Courtney Comes Clean
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Last September, I heard that Courtney Love had agreed to star in a large "recovery rally"—an annual event held in New York's Randall's Island State Park to celebrate sobriety. Intrigued by the prospect of the oft-distressed diva performing before thousands of former addicts and drunks, I called her to ask if she'd submit to an interview about her own experience with addiction. Much to my surprise, she agreed.
Which is why, on a bleak Sunday afternoon last fall, I found myself trapped amidst a jubilant recovery crowd on a grassy lawn, watching a "sober comedian" make lame jokes about gerbils and gay bars. Courtney, the much-publicized star of the event, had been scheduled to perform at 11 a.m. But to the dismay of the event’s organizers, she didn't show until three hours later. Apparently her hairdresser was late, her make-up artist was a mess, and then she needed to soak in her jacuzzi to calm her frayed nerves. After that, she spent an hour picking out an appropriate outfit, and frantically slipped on and discarded dozens of stylish shoes. By the time her limo finally found its way to the park, the crowd of thousands handout diminished to about 50 die-hard fans, one of whom suffered a heart attack at the exact moment Love stepped out of her car. (Courtney tends to have that kind of effect on some people.) As an ambulance rushed over to save the stricken spectator, the singer trekked blithely across the expansive grass lawn. “Where is everybody?” she bellowed, trying to keep her balance on a razor-sharp pair of Prada stilettos “Wasn't this supposed to be some massive event!”
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Informed that most of the audience had long since departed, Love flashed a sad smile and beckoned the remnants of the crowd to follow her into a makeshift V.I.P. tent. There, for well over an hour, she delivered a flawless performance, capped off by a rollicking cover of Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" that the rapt audience rewarded with a standing ovation. Afterward, she patiently signed autographs and sat for an extensive interview with a documentary team, answering questions about her struggle with drugs. As she was leaving, a teenage boy who had nearly died of a heroin overdose months earlier approached her for a few private words. She wrapped her arms around him and talked to him for 20 minutes. When she left she was almost in tears.
That, in a nutshell, is Courtney Love—a mad and often maddening persona who has managed, through sheer force of will and an abundance of talent, to stake out a place at the forefront of pop culture for over two decades. At an age (46) when many of her contemporaries are playing reunion shows, she remains as raucous and relevant as ever, a performer who has made impressive inroads in movies, fashion and music.
Since our first meeting eight months ago, I've met with Love about a half-dozen times—in her suite at the Mercer Hotel, in the apartment of a mutual friend, and in the genteel West Village townhouse she is renting from Arianna Huffington. The following interview links a series of taped conversations that occurred during those visits. No doubt many readers will be riled by the notion of a recovery-oriented website prominently featuring a celebrity who has long been a poster girl for drug abuse. But she may be a perfect poster child for recovery as well. While she's kicked heroin, crack, and Adderall, Courtney Love is certainly not always sober. But there is something undeniably admirable about her honesty about her struggle with sobriety—her endless optimism after every fall that the next time things will turn out better. "I'm not a fucking role model," she snapped when I asked her if she felt any responsibility to inspire other addicts. "I'm just trying to stay alive." But role model or not, her rocky road to recovery should resonate with many of our readers. We're sure you'll let us know either way.
I think a lot of people will be surprised to see you here on The Fix. Why did you decide to speak to me?
I don’t know. I like what you are doing. And I also have a larger point to make. I’ve been maligned as this drug freak for years, and I’m getting tired of it. That's not the way I live anymore. Obviously I’ve had a lot of issues, but that was years ago! Since then, I've worked really hard to get myself together, but for some reason I’ve remained a punch-line. You know, I try to work a good program. I don’t do smack. I don’t do crack anymore. I've never taken Special K or Ecstasy. I’ve been tempted, but every time I’ve wanted to try Ecstasy, I was talked out of it. I did do M.D.M.A., however, a very long time ago. I’ve always been an early adapter. But I still can't escape this stigma for some reason. Even people like Kelly Osbourne feel free to fuck with me. A few nights ago, when she appeared on Fashion Police with Joan Rivers, that bitch even called me a crackhead!
Did she say that you were a crackhead or that you looked like a crackhead?
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She called me a crackhead! That’s what my sister told me. I don’t know. I didn’t want to go YouTube it—it would piss me off too much. But we're talking about fucking Kelly Osbourne, you know? This is a girl whose life I have saved twice, once with C.P.R. and another time with C.P.R. and violence—by which I mean I had to poke her furiously in certain places to wake her up from her coma. When Kelly was on X Factor, her mother had to pay a P.R. guy in the UK 100,000 pounds a month to cover up her daughter's drug problems.
