Detoxing With The Stars
Dr. Drew specializes in C-List celebrities, but dozens of rehabs across the country were specially created to cater to A-List stars. The Fix tours America's most celeb-friendly institutions, and discovers what it's really like to be in group therapy with Lilo.
For the past five seasons, VH1’s Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew—with a rotating cast of characters that’s included everyone from Bai Ling and Sean Young to Tom Sizemore and Steven Adler—has shown the good, the bad and the bewildering stuff that goes down when a group of semi-famous people get together and try to battle their addictions at the Pasadena Recovery Center. Most celebrities with substance problems are not particularly inclined to share their problems with the public. In contrast, many of the stars who appear on Celebrity Rehab see the show as their last attempt to grab the public spotlight. Unfortunately that hasn't proved to be a particularly winning strategy. What's Brigitte Nielsen iup to now? What happened to Gary Busey? Or Jason "Gummy Bear" Davis? After enjoying a few months in the VH1 spotlight, they often slip back into relative obscurity.
But what happens when more celebrated stars are required to go to rehab—and desperately want to avoid the publicity? Are there rehab facilities that cater specifically to really moguls and bold-faced Hollywood names? How does the presence of a celebrity impact the recovery process for other patients? And does rehab as a PR move even work anymore? We talked to some industry experts, as well as one guy who’s rubbed elbows—and rock bottom stories—with at a handful of A-listers in a rehab facility to get the truth about celebrity rehab.
“Rehabs have marketing people looking for ways to get in with celebrity managers and studios to say, ‘Hey, we can handle your celebrity rehab needs,’” says Joe Schrank, the founder of The Core Company and Loft 107 (and co-founder of The Fix). “Rehabs feel they’re blessed or anointed or legit if a celebrity chooses them. That’s one of the reasons there are 36 rehabs in Malibu. Rehabs couldn’t keep confidentiality in Venice—there would be cameras—so they put the facilities up in the mountains.”
Adds John Sharp, a specialist in the integrated treatment of mood and anxiety disorders, dual diagnoses and addictions, “Some rehabs want more high-profile clients because they believe that there’s a real niche there—to provide excellent, highly confidential care for people who need extra careful handling or who have a lot of issues regarding their importance.” As the psychiatrist on the most recent season of Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew who also has a practice in LA (as well as in Boston), Sharp has specific insight on this matter. “Some centers legitimately do a better job of handling people with those kinds of extra needs,” he says. “This could be somebody prominent in politics, business circles—not just a celebrity. Someone who has a big ego.”
Ronn Torossian, the founder of the public relations firm 5W, agrees that some rehab centers cater to celebrities but points out that this is simply the way the world works. “Celebrities raise the profile of an institution,” he says. “That’s true for a department store, that’s true if you’re a consumer brand and that’s true if you’re a rehab center. It’s a necessity in any business, and there’s no reason rehab should or will be any different.”
Perhaps the two most celeb-centric rehab centers—the ones that even your mom has heard of—are Promises, which has treated such A-listers as Britney Spears, Ben Affleck and Charlie Sheen, and Wonderland, a now-defunct facility that used to be on Mulholland in Laurel Canyon and became famous for its luxurious accommodations, which included $58,000-a-month single rooms and five-star chefs.
We spoke to one recovering addict who, when he spent 90 days at Wonderland in 2007, hit the motherlode in terms of celeb co-habitants. “When I was there, the main celebrity was Lindsay Lohan, but there was also Mike Tyson, Mischa Barton’s sister, Hania, and Eddie Van Halen,” he recalls. He says that back then, rehabs were “vying for those big names to come in” to get more publicity. (Wonderland Executive Director Howard Samuels, who now owns The Hills, never seems to mind the pub—he often appears on TV discussing addiction.)
Although, from the inside looking out, it was far less glamorous than it appeared to have a famous person rubbing elbows with you in group therapy. In fact, our source says, sometimes it was downright disruptive. He had been staying at Wonderland for a month when Lindsay Lohan came in and created what he calls “a circus.”
