Artie Lange Shows How To Recover After ‘Crash And Burn’
Artie Lange talks to The Fix about surviving heroin addiction, a suicide attempt and Howard Stern
Although he had previously starred in the first season of MADtv and had a feature role in the 1998 bro-com movie Dirty Work, Artie Lange got his big break by becoming a co-host on The Howard Stern Show in 2001. The millions of listeners who heard Lange’s jokes on the radio also followed him to his stand-up comedy shows across the country, where he earned up to $80,000 per weekend. But while he was at an all-time high professionally, his depression and addiction to heroin, alcohol and gambling, among other things, left him at a staggering low personally.
His drug use eventually got in the way of his work on Stern, with Lange frequently falling asleep on-air or belligerently yelling at guests. On January 2, 2010, Lange attempted suicide by chugging from a bottle of bleach, stabbing himself in the stomach nine times and then slitting his wrists. He was found on the floor by his mother and rushed to the hospital.
After spending the next eight months in a psychiatric ward and bouncing between two rehabs, Lange revealed in a July 2012 interview that he had been heroin-free for over two years. He returned to radio in 2011 with The Artie Lange Show (formerly The Nick & Artie Show) and is back performing stand-up shows across the country.
Lange has even found happiness personally and is now engaged to his long-time girlfriend. He’s telling his wild life story in the recently released memoir Crash and Burn, explaining to The Fix why he’s still living in the same apartment where he tried to kill himself, and how he’s been able to find humor in some of his darkest moments.
Where are you in your sobriety these days?
I’ve have had two relapses in the last 18 months, but have been clean for three months now. The last relapse was from painkillers I was taking for an injury. They were given to me by a doctor, but I didn’t take them as prescribed and finished a month’s prescription in about a day and a half. I got to a meeting and stopped myself, but I would definitely consider that to be a relapse.
You've talked about your publisher telling you that this book had to be about your darkest moments. Was it natural for you to talk about your struggles in that much detail or was it forced by the fact you had to do it in order to get paid?
Honestly, both. But I truly do want this book to help people. I want it to be honest and brutal. I want people to read it and go, “Look at what happened to this guy. I’m never doing heroin.” If you’re smart, you’ll stay away from it. Some people have to touch the flame and get burned by it, though, and hopefully they’re able to live through it.
Joy Behar interviewed you and introduced you by saying, “Artie Lange has been on TV and radio. He’s also been on heroin and suicide watch.” Is it frustrating that you’re known as much for your struggles with drug use as you are for your success on the radio and stand-up?
It’s difficult. It’s hard to accept that might be the only thing people find interesting about you, which I think was the case with Joy. I joke about my drug use in my stand-up act because you need ways to put people in seats. But you try not to let it totally consume you because you also need to introduce other parts of yourself as well.
How do you make that subject matter funny? Some of what you talk about in your book is so brutally honest that it’s uncomfortable to read.
With stand-up, I have to paint the punchline by embellishing the story a little bit and I can do that with some of the things that have happened to me. But with the book, I wanted to tell a story. The goal isn’t always to be funny and with some of the stuff I talk about, there’s just no way to make it funny.
When you were going into work high or drunk for so many years on The Howard Stern Show, how were you even able to function? Did it bother you when he would point out the state you were in on the air?
Sometimes I think that I have a stronger constitution than others, but the bottom line is that I lasted a while and then I didn’t. I was able to get to work and be pretty messed up for a little while, but I did crash. It didn’t bother me when Howard would talk about it on the air, though, because you realize that will happen. It’s a comedy show and we’re all giving it to each other. I just feel awful that I put them and myself in that situation.
You talk about how your mother found you after your suicide attempt and how she was planning an intervention that day. Did not wanting to deal with the intervention spur on the suicide attempt or was it just not seeing a way out?
I didn’t know about the intervention at the time. The suicide attempt purely came from not being able to live like that anymore. Getting arrested and risking your life and your health every day to score drugs, you can’t go on living like that. It was just too sad and too frustrating for me.
You had done detoxes several times before, but they were unsuccessful. What was the catalyst for you to finally get sober?
I was in a rehab down in Florida for almost three months and it was just being away from dope for a long period of time. I woke up one morning and the sun was out, I was playing some hoops and I thought, “This is great.” It wasn’t one particular thing that was said to me. It was just time.
You’ve been living in the same apartment in Hoboken, NJ for the last 12 years. Was it triggering at all to go back and live in the same spot where your drug use and suicide attempt took place?
It sounds crazy, but I honestly felt comfortable there. I got back home and managed to go through the door without experiencing any of those negative feelings. If I went back on Stern’s show, it might trigger those feelings and I understand what [the producers] mean when they said that to me.
So you’ve tried to go back on Howard’s show recently?
I did. I asked them to go on so I could plug the book and they said, “Nothing is more important to us than the fact you’re doing okay now.” I completely respected that and still have a friendly relationship with all of them.
What kind program do you work these days?
I go to meetings as much as I can, but should be going to more of them. I have an insane schedule, but that’s not an excuse. I have a sponsor who calls me quite a bit, but I should be in more contact with him when I’m not on the road. Ideally, I would be going to meetings every other day.
Your addiction is fairly multi-pronged. What’s been the toughest thing to stay away from and what was the hardest one to kick?
The hardest thing to kick was the opiates, the biggest of them being heroin. Heroin has been the toughest thing to stay away from by far. When you’re using it, it becomes a part-time job. You have to keep using it just to function and not slip into withdrawal, so it becomes completely consuming.
What’s the experience of writing and performing sober been like for you?
It’s way easier now. I love writing sober. I think more clearly and have better references in my act now because I remember more. It’s a million times better than the romantic thought that you need to be using something in order to write. Some people might be able to get away with that, but I think most of us need to have a clear head.
McCarton Ackerman is a regular contributor to The Fix. He recently wrote about the top ten addiction themed after school specials.