovery by setting him up with an all-sober band and a teen mentoring program and for a little while it looked like he was going to be okay.

When he returned for a follow-up show he looked like a new person with brighter eyes, healthier demeanor, and a lilt in his step. As a viewer you really get swept up in the drama and recovery of some of these patients; not all as some are bratty or uninteresting, yet the few that get under your skin stay there and illicit an unexpected empathy from you. You watch them at their very worst: detoxing, vomiting, convulsing and often crying despondently. And then you get to see them recognize the demons that drove them to self-punishment and drug abuse and when the healing begins you are right there with them - sharing their victory and rejoicing in their recovery.

So when I returned home last night and opened my computer to a VH-1 update email - I saw the image of Mike Starr with a 1966-2011 after his name. He was not someone I would have ever expected to have compassion for or be affected by, but I felt so stunned and saddened. This poor guy - shot to fame in his early 20s and spending the rest of his life immersed in a drug haze so that he could dampen the pain of NOT being a rockstar anymore, the pain of watching his best friend die of drugs, the pain of not knowing what the hell to do with his life---and then ultimately losing his battle with drugs in some random apartment in Salt Lake City. It’s a tragic story that unfortunately unfolds every single day for millions of people and I can only hope that Mike Starr has finally found his peace.


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Antoine Lockhart said...

Addiction is just a too wide concept that is very hard to estimate sometimes its coverage. But this gets even wider once the person who was addicted went out of the rehab and realize his mistakes.