Tom Sizemore Cleans Up
The seriously-sober actor reflects on nearly losing it all, the secrets of Celebrity Rehab, his bloody battle with Heidi Fleiss, and the hardest thing about staying clean in Hollywood.
It’s hard to say just when the public first gave up on 47-year-old Tom Sizemore, the hulking, intense, and once widely respected actor who hit a trifecta of excellence in the 90s by starring in True Romance, Heat and Saving Private Ryan. Was it when he started dating Heidi Fleiss? Or when he was arrested for punching her? Maybe it was when his reality show about his increasingly downgraded life, Shooting Sizemore, began airing on VH1?
Whenever it was, the last thing we ever expected to happen was for the guy to survive—let alone thrive. This is not the way the narrative goes. But, a year and a month after first appearing on the third season of Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, the nearly two years sober father of two has re-joined society with a vengeance, shooting seven movies in the past year.
And he certainly hasn’t done it the Charlie Sheen, I-recover-at-home-on-my-own way. When Sizemore first got sober on May 30, 2009, he took an eight-month break from working. Then he hired a sober companion—a dour, longhaired man with 18 years of sobriety who lives with him and urges him to wear a suit and tie to A.A. meetings. (Sizemore sometimes hits two a day.) He’s also quite clear about what he needs to do. “I’ve got three priorities,” he says softly, in between swigs from a Hansen soda, when we met recently in a conference room of the building where he’s living. “One: stay clean. Two: stay clean. And three: stay clean.”
But the most surprising thing about Tom Sizemore isn’t that he wears a tie to A.A. meetings, let alone that he takes orders from people. No, the shocking thing about the guy who once failed seven drug tests in a month (while he was in treatment and on probation) is that he’s genuinely fun to be with. Whether he’s determined to prove that he can hit a football at a stop sign (by refusing to stop trying until he does) or goofily talking you into accompanying him to buy fake Uggs and workout pants at Big 5 (where a teary-eyed, star-struck security guard greets him with, “Sizemore, you look gooood—man, you been in my prayers”), the shockingly well-read actor knows how to make life’s most mundane moments exciting. After a decade of scarily self-destructive behavior, he clearly understands that his newly mellow life is as exciting as it’s gonna get. How did a guy that Hollywood gave up for dead manage to find his way back? Not easily.
You’d tried to get sober many times before you landed on Celebrity Rehab. What was different this time?
It was a few things: I was no longer young and addiction is a young man’s game. Also, I missed myself. And I didn’t want to die. Now that I have real clarity, I realize how dangerous what I was doing was. Not only were the drugs dangerous but also the people I was dealing with: drug dealers, hookers, layabouts, gangsters. I was so ashamed of myself that I couldn’t even go around Hollywood people doing drugs so I found myself with—well, not street people but people above it: people who just live to use and use to live.
And one day you suddenly decided that you’d had enough?
I couldn’t get high anymore. So it was a combination of my age, the drugs really not working anymore, my wanting my life back, my wanting a relationship with my children, and [Celebrity Rehab counselor] Bob Forrest—who was kind of like my best friend in the 90s—telling me in very cold terms that I was going to die if I didn’t get a grip on myself.
Did the presence of the cameras on the show detract from your recovery?
When I first went in there, I was such a wreck, I didn’t even really realize the cameras were there. Well, I knew they were there but they didn’t impact me.
But you’re an actor. Do you think a part of you, maybe even a sub-conscious part, was playing to the cameras?
I’m telling you, I was there to get clean. And now I kind of like the fact that I was on the show. I hated it before. I just thought it was for washed-up re-treads.
You thought that before you were on it?
Oh, I thought that while I was on it, too. I didn’t think about it much because I just wanted to get clean but when the show did finally air, I was like, “Oh my Goodness.” I couldn’t watch it in the beginning. I watched it when it was kind of over. I didn’t necessarily like the guy I had become. I hated the way I looked.
Do you still keep in touch with any of your cast-mates?
Some of them. [Former Miss Teen USA] Kari Ann Peniche is sober and married, if you can believe it. She went through treatment again and now she has six months or something. She’s a totally different person. All that acting out, that cussing and name-calling…that was all the drugs. Oh, and Mike Starr’s in jail now.
But both of you guys were invited back to Celebrity Rehab  as big success stories!
I know. [Smiles.] He’s in jail for parking tickets. Can you believe it? 37 days. But he’s sober. I couldn’t get over his evolution. I didn’t have the best time with him [on the show]. But I’m just so proud of him. It made me feel so good that he had done it [gotten clean]. [Editor's note: Mike Starr died two weeks after this interview was conducted, on March 8th.]
What’s the hardest part about staying sober?
When I get ahead of myself. When I start thinking, “I have to take off my shirt for a movie in three and a half months”—which happened the other day. I had a complete breakdown—in public, kind of, in the gym, when I took off my shirt and just went, “Oh God.” But I have the capacity to worry about things that I shouldn’t.
Are you nervous about relapsing now that you’re working as an actor again?
[Nods] Robert [Downey Jr.] told me this was inevitable: you really want your career back, then you get it back, and you’re like, “Whoa.” You think you might get fucked up again because you have access to things again. And you worry you may disappear.
Do you have regrets about the years you were using?
I wish I’d gotten some kind of advice about what to do [when Heidi accused him of beating her], how to address these accusations, and not do what I did, which was go outside and mock the police. [Shakes his head] I never defended myself during those years because when I did talk, I made an ass of myself because I was intoxicated. The fact is, I was falsely accused and I was being hounded. I’d never been in that position before didn’t know what the protocol was. Something I learned in sports is if you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything.
And what about using now? Do you think about it?
I’ve had moments where I’ve wanted to change the way I feel. I’ve thought about using drugs; I’ve thought about using sex. And Robert says that you are thinking about using drugs even if you don’t think you are. He told me I should [hire the sober companion]. He said, “In the whole scheme of things, it’s not a lot of money compared to what you’ll make if you stay clean. If this guy helps you not use one time, he’s worth every dollar.”
Do you worry about sharing in meetings, since people know who you are?
I don’t. I don’t mean to sound glib, but I can’t control what other people do. That’s one thing I have learned. I couldn’t control what Heidi did, I can’t control what [Dr.] Drew wants me to do, I can’t control what my mom’s thinking, I can’t control what you write. I can just control my reactions to things. And you can’t control how you feel, you can only control what you do about how you feel. Things change. Drew says if you just sit long enough, your feelings will change. [Laughs] Maybe your ass will start to hurt and then you’ll have that feeling. I used to have a false sense of security that I could control things. Like with my kids [he has five-year-old twin boys with ex-girlfriend Janelle McIntire]. I can control them to a certain degree because I can give them a time out. But I can’t do anything about if they do it again at Mom’s house when I’m not there. All I can say is, “I don’t approve. I love you.”
What’s the biggest difference in your life now that you’re sober?
When you’re using drugs and it gets bad, you blame everybody but yourself. I hadn’t thought in a long time about how many decent people there really are. You lose sight of that when you’re using drugs. “Everybody’s an asshole,” you think. “Everybody’s against me and the world sucks.” And it’s just not true. Like when the gentleman [the Big 5 security guard] said what he did to me…that just gives me so much energy. Things like that remind me that this is worth it, this is good. And I’m so glad I can see the good in life now.
Anna David is the Executive Editor of The Fix, the author of the novels Party Girl and Bought and the editor of the anthology Reality Matters. She has written for Details, Playboy, Cosmo, Redbook, Vanity Fair and The New York Times, among others.