Kelly seems to be doing okay now.
She’s been sober for how long? Less than a year? Good for her! But it wasn't that long ago when Kim Stewart was screaming, “Courtney, what are we going to do? Kelly Osbourne is blue on the floor!” Kelly wasn’t doing that well back then. For some reason, Kim Stewart also called me when Paris Hilton got pulled over for her last D.U.I. And Lindsay Lohan called me after she was arrested. The judge presiding over her case was the same judge who presided over mine. He was a very sweet man. I think he was an ex-alcoholic himself. I told Lindsay to just get it together and trust the judge, and Lindsay's father called me for advice every day. I'm not even that friendly with these girls. What am I, a junkie Auntie Mame?
So how did you resolve the Kelly Osbourne emergency?
After Kim Stewart called I rushed over to help her—she was lying unconscious in the bathroom at Rod Stewart's house. I reached into her massive boobs and I pulled out a tennis ball filled with a substantial amount of blow and 80 milligrams of Oxy. I tried to flush everything down the toilet. But there was a person there who begged me to keep the drugs so we could use them later. I was like, “No, no, the drugs must be flushed! The West Hollywood sheriff is outside.”
So, it was kind of upsetting to hear that she was trashing me on national TV. Apparently, Joan Rivers ran a red-carpet clip of me on Fashion Police, and Kelly Osbourne kept saying I looked like a crackhead, which was really strange, because she knows perfectly well that I haven't touched a narcotic since 2005. In fact, I was wearing a glamorous Givenchy gown that was sent to me personally by the head of Christian Dior. I looked impeccable in every way. And I was sober as a judge.
Do you consider yourself an addict?
Yeah, I’m definitely an addict.
Are you also an alcoholic?
Maybe. But I don't really think so. I raise my hand at A.A. meetings, but the truth is, I've never finished a full beer in my life.
Why do I find that so hard to believe?
Because you’re a dick. [laughs] No, I love you. I don't know. Not long ago, I went to this place in Malibu where you can get fresh fish and chips, and ordered a Japanese beer, and sat and watched the sun go down, and I couldn’t finish it. My addiction is just about feeling comfortable in my own skin. I don't like losing control. You couldn’t pay me a billion dollars to take marijuana. I don’t really like coke anymore. I’m scared of ecstasy. The one drug I'd like to try one day is Ayahuasca, which should be mandatory for everybody. It’s apparently this crazy tea that gives you these intense hallucinations. Everyone who takes it sees a wise old black man who takes you on a wild journey. I’m not going to name names, but everyone who takes it sees the same black guy. I'm not kidding you. Everyone!
Is it Morgan Freeman?
Shut up! No! My drug counselor did Ayahuasca with Sting one time and Sting spent an hour chasing a bee through Joshua Tree. I didn’t join in because losing control is not my jam. The few times I’ve been really drunk, I was plastered on tequila, which is no fun at all. One of those times was at the M.T.V. Awards, when I nearly fell on the floor because I took so many benzos.
So when you seem like you’re out of control, is it because you’re on Xanax or Valium?
No, I don’t do downers anymore.
What do you do, then?
Well, for the past few years I was taking lots of Adderall, a drug that was legitimately prescribed to me by a respectable physician. But after Britney freaked out a couple of years ago, and her toxicology report said she was taking a much lower dose than I was, I decided to get off that shit. I knew I had to work a serious program again.
What does a serious program mean to you?
It's complicated. I was arguing with some guy the other day—a sober scion of a very wealthy English family. He's always righteously lecturing me about abstinence, abstinence, abstinence. After a few hours of this I got angry and screamed, "Get away from me you dumb British fuck! You probably were just out chasing the dragon!” I mean, abstinence is a nice idea but I don’t know if it’s right for everyone. Especially for someone who was nursed on a steady diet of Valium and Ritalin from the time I was eight, thanks to my fine mother.
Your mother fed you Valium when you were eight years old? Why? Were you a really bad girl?
No. I was impeccably behaved when I was eight. But my mother wasn't exactly an exemplary parent. Time magazine did a list of the worst celebrity parents of all time. Marvin Gaye's dad was number one, and my father and mother were number two and three. I'm sure I was number four. [laughs]
You know what's funny? People in the flyover states tend to think that all the celebrities on both coasts are constantly high. They think that we're all on some uber-drug. But the thing is, they're kind of right. But somehow most of them manage to function, more or less. The biggest celebrities and movers and shakers I know are also some of the worst alcoholics and drug addicts. But you'd never know it by looking at them. Now that I’m trying to stay sober, I try my best to stay away from that crowd, but it’s not always easy. These days, I’m very virginal when it comes to drugs.
Virginal? Really? I'm not sure that's the first word I'd use to describe you.
Shut Up! I’m trying to get it together. It’s no secret that I’m looking to fall in love again. I’d like to find a guy who’s more settled and older. But I still have some standards, you know. I’m an alpha female, so I can’t have a troll for a boyfriend.
I tried the male model thing a few months ago. He was this young Dutch guy, and his friends thought he was lying about dating me, so he went to Page Six and furnished them with a photo of us. But it didn't work out. So then he went back to Page Six and told them, “I’m not dating Courtney Love, I have another girlfriend in Holland.” It all was such a bore.
What’s a bore? Disingenuous Dutch models?
No, I love Dutch models, but I think casual sex is beneath me. I’ve been really open about all the sexual aspects of my life, particularly when it comes to these showboats who love to be talked about, people like Billy Corgan. But beneath all my bluster, I’m deeply, deeply romantic—and also deeply wounded and traumatized. Did you watch the Behind the Music episode on me?
Yeah. It was one of their highest rated shows ever. Were you happy about it?
It was okay. The second hour was a huge waste of time, in my opinion.
Why do you think people are so fascinated with you?
Because I have a really good story to tell. I’m honest. I’ve seen a lot. A lot of people feel like they know me—they see me as a drunk and a show-off and a mess, but that’s really not the truth.
I had this intensely fucked up childhood: my mother abandoned me when I was a teenager. I lived through my husband’s suicide. There was a period when drugs completely took over my life. But I also went out with Edward Norton for four years and didn’t do any drugs or walk a single red carpet in all that time.
There’s no denying that I’ve done a lot of dumb things. I’ve been wasted and written emails and texts that were really hurtful to a lot of people. Sometimes I can be a bit self-obsessed. But contrary to public opinion, I’ve never had a drinking problem.
I hate that people still stereotype me as a junkie or a crackhead. The truth is, I did heroin for a while and weaned myself off it. I did crack for six months straight and then I stopped.
Was it harder for you to get off coke or heroin?
How did you manage to do it?
Kicking heroin really sucked. Kicking coke was much easier. The truth is, cocaine was not a good look for me. If you Google me, there’s a period of time when you can clearly tell that I’m just flying on blow, it’s quite apparent. I’ve gone through unappealing phases when I’ve been sober, too, but that’s just because I love to play dress-up. There are times you do outrageous things just because you want to, damn it, or you want to get some press.
But cocaine is an evil, evil drug. It really fucked me up in the head. But as I got older I just kind of grew out of it. You know, I’m 46 years old. One line of blow leads to two days’ depression for me. I’ve turned to other things for my release.
Do you see that thing over there, that little altar? I sit there every day and I meditate and that’s what keeps me fucking sane. I meditate and I also medicate. [Pointing to a plastic bag at the side of her bed] And as you can see, I still take a few legal prescriptions...
Wow, Courtney! That’s a shitload of bottles you got there.
Most of them are empty, I promise. For some reason, I save my empty pill bottles. They're mostly anti-depressants like Abilify. Which cost me about two grand a shot, by the way. Do you like these shoes? They’re like $2,000. I bought eight pairs of them. Ever since I stopped doing drugs, I’ve become manic about fashion.
You said that when you first started taking Abilify you had to do jumping jacks in the closet to calm yourself down.
Yeah, I guess I was just taking too many. But after I adjusted the dose I felt a lot better. Which isn’t to say that things are perfect. I’m currently in the middle of this strange relationship. It’s this tragic high-school romance that is so silly that it makes me sad. But it’s nice to feel romantic again. All the drugs just neutered me. When I was on drugs, I felt like this nunnish, non-sexual person.
Happily, you seem to have gotten over that nunnish phase.
[Laughs] Yeah. After I stopped doing drugs I started to fuck like a bunny! Before that I suffered from years of celibacy. I was on this whole Morrissey kick, no masturbation, no romance, no nothing! The store was completely closed. My self-imposed chastity was only scheduled to last for two years, but it went on for three years, eight months and six days.
Who finally opened the store?
I had this Norma Desmond moment, I guess. I started sleeping with this dude who wasn’t so great, and then I hooked up with another dude who was in an open marriage, but he wasn’t so great, either. I'm a very sexual person, but in general, I think sex is kind of overrated. Most of the guys I sleep with have tended to be actors and musicians and directors. And they tend to be lousy lays.
Have you ever considered sleeping outside of the industry?
