Exclusive: Steve-O On His Road to Recovery

By Anna David 06/19/11

Jackass star Ryan Dunn died after a night of heavy drinking. So how did his most self-destructive co-star manage to get out alive? Now three years sober, Steve-O talks about doing stunts without cocaine, walking down carpets he used to piss on, and how he finally managed to turn his life around.

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Steve-O has extremely strong feelings about bottled water. “The plastic has all these crazy med chemicals and stuff in it that taints it,” he insists while cleaning dishes that contained frozen vegan foods he just served me. “The worst is when it gets cold and then warm: they find really scary bacteria in it." Beth, a pretty brunette with kind eyes and an easy laugh, turns to me. "I feel like people try to take advantage of the fact that Steve cares about this stuff," she says. "This guy yesterday was trying to sell him a $4,000 water filtration thing and I was looking at him, like, 'Please don't buy into this shit.'" Beth and Steve are close—they seem to share dogs, Kindles and an array of sober experiences (she got sober six months before him). They also dated for 10 months—"We hung out so much, we were like, 'Should we date? All right,'" Beth explains—but it didn't work out and Steve-O, now single, considers her "my best friend in the whole world."

The fact that I’m sitting in the apartment of a guy best known for stapling his scrotum together, having just consumed some fake chicken he’s heated up for me and Beth and listening to him spout off about the dangers I’m regularly exposing myself to through my water consumption should feel stranger than it is. This is a man, after all, who has arguably ingested more chemicals, and exposed himself to more dangers, than all the residents of Paris, Texas added together. But scratch just below the surface of Steve-O—ne Glover—and you’ll learn quite quickly that the London-born 37-year-old is nothing like he may seem. His dad was a top executive at Pepsi who moved his family around the globe as he climbed the corporate ladder (they settled in Connecticut when Steve was a toddler). He spends his days taking care of his dogs, working on his stand-up comedy material (he's in the middle of a worldwide comedy tour), and focusing on his sobriety. His favorite new friend—his "man crush," according to Beth—is the lead singer of a punk rock band who happens to have written a book called Meat is for Pussies. He hangs out with the Jackass guys only "if there's a reason...if stuff brings us together." (Following Dunn's death, Glover cancelled six comedy shows; his only comment on the matter he provided on Twitter when he said, "I don't know what to say, except I love Ryan Dunn and I'm really going to miss him.")

"I was dreading the stunts more than I ever had before, and at the same time, I was probably more eager than ever to do them, because it was so important to me to prove that I still had that in me—that sobriety hadn’t turned me into a pussy."

It’s true that the alumni of MTV’s Jackass and Wildboyz (as well as three number-one Jackass movies) imploded onto public consciousness by piercing his butt cheeks together, vomiting wasabi he’d snorted and attaching leaches to his eyes, among other stomach-churning activities. It’s a simple fact that he has his own visage (holding two thumbs up) tattooed onto his back, that he's been arrested repeatedly, in various countries, and that he was evicted from his apartment for, among other offenses, spitting on his neighbor while brandishing a BB gun and busting a mop pole between the wall that separated their apartments. But what may have simply looked like the recklessness of a wild and crazy party boy with a previously unseen combination of adrenaline and a need for attention was actually the sign of an addiction that surely would have killed someone with fewer lives than Glover seems to have.

Now sober over three years and the co-author of the surprisingly endearing and yet altogether unsparing memoir Steve-O: Professional Idiot, the animal lover (four dogs and counting) has made a full transformation. He's painfully honest in the book about about how much he annoyed the Jackass guys when he first met them, about the way he used relationships with people like Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Richie to further his career, and about how he abandoned his mother when she was dying of cancer. Though he used to swallow goldfish for kicks, he's now a vegan because “I arrived at the conclusion that I need to be more compassionate in my lifestyle.” The guy who once made posting videos on MySpace his raison d’être, regularly emailing all of his most drug-addled, passionate beliefs (sample: “Call it a hunch, but I believe that the time for us humans to be seeing through only two eyes and thinking with individual minds is EXTREMELY limited [i.e. only until 2011, when the Age of Aquarius begins]”) to a collection of celebrities, journalists and other industry heavyweights, and pissed on the red carpet at the Jackass: Number Two premiere now sees the his former outrageous behavior and need to videotape everything in order to “stay relevant” as “part of my demise.” And he’s clearly thrilled to have that phase of his life over. (His Jackass cohorts are as well: in the book, Glover details how they intervened on him when he was threatening suicide and Knoxville has since publicly praised Glover for his sobriety.)  “My story,” Glover admits while cleaning off a fork (because he’s decided that as a guest, I deserve a clean one), “is not a particularly flattering one.”

What made you decide to do a book?

I met the writer, David Peisner, back in 2002 when he came out to the set of the first Jackass movie for Maxim and we tackled him, put a D-shaped bike lock around his neck, locked it, and then threw the key in a lake. We became friends from there. When I was on Dancing with the Stars and newly sober, the idea of doing a book came up and at first I wanted to write it myself but I quickly realized I couldn’t. I was just out of rehab, in my first sober living house. I had been to one psych ward and didn’t know I’d be going to a second one yet. That’s when I hit a serious wall.

What happened?

