The Trainer Who'll Kick Your Wasted Ass into Shape
Andrea Lawent, a drugged-out Hollywood rocker turned exercise coach, is helping save the lives of addicts, one workout at a time.
“This is not just an exercise class!” Andrea Lawent yells into her microphone. We are in a dark, vaulted room in the heart of Hollywood, lit by pillar of devotional candles. “Because the Night” by Patti Smith is blasting on the stereo, and 20 people—most marked with tattoos—are sweaty and pedaling furiously away on stationary bikes. Lawent is absolutely correct: This is different than any workout I’ve ever done. It is much, much cooler.
Andrea Lawent has become a notable persona in LA's recovery community. She is a recovering addict herself—heroin was her primary drug of choice—and she’s also the founder and owner of Made in LA Fitness. The gym—which is outfitted with a range of free weights and workout machines in addition to a spinning studio—draws a multitude of broken souls eager to repair themselves, according to Lawent. “People come here from all over the world,” she says. “They are dealing with bad relationships and bulimia, but mostly they're seeking help with theiraddictions—and I get them exercising and feeling better.” While the endorphin rush and self-esteem boost that cardio workouts provide are helpful for recovering addicts, the key to Made in L.A.’s magic, it seems, is Lawent herself.
Perri Lister, a screenwriter and one of Lawent’s many devoted fans, says, “I was a mess when I first met Andrea. Her gym is a land of misfits—we all come here broken and Andrea helps us heal.” Explaining the role Made in LA has played in her recovery, Lister says, “When you get clean and sober, you need something to do with all that energy, and exercise is key—it fills your time and it helps you sleep.”
“When I first got sober, I said to my sponsor, ‘Is this it for me? I get to be a glorified aerobics teacher?’” she recalls. “And she said, ‘You are of service every single day.’"
Jason Rappise, a fit, charming, heavily tattooed spinning class lover who’s the bassist for the band Stone Sour, is even more enthusiastic in his Lawent support. “I would be dead if it wasn’t for Andrea,” he says simply, explaining that she was one of the only people who would still talk to him a few years ago. “I am a recovering heroin addict—coming up on four years sober now—and each time I relapsed or went through bad breakups, I would land on her couch.” But he’s been surprised by how much Lawent’s focus on fitness has spurred his recovery. “She made me take spinning classes to clear my mind,” he explains, adding, “There were many times when nothing else would get me out of my head.” Rappise has held all sorts of odd jobs around Made in LA, from working in the gym to manning the front desk, all to be around the woman he calls “my LA mom.” As he sees it, “The things Andrea says, the rock music she plays—all of it has inspired me in my recovery. Now I have an amazing life and a career that I love.” (Over the years, Lawent has built solid relationships with many other boldfaced Hollywood names. Among her other devotees are Joey Castillo, the drummer for Queens of the Stone Age, Rachel Hunter, Christina Applegate, Laura Prepon from That ’70s Show, and Ethan Suplee from My Name Is Earl.)
Born in Milwaukee, Lawent started taking dance lessons at seven. “It was an escape—probably my first addiction,” she says now. “I came from a pretty wealthy family. I am the baby, the third child. My mom died of a Valium overdose when I was 14, and I was the one who found her.”
Secrecy, along with addiction, was rampant in her childhood home. “We were Jews pretending not to be,” she admits. “Everything had to look good. My dad lost millions in bad investments, and no one ever talked about it. We certainly didn’t talk about my mom and how she died.” Soon after her mother’s death, Andrea was sent away to boarding school. “They asked me to leave after a few months, and, at 16, I ended up in juvie,” she recalls. “I was using heroin and any other drugs I could find, running around with a bunch of black hookers. I ended up in foster care, and then I went into a group home.”
She first came to LA in 1978 to appear on the red-hot disco show Dance Fever. “I kept dancing throughout the time I was shooting up,” she says. “I moved in with some friends, and was doing dope daily and stripping to support my habit.” After spending a brief time back home in the Midwest, Lawent returned to California in 1980. “I was cast in a pilot that never got off the ground. I met a boyfriend and we got married and lived in Venice—we did a little coke, but I wasn’t strung out on anything. My choreography career was exploding, we had my daughter, life was good. My husband was a musician. Then he went on tour with the band Thelonious Monster and came home with a crack pipe in his hand. That was the end of the relationship.”
Pregnant with her second child, Lawent went from earning six figures to $14,500 a year. She moved with her kids to a duplex where her neighbor, a nurse, turned her on to Vicodin. “I had started teaching spinning and had gotten very popular, globally, and I was loaded the whole time,” Lawent says. “I got to the point where I was taking 70 to 100 Vicodin a day.”
She first got clean in June of 2000. “But then I met him,” Lawent says sadly, pointing to a tattoo on her forearm that reads R.I.P. BILLY. A few months later she fell in love again—with a new man and a new drug. “I’d had a minor surgical procedure and was prescribed Oxy,” she remembers. “Within an hour, I had five scrips for more pills—I was a professional doctor-shopper. Soon after that, Billy and I started shooting dope.”
After she overdosed in front of her 11-year-old daughter, Lawent’s friends and family staged an intervention. She went to rehab kicking and screaming, but while there she underwent a radical shift. “I would hear blood-curdling screams in the middle of the night from this very wealthy woman from San Francisco who was coming off methadone she was taking for back problems and there was another girl who was plying me with pills as soon as I got there,” she says. “I rolled off the top bunk and I got on to my knees and said, ‘Okay, all right, please take this away,’ and it was the first time I’d ever asked.’ After that, I jumped into the middle of Alcoholics Anonymous and have never left.” She’s now coming up on nine years of sobriety and life is good: while Billy died in 2003 of a heroin overdose, her ex-husband has been clean for seven years.
Things today may be different than how Lawent originally imagined them, but she’s come to believe that this is exactly how her life was meant to be. “When I first got sober, I said to my sponsor, ‘Is this it for me? I get to be a glorified aerobics teacher?’” she recalls. “And she said, ‘You are of service to people every single day.’ I believe that this place is a God thing, and people who need it end up here. People walk in here every day and say ‘You’ve changed my life,’ and that’s a pretty awesome feeling.”
Laura Vogel’s work has appeared in The New York Times, Elle, Real Simple, Travel+Leisure and The New York Post, among other publications. She recently wrote about best sober apps for The Fix.