[Laughs] Actually, these days I’m only interested in plutocrats. Like really, really rich guys. I’m determined to land one sooner or later. My favorite book these days is something called The Official Filthy Rich Handbook, which I study like the Talmud. The thing is, I think I can be a real asset to a wealthy man. I’ve always been a great girlfriend, but until recently I’ve struggled to stay single, because I had never been without a boyfriend before. It’s just my nature to couple up.
I’m not saying that I’m completely monogamous—I’m too much of a libertine for that. But I’ve always craved real relationships. I did really well with the boys for a while. But then I developed this reputation as a crazy drug addict and a lot of men were turned off by me. Even now, in New York, my reputation is still pretty shitty. People still think that I’m the same sad skank I was in 2005.
Is that when you made that crazy Letterman appearance?
No. That was a few months earlier, March 17, 2004.
After you left his show, you let a homeless man suck on your tit and threw a bottle at some chick attending your concert. Would you say that was kind of the bottom for you?
No, my bottom was snorting blow up Pamela Anderson’s ass! [laughs] Actually my real bottom was buying my pharmacists on both coasts wide-screen plasma TVs for Christmas!
The Pam Anderson roast on VH1 wasn’t a great moment for me, either. I was a mess. I had lipstick smeared all over my face. I was doped and dazed. I may have even been drooling. But it’s all Andy Dick’s fault, really. He handed me a pill right before the show and said, “Courtney, take this, it’s like Vicodin without the aspirin.” It fucked me up bad. Winona Ryder slipped me a similar pill a few months earlier. I’m such an addict that I just swallowed them both, without asking what they were. So thanks to Andy Dick I ended up accidentally getting addicted to benzos, which went on to plague my life.
As a general rule, it’s probably not a great idea to take pills from Andy Dick. But benzos are notoriously hard to withdraw from. How did you get off them?
I spent 90 days at this ritzy rehab called Beau Monde. They accepted me on a scholarship basis, because I seriously had no money at the time. But then, after I left, they ended up suing me for $180,000 because they got their publicity and then they wanted their money.
Did you pay them?
Yeah. Because I had a shitty lawyer. They made this huge deal about their luxurious premises and their gourmet chef. But fuck their chef! I mean, I was on Atkins at the time! I subsisted on cottage cheese and ham for 90 fucking days! But I do think 90 days is the magic number if you want to get sober—if you really want to stabilize, you need to go away somewhere for three months.
After you finished your 90 days, did you start drinking right away?
No! Well, yes. Just a little bit. With friends. I’ve never drunk alone in my entire life, though that’s certainly not the public perception. A few months ago, at a party in Hollywood, Scarlett Johansson did a pretty spot-on imitation of me. She wrapped a bandage around her boobs and tumbled down a flight of stairs with a bottle of Jack Daniels in her hands. But the truth is I’ve never had a drop of Jack Daniels. I hate the taste of hard alcohol. What I really like is wine.
You’ve probably been to a half-dozen rehabs over the years. Do you think it’s harder for celebrities to get proper treatment than it is for ordinary civilians? It must be difficult to open up about personal things when you’re the center of attention.
It depends on what rehab you go to. I mean, I wouldn’t want to end up at Dr. Drew’s place. He’s such a phony, that guy. When I was indicted on the coke possession charge, the judge insisted, “No fancy rehabs for you, Courtney Love!” So I ended up at Silver Hill in Connecticut, which isn’t a terrific place to detox. They’re very chintzy on the get-well drugs you need if going through benzo withdrawal.
But I’ve come to the conclusion that most people don’t really need rehabs anyway. My theory is if you can’t kick dope or Oxys or coke on your own, then you’re just a fucking pussy. You just have to want to do it.
How do you think people perceive you these days?
It's hard to say. There are so many lies out there. A while ago this movie came out called Last Days by Gus Van Sant, which purports to depict my life with Kurt. I’ve never deigned to see it myself, but I’ve read some reviews. [Sonic Youth’s] Kim Gordon is in it, and she supposedly shuffles around commenting sagely on Kurt’s final days. Which is ridiculous. The truth is that she was always an awful cocktease, and she was obsessed with my husband, but Kurt just hated her. It’s crazy that she’s presenting herself as his intimate friend. But the world is full of phonies.
Have you ever been in jail?
No. The closest I got was when the police nabbed me for possession of two pills, a Xanax and a Vicodin. The Vicodin, by the way, was expired. That didn’t stop them from putting me through about 30 fucking trials. They wouldn’t rest till they put me in jail, but I wore them out in the end.
How did they catch you in the first place?
The police got a warrant and just crashed into my house. When they turned up at my door I was a real smart-ass, I refused to let them in, so then they came back with a warrant. At the time I was I living at Dr. Phil’s house on Alpine. It was an awful place. I was intending to flip it, but it was decorated exactly like you’d think Dr. Phil would decorate his house.
