Cocaine and Carré Otis
The former supermodel talks orgasms, blow and drinking socially while staying clean.
Carré Otis was a supermodel back in the late '80s and early '90s, back when supermodels chewed up headlines. She landed her first cover of French Elle before her 18th birthday, then had stints with Guess Jeans, Calvin Klein and Playboy. But at the peak of her fame she was derailed by a nasty eating disorder, drug addiction, and a turbulent tabloid-documented marriage to lifelong bad boy Mickey Rourke.
After getting clean in 1996, Otis reinvented her career by becoming, at age 31, one of the oldest models to appear in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and the first former supermodel to have success in the plus-size modeling industry. Now 43 years old, a happily married wife and the mother of two children living outside of Durango, Colorado, Otis tells the tale of her journey through the decadence of the 80s and 90s in her new memoir, Beauty, Disrupted.
It’s unbelievably frustrating, but there were some things I just couldn’t leave out. The marriage was part of the journey and shaped who I am today. I went to New York for press [for the book] and it was three days of nothing but questions about the marriage. But it’s great that there are radio interviews and other interviews where people get to pick up the rest of the information. People who read this will see that it’s a story of recovery and a spiritual journey. But you’ve got to read the whole fucking book!
Who wants to sit around all day rubbing their nose and nodding out? It’s not a way to live.
Your drug use started well before the marriage, though.
I grew up in Marin County, where there were a ton of hippies and people were partying in general. My mom wasn’t into drugs. My dad was into prescriptions because he had a back problem. We were middle class in an area that was, by and large, affluent. Kids were taking their parents’ drugs, doing blow. My first boyfriend committed suicide when he was on blow. I didn’t have a normal childhood, so I wasn’t this kid who was batting my eyelashes and shocked by what they saw in the industry. I had already seen a lot.
You wrote in your memoir that your former agent, Gerald Marie of Elite, gave you cocaine as a means to help you control your weight. Do you think that kind of thing still takes place in the modeling industry, or was it a product of being in the 80s and 90s?
I’d love to say that’s not going on now, but I’m not a great barometer for what’s happening now in the industry. I do think that in the 80s and 90s, there was sort of this sort of unprecedented fast decadence. Cocaine was just what people were doing. You’re getting ready for hair and make-up and people are doing blow off the table. On top of that, you’re exposed to this grueling pace where your life is given up. You’re working until 2 AM and then going on go-sees all day. People used cocaine for weight maintenance, but also as a way of adapting to that lifestyle.
Being so heavily in the public eye probably didn’t help much either when you’re dealing with drug addiction.
Honestly, when you’re battling your demons, you’re as oblivious as the next person. I look at photos of myself from that time and go, “I cannot believe I thought I was fat that day.” I was emaciated!
What was the fall-on-your-ass moment that caused you to deal with your drug issues and anorexia?
It was when I started to get into heroin. I was a full-blown user within a couple of months—in way over my head—and the depression around the come down and being addicted was devastating. It was such a drag. Who wants to sit around all day rubbing their nose and nodding out? It’s not a way to live.
With the eating disorder, it was when I had to go in for heart surgery [at age 30]. The doctor asked what my diet was like and I had to sit down and realize it’s not normal, and hadn’t been normal for about 20 years. I had to start eating. I didn’t know what to do with calories. I put on a lot of weight and had to just sit with it between me and my therapist. It’s like when you have babies. It’s going to take a year to put the weight on and a year to take it off.
Which was more difficult to overcome?
The anorexia. With drug addiction, you just can’t do that anymore. The one time I took pain medication after having surgery, I was so violently ill between nausea and constipation that I was like, “This sucks! I can’t believe this was such a big part of my life at one point.” My eating disorder was so woven into my everyday life, though. With eating, you have to find a way to gain that freedom and eat with the emotions of feeling fat, of feeling out of control for having that cake and not saying, “I’m not gonna eat for three days because I had that cake.” It took a while, but I have a great relationship with food now.
You had said that you were prepared to never work again if it was going to compromise your health. Was moving to Colorado part of that?
After getting back from [a humanitarian trip to] Nepal, I knew that I needed to work on things with my family [of origin] and moved back home to Northern California. That’s where I met my husband. We sat down one day and said, “We need to change the pace of this even more. We need to live in a smaller town and give our kids that childhood.” So we moved to Colorado. I don’t have an iPhone or an iPad, the kids get to go play outside every day. It’s great for them.
You’ve been drug-free for nearly 15 years, but still drink socially.
My drug abuse was an extension of an underlying need to medicate all that had not been addressed. Until I had the tools, through a lot of work and discipline, I was in a place of abusing self. It’s been nearly 15 years since I last “abused” myself in any form. Today, I happily enjoy a drink or two. The ramifications of ever overdoing it are ingrained in me, habitually. It’s not an option and totally unappealing. And as a mother of two young girls, there is a practicality to every single thing I do and every choice I make. I am constantly weighing everything against my motherly duties first. In my mind, nothing can interfere with that.
What have been your tricks to staying drug-free for all these years?
Constant support and constant dialogue. The second you live in secrets or suppress what’s going on is when things start to slip—at least for me. If I feel sad about something, I’m going to call a friend and talk it out. It keeps things clean. It’s really just about finding myself and being responsible.
Now that this memoir has been released, what’s next for you?
Definitely parenting my kids. I want to continue my public speaking and am also writing a book on sexual healing. The orgasm is a discussion few people have and it’s so woven into sexuality. There’s a fear of intimacy for people who were addicted, that feeling of, “I can’t have intimacy unless I get fucked up.” I maintained celibacy for five years and learned a lot from that. I’m also working with a nutritionist and want to do a nutrition diet/cookbook for the recovered. It’s really just looking at people’s questions and letting that shape what comes next.
McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer currently residing in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Time Out New York, The Huffington Post, abcnews.com and usopen.org, among others. This is his first piece for The Fix.