Tom Sizemore Tells All
After a meteoric rise in Hollywood, Tom Sizemore became a poster boy for very bad behavior. Now two years sober, the actor is sharing the inside story of his struggle.
My first encounter with Tom Sizemore was at an Oscar party 10 years ago, when I worked for Premiere magazine. I was covering the party and trying to get a quote from him and he was—well, a bit intoxicated and a lot more interested in discussing my personal life than his professional one.
After that, I watched his descent into drug addiction from afar, in the tabloids and crime blotter TV, saddened both because I’m an addict as well and because I saw him as a true talent gone to waste.
A decade later, The Daily Beast assigned me to write a profile of him. By then, I’d watched him on Celebrity Rehab, seen him kick meth and look like he wanted to dart for the nearest exit at every turn. I thought what most everyone else did: People don’t come back from a place like this.
I’m not saying that he’s a saint. But when I recently interviewed a good friend of his, Thomas Jane, he said, “He’s just about the nicest guy in the world—I wish people would give him credit for that.”
Against the odds, after years of heroin and meth addiction and a televised rehab stint, Tom Sizemore did come back. The interview I did with him for The Daily Beast was a just phoner, but it was one of the most intense interviews I’d ever done. He cried—multiple times. I told him about my own experiences with addiction. We even made plans to go to a meeting together. After I hung up, I sort of assumed I’d never talk to him again.
I was wrong. When The Fix was launching, I reached out to him and asked if he’d be willing to talk to me again for a story. This time we met in downtown LA. He made me pasta. He needed workout pants so I took him to a Big 5, where a security guard there recognized him and told him how much his struggle and survival meant to him. He showed me where he liked to throw a football. I was shocked—almost as shocked as I was by the fact that he was sober—to discover that Tom Sizemore was actually really fun to be with.
After that story ran a few days later, he told me he’d read one of my books and asked me if I’d consider writing his. Over the months that followed, we met and talked and came up with a proposal. And in that time, I got to know a very different Tom Sizemore from the one portrayed in the media. The guy I got to know was incredibly literate—prone to quoting Martin Amis and insisting that I borrow certain books he loved—as well as thoughtful and very, very sensitive. Tears, as it turned out, were not remotely unusual.
It took me a little while to get in the rhythm of Tom. Sometimes he was melancholy, wanting to watch old Elvis videos or show me a clip of him singing. (He sings!) Other times he was jovial, insisting we walk to Starbucks for coffee or throw a football. He’d become unexpectedly thrilled over small things—like when I showed him how to play iPhone music through a car stereo. Sometimes, when I showed up, other people would be around—friends he was helping out, his manager, and one time an ex-girlfriend who I ended up interviewing on the spot. At one point, he decided he wanted to videotape me interviewing him so I let him hold a video camera in my face while I held a tape recorder in his (the idea was apparently abandoned, as I never saw that video camera again). Over those months, he occasionally called me when he was feeling scared or excited about his sobriety or because he wanted to tell me a funny story about someone from Celebrity Rehab (my lips are sealed). He always called me when he thought of something he believed we should work on together; one of those calls was about The Sponsor, a TV show idea he had about a hope-to-die drug addict who can't say no to helping people once he gets sober. I loved the concept, wrote a treatment and pilot, and it's currently attracting some heat. (A Sizemore one-man show, a podcast and even a string of sober living houses have also been discussed: one thing Tom certainly doesn't lack is ideas.)
I worried, at times, that Tom wasn’t the world’s most reliable narrator of his own life—considering he’d anesthetized himself throughout so much of it. But his memory seems to be surprisingly sharp: I’ll ask him about an incident and he’ll respond with the date and time it happened, along with a play-by-play of the details. He’s a great storyteller and his impressions of the Hollywood luminaries he’s befriended over the years—Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro among them—are spot on (I'm told those impressions are what ultimately sold the publisher on commissioning the book).
When I finished the proposal and sent it to him, Tom called me and said a sentence I never thought I’d hear come out of anyone’s mouth: “I think you should be paid more than we agreed on.”
I called my agent, who sounded flummoxed. A deal had long ago been hashed out. “Are you sure he meant that?” she asked. “He wants to take more money out of his advance and give it to you?” I told that her he understood that and forwarded her an email from him that explained as much.
I’m not saying that he’s a saint. I’m well aware of his troubles. I’ve seen him lose his temper. But when I recently interviewed a good friend of his, Thomas Jane, and told him that I was writing Tom’s book, he sighed and said, “He’s just about the nicest guy in the world—I wish people would give him credit for that.”
When I repeated that to Tom, he—unsurprisingly—started to cry. Actually, it turned out that I’d called him while he was watching a clip of Celebrity Rehab Revisited: Remembering Mike Starr so he was already crying. “It’s just so sad,” he said about the clip, his voice quivering. “I wish I hadn’t watched it.”
As we discussed the fact that the book deal had been announced and was garnering some nice, supportive press, Sizemore continued to cry. “Honestly, I did Celebrity Rehab for the money,” he said. “I thought I’d ruined my career—that at this point my life was my career—and that I’d ruined my health and my relationships and that I was going to die. I just wanted to leave some money for the people in my life I was going to leave behind.”
But Tom didn’t die and he’s now over two years sober. The career that “it took me 27 years to get and I ruined in an afternoon basically” is coming back (he was featured in nearly the entire episode of Hawaii 5-0 on Monday and has shot 12 movies in the past year alone). “I didn’t think I could do this,” he confessed. “I didn’t think any of this was going to happen because so many bad things happened for so long.”
As we talked, the cap broke off his tooth and, as he began driving to the dentist, he continued to cry. “I’m not crying because I’m sad,” he insisted. “I’m crying, I guess, out of relief. It’s a fucking miracle. I was so lost, so mired in addiction that I didn’t see any way out. I only stuck around because Drew and Bob kept telling me to. They didn’t show that on Celebrity Rehab—I’d go in there and talk to them and say, ‘What’s the point of my doing this? I’ve ruined my life, it’s over’ and they’d say, ‘You haven’t—you have to trust us.’”
Anna David is the Executive Editor of The Fix and the author of the books Party Girl, Bought, Reality Matters and Falling For Me. She's written about sex addiction and gambling addiction, among other topics, for The Fix.