When John Chester began filming an episode of Random 1, a short-lived A&E docudrama, he had no idea that it would become a full length documentary—Lost In Woonsocket—and that the experience would change his life. Random 1 focused on a question: Can one seemingly insignificant act of kindness towards a random stranger change their life? The theory was that a single, random act of kindness could inspire a compassion chain reaction. Lost In Woonsocket began as just another episode, with John and his colleagues searching the US for people to help. In Woonsocket, a small Rhode Island town, they met Mark and Normand: two homeless alcoholics sharing a tent in a patch of woods behind a drug store. The odd couple were co-dependent, enabling each other's alcoholism. Chester admits he had no prior addiction experience. “I didn’t know anything about addiction or recovery," he tells The Fix. "I didn’t know the difference between AA and detox.”
Mark was the episode's focus, with Normand only appearing briefly to wish him luck as he was being taken to rehab. The show aired as usual—but something unexpected happened. Normand's estranged children happened to change the channel to Random 1 (during an episode of Dog The Bounty Hunter) and saw their long-lost father, drunk and homeless, in the brief moment he was on-screen. They got in contact with Chester and pleaded with him to help their dad as he'd helped Mark. Despite Random 1's fundamental rule being to help people at random, Chester agreed.
“My job was to report the facts," he tells us. “I wanted people to judge if there was more harm than good.” But he found this hands-off model was no longer enough; he returned to Woonsocket to find Normand, still living in his tent. Mark also returned, beginning a dramatic saga that would entwine the lives of these three men for the next six years. Lost In Woonsocket airs Sunday February 26, 11 am EST, on the Oprah Winfrey Network.
Bartenders and wait staff have to be careful about “overserving” their patrons—if they’re not, and a soused customer gets into a vehicle and kills someone, not only the business but the employee could be held liable. Now, after a recent local incident in which a 23-year-old on a motor scooter was killed by a drunk driver, Boston City Councilor Rob Consalvo wants to require the same of “the last line of defense”: parking valets. The Beantown tragedy hit home for Ultimate Parking executive Josh Lemay, as the young man who was run down had been a babysitter for Lemay’s children. The driver later admitted to being “blackout drunk” and couldn’t believe he’d been given his car keys by the valet. Nevertheless, Lemay doesn’t think that requiring valets to determine whether or not someone is sober enough to drive—and holding them liable if they make the wrong assessment—is the answer. Why? Because valets are often young, underpaid and don’t have the training that bartenders and servers get. But Councilor Consalvo argues that this situation is no different, and that people were initially opposed to bartenders and servers being held responsible too. He says, “It sounds crazy now…but it would work and it could be done, and after six months it would just be like, ‘Of course we do that.’”
A musical 16-year-old in recovery from California won a dream trip to the Grammys by writing an anti-addiction song. Amanda arrived at the Phoenix House facility in Lake View Terrace six months ago, and started singing and writing her own music. Without ever having had a formal music lesson, she submitted her anti-drug song to a MusiCares and Grammy Foundation Teen Substance Abuse Awareness Through Music contest, which calls for teens aged 14-18 to submit original songs about drug abuse that promote a healthy lifestyle. Amanda's song won first place, and the teen was rewarded with a tour of the Staples Center during a rehearsal for the Grammy show to see stars like Bruce Springsteen (who "was so energetic. I was awe-struck"), Carrie Underwood and Bruno Mars rehearse. "It was really cool. That was my dream, to be able to go there," says Amanda, who hopes to work in the music business. Her song, "Like a Phoenix in the Air," expresses her desire to rise above her past struggles with alcohol, psychedelic drugs and marijuana.
Actor Gerard Butler has been at the Betty Ford Clinic to treat his prescription drug dependency. TMZ reports that the 42-year-old Scottish star has been dealing with the issue ever since 2006, when he filmed the war epic 300. Initially needing pain management for his demanding roles, Butler’s problem worsened as he began filming Of Men and Mavericks, and he later suffered injuries from a surfing accident on December 18. “The waves just took me in, and I couldn’t get up. It was pretty hairy," said Butler of the accident. "It was maybe one of the few times that reports were not exaggerated.” Sources say he entered the Betty Ford Clinic three weeks ago after admitting his full-flown addiction to prescription drugs. He left the clinic today and is reported to be in good health. While TMZ sources suggest Butler has also dabbled in cocaine, others deny this. Butler has previously spoken publicly about his alcoholism.
The Kardashians (Kim and Khloe in particular) have long promoted the over-the-counter diet drug QuickTrim. But the drug has now come under fire, with New York-based law firm Bursor & Fisher filing a class-action lawsuit against QuickTrim’s parent company for misleading consumers with their promotion and marketing. An email to QuickTrim customers from the company explains, “The active ingredient in QuickTrim weight loss products is a large dose of caffeine… The FDA has determined that caffeine is not safe or effective for weight loss.”
Shifty Shellshock, best known for his stint in one-hit-wonder post-grunge band Crazy Town and his later appearances on both Celebrity Rehab and Sober House, was arrested for possession of crack cocaine after police found him fighting with his girlfriend at a Ross store in Los Angeles. Sounds like a pretty grim bottom.
Don’t call it a comeback, but embattled starlet Lindsay Lohan has been tipped to host Saturday Night Live on March 3, accompanied by musical guest Jack White. Expect lots of skits about legal troubles, bisexual drama and substance abuse. (Just a guess.)
Model and actress Jennifer Gimenez is well-known for her appearances on shows like Celebrity Rehab and Sober House, but the surprising catalyst to her six years of sobriety? None other than her longtime friend, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Brandi Glanville, who called rehabs on Gimenez’s behalf. Maybe Brandi should have been in charge of Kim Richards’ treatment, too.
Whitney Houston’s recent passing may have sparked considerable dialogue about the perils of drug addiction and its open secrecy in Hollywood circles, but one party who is thoroughly unamused is perpetually livid comedian Lewis Black. On Nancy Grace’s suggestion that Houston may have been the victim of foul play, he remarked, “Of course! She was pushed underwater! It’s the only possible explanation for someone dying after years of drug addiction!"
Very few anthologies speak directly to the topic of addiction—let alone ones that receive rave reviews at the same time. But Writers on the Edge: 22 Writers Speak About Addiction and Dependency, which was released this month from Modern History Press, has been recommended by both trade publications and blogs. Contributors—including Fix Executive Editor Anna David—will be reading from their essays at 4 pm Saturday, February 25 at LA’s world famous Book Soup. While there will be refreshments and, as the invite promises, “insight into the dark, fascinating world of addiction,” the main emphasis will be on taking the stigma off of an issue that’s faced its fair share of judgment. “Now that I’m sober, I want to call attention to addiction—to bring it out into the open where it can be dealt with honestly,” says anthology co-editor James Brown (The Los Angeles Diaries). “Addicts are just people, from every walk of life, trying to get better and put their lives back together. And that, frankly, is the underlying message of Writers on the Edge—that we can change, that our lives are worth saving." Now we can all raise a glass (of Martinelli’s) to that.