“She always had a posse around her—her tanning person, her makeup person, her hair person, her handler—all just kind of coming and going as she wished,” he recalls. “I brought this up to my therapist there, and he said, ‘Here’s the thing: if you don’t cater to the celebrity—if you don’t do some of the things that they want—they’re out of here within a couple of days. And I was like, ‘That’s such bullshit. Because I would never get away with the stuff that Lindsay got away with.’”
In terms of special treatment, he says, Lilo had flexibility galore. “All the lines were blurred for her,” he continues. “I don’t believe they restricted her cell phone. But the biggest blow was that if she needed to go somewhere or be somewhere or do something work related, she could. And people were always coming in and out for her—something that wasn’t allowed for the rest of us because of the danger of people slipping drugs to us. Honestly, if Lindsay wanted anything at the time, I’m sure she could’ve gotten it.”
When Wonderland’s Thursday night meetings became the hottest ticket in town for residents and alumni, our source watched the meeting balloon. "Every week, it got a little bigger because more people realized Lindsay was there," he says. "By the third week, it had gone from 20 people to like 50. And people were there just to see Lindsay.”
While some who were in Wonderland at the time—including a young girl who “latched on” to Lindsay and her best friend, Kendra—were star struck, our source says that most people were “pissed” that their treatment was being disrupted.
“The biggest problem is that it took the focus off of why you were here—the ideas that were being presented to you in the program,” he says. “Everything kind of got pushed aside. There was this big uncertainty in the room. For people who are getting sober, one of the biggest things is stability. Everyone was walking on eggshells, and then it turns into, “Well, fuck, this is my recovery, I’m spending 30 grand or 40 grand a month doing this, and this is bullshit.’ I’d hear clients making snide remarks like, ‘Here comes the Lindsay party.’ We were all talking about it. Who wouldn’t?”
“You hear it in hushed kind of gossipy circles in AA—I was in rehab with whoever,” concurs Joe Schrank.
“The census for treatment centers goes up when there’s a celebrity there,” Sharp observes. “People find out and want to be in a group with him or her. It’s not necessarily the healthiest interest, deciding you’re finally going to go because somebody famous is there. But other people might just happen to be there, and can relate to the pain that a celebrity doesn’t normally reveal. Some people can connect to them and have a meaningful experience. If a famous person is made to feel legitimately welcome for all the right reasons, and is able to reveal their pain and follow the process of recovery, other people who are there can have a meaningful experience. It doesn’t have to be all about so-and-so.”
So what about the celebrities who just go to rehab as a mea culpa or a PR move? Is that still a trend—and is it fair to other patients?
“If you act like an asshole, you say, ‘I’m gonna go to rehab,’” says Schrank. “But I don’t think it’s exclusive to celebrities. Most people are coming in on the heels of some kind of crisis, or embarrassment, whether it’s ‘I hit on my boss at the Christmas party’ or ‘I ruined Christmas,’ or whatever. We don’t live our lives under public scrutiny the way a celebrity does, so when they do something incredibly stupid, they go to rehab and smooth the waters. There are a high percentage of people who are in rehab to get the heat off.”
“Some people look at rehab as a get out of jail free card,” adds Torossian.
That said, Sharp adds, maybe the get out of jail free card is a good thing in a roundabout way—for celebrities and non-celebs alike. “People can go to treatment for the wrong reasons and still get meaningful results,” he observes. “People can duck for cover from the media or from some embarrassing event, and still get curious about their real problems. And that’s what a really good treatment center would do: they acknowledge mixed motivations. To me, that’s actually the fun of this kind of work: to intrigue somebody so they’re better poised to help themselves.”
Alison Prato is a writer and editor specializing in entertainment journalism. Her work has appeared in a wide array of publications including Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar U.K., Women’s Health, New York, Maxim, Page Six Magazine, Playboy and The Daily Beast. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, her baby and her dog and can be followed on Twitter at @alisonprato.