The problem is that the police department doesn’t approve of musicians with tattoos living on the West side of Sunset Boulevard. As long as we stay on our side of the border, we’re fine, but if you dare to cross over, you’d better watch out.
At the time, I was getting bundles of blow delivered to my house by a mulatto in a Nissan with a dragging muffler. I was living three blocks from the fucking Beverly Hills Police Department, my bad! My house was also located two blocks from a school. The neighbors must have complained. But after that incident I didn’t cop for the rest of my life. Since then, no transaction involving money, a drug dealer and Courtney Love has occurred.
Well, I take it you’ve done a few drugs since then. So how did you pay for them?
Well, I don’t really do street drugs anymore. My medications are all legally prescribed by prominent physicians. But back in the day, if I wanted to score coke, I’d find someone else to do the deed, and pay him a bitch tax as a reward.
A big part of the 12 steps is making amends to people you’ve hurt. Have you had to make lots of apologies since you’ve tried to become sober?
Oh my God, so many god-damn amends… [Legendary music producer] Jimmy Iovine even framed my amends letter to him in the lobby of Interscope Records. My letter said, “Dear Jimmy, I was on a whole lot of drugs for a few years and I sued you. I feel like a retard, I’m sorry, please accept my apology.” He was cool with it. I then tried to make similar amends to my old manager, Peter Mensch, which didn’t turn out quite as well. I wrote the same thing, “Sorry I went out and fucked that asshole, I should have taken your advice. You were right, I was wrong, and I was really high. Sorry. And, oh, by the way, will you listen to my new demo tape?” That amends didn't go over too well. Peter immediately called me up and screamed at me for two hours. He blamed me for the downfall of Def Leppard, the downfall of Tesla and for not winning an Oscar. It was a valuable lesson. I realized you probably shouldn’t write an amends letter that ends with you asking someone to listen to your demo.
Do you go to A.A. meetings?
I try to. Though I have mixed feelings about the whole A.A. thing. It’s complicated. I love the fact that it was endorsed by Carl Jung, who was a fucking genius. I like listening to people share their problems. I know it’s helped a lot of people. But there is definitely something about A.A. that seems a little dirty to me.
Yeah, dirty. Lots of people go to meetings just for celebrity sightings, which is kind of slimy, don’t you think? [Rifling through her photo album] Hey, do you want to see a picture of me the very first time I ever got high? God, that was so long ago. [Sighs] You know, yes, I have problems, but I’ve tried really hard to overcome them. I have this reputation of being a huge drug addict, which is no longer true. People need to believe that I’ve changed...
Because it’s ruinous to my life, to my child’s life, to everything. It's why Frances was taken away.
You once said that the first drug you fell in love with was heroin. Were you immediately hooked?
Not at all. In fact, I hated heroin the first time I did it. The whole idea of rock stars on heroin seemed so cliché.
Were you living in Seattle at the time?
No, Kurt and I were living in L.A. There’s this persistent myth that we spent our whole lives in Seattle. The reality is that we only were there for six miserable months. We bought a house there because it was the only way we could escape all the shit stirred up by that Vanity Fair article, where Lynn Hirschberg claimed that I was doing dope while I was pregnant. The blowback was so bad that Kurt and I had to leave Hollywood for a while. [Flips through her photo album again] Oh, you want to see some funky junkies? Check this out. Here’s the kid who I met when I was in Silver Hill—he and I were both there to get off benzos. He was maybe 20 years old. He became my best friend. We were both having these horrible withdrawals, but they refused to give us the right kind of meds, so we were both massively fucked up. We sat side by side on these rocking chairs for 72 hours, seeing bugs and dragons. It was like we went through a war together, but I don’t even remember his name.
In some quarters your junkie mythology provides you with a bit of street cred.
Maybe, but I’m no longer interested in perpetuating that. I’m an establishment woman now, goddammit! I’m a fucking plutocrat! I’m fun! I’m sober! I’m fabulous! I may have a few character defects, but I’m not dishonorable, and I’m not a liar, and I have a good heart. I have a big mouth. But my personal and romantic relationships are sacred and precious to me. There are few things I can do really well. I write lyrics and I sing music. I love clothes and music and movies and acting. But I lack a certain set of basic life skills, which is probably why I got into drugs in the first place. I wish someone could give me a course on living.
This is the first installment of a two-part interview. Continue to part two here.
Maer Roshan is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Fix. Previously he was Deputy Editor of New York Magazine, Editorial Director of Talk, Features Editor of Interview, Founder of QW, and Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Radar Magazine and Radaronline.com.