Basically, I took an honest look at myself and at my actions, and was horrified and felt like I couldn’t forgive or live with myself. I told some people that I trusted in sobriety that I wanted to blow my brains out. And I don’t think I ever came close to actually killing myself but I felt so uncomfortable, I didn’t want to live. I checked myself into a second psych ward and that was when it dawned on me that suicide was not the answer. The answer was to stop doing the shit that made me feel bad and create a new history. After the second psych ward, when I had been sober for four months, I had a whole new resolve. And it was when I was around a year sober that Peisner contacted me about doing an article for Spin. I had so much shame and humiliation over the way I had been carrying on before I got sober and I was really afraid to delve into it. But I just went ahead and did the article anyway, and once I started with him on that, I was like, “If I’m doing it, I’m doing it” and we started working on the book.

What do you think will most surprise people about you when they read the book?

The honest answer is that I think people will be surprised to find that I’m not as much of an idiot as they think I am. I’m not a real moron. But it’s so douchey to tell someone that you’re smart. If somebody tells you they’re smart, they’re not; if someone tells you they’re rich, they’re not, and if someone tells you they’re famous, they’re not.

Well, saying you’re not a moron isn’t exactly the same thing as saying you’re smart. Is there any one thing you’re most scared of people learning about you?

Knoxville’s reaction to it was, “There could be some potential future Mrs. O’s out there who could be perusing this and not terribly thrilled to find all this out.” The reality is that if I want to really get married and settle down and have a family one day, in a lot of ways, I looked at this book as a test—a challenge that a potential future Mrs. O would have to make. I figure if she could handle everything in the book, we’re in good shape. I’ve never been a real secret-keeper.

In sobriety, we talk so much about fear—about how we don’t think we’re scared of anything and then realize when we’re clean that we’re actually terrified of everything. Considering your whole career is based around fearlessness, I’m curious if it was like that for you.

I don’t think I ever thought of myself as fearless, but I think you make a good point—that we don’t realize how afraid we are until we get sober. When I first got sober and became a vegetarian, I was just gallivanting around, bludgeoning everybody with my righteousness. I was telling people they needed God. I was, arguably, more arrogant and obnoxious than I had been loaded. I needed to film and post everything I was doing because I wanted to stay relevant. But after the second psych ward, I started to deal with what I was scared of. Now I’m almost afraid of all the social media shit because during my downward spiral, I was posting all this crazy shit on MySpace and sending out so many crazy emails. Sobriety, for me, has been a function of finding separation between my personal life and my career. I used to have no identity separate from Steve-O. And I think putting down that camera and working on an identity separate from all that saved my life as much as anything else. But now that I’m doing stand-up, I’m on Twitter and Facebook and all that.

How did the stand-up start?

About five years ago, a guy who had a comedy show invited me to the Laugh Factory. He was like, “Dude, I want you to come and get onstage and do something totally crazy,” and I thought, “The craziest thing I could do, by far, would be to get on that stage and not do any stunt, but just try to make people laugh.” I had some stuff I had come up with, and I threw it out there, and I got some legit laughs. I remember thinking, “Fuck, I just got laughs and I entertained people without having to hurt myself or do anything demeaning.” About a year ago, I met Dane Cook and he mentored me. As we were shooting the last Jackass, I was in the comedy clubs every night and working, and an 11-minute set turned into a 20-minute set turned into more. I was hammering away at it, and then when the movie came out, I went on Howard Stern and was like, “Hey Howard, get me a gig in New York, I’m doing stand-up every night and I’m fucking crushing it.” And it really took off from there.

What was it like shooting the third Jackass movie once you were sober?

I was dreading the stunts more than I ever had before, and at the same time, I was probably more eager than ever to do them, because it was so important to me to prove that I still had that in me—that sobriety hadn’t turned me into a pussy. For the opening scene, I had to jump into the ceiling fan, just like I did in the first movie. It was sober Steve-O versus loaded Steve-O. In preparation for the first movie, I bought an eight ball of cocaine and one or two vials of Ketamine. I sat there doing line after line of the blow, just looking at that fan and I was like, “Fuck you, fan, you’re going down, I’m going to fucking kill you.” It was all really effective and it worked great. And then, for the third movie, I was sitting under the fan sipping water, thinking, “Man, I hope I don’t get paralyzed.” [Laughs] “I hope I don’t land on my head and break my neck.” But when it comes down to it, “One, two, three, go,” has always been, “One, two, three, go.” The difference was the anxiety and the agonizing over potential bad outcomes before but doing the stunt was no different.

I imagine it hurt more the second time.

I got hurt both times. [Laughs]

Were you uncomfortable being around the Jackass guys for the third movie when so much of your time together before had been spent partying?

We have never really hung out without a reason except to get loaded. And in sobriety, you check your motives, and if you’re going to put yourself in a situation with people who aren’t sober, you want to be able to have a real reason to be in that situation. And I don’t have any legit reason to be in a situation to watch those guys drink. The whole time we did that third movie, I never once did that.

Have you been tempted to drink?

There’s a big difference between temptation and obsession. Temptations will come and go. The obsession has been lifted and temptation hasn’t turned to obsession—at least not in a good long time.

Anna David is the Executive Editor of The Fix and a magazine and book writer who discusses addiction on TV and at colleges around the country. She also interviewed Tom Sizemore and Nic Sheff for The Fix.

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Anna David is the New York Times-bestselling author of multiple books about overcoming difficulties and coming out on the other side: the novels Party Girl (HarperCollins, 2007) and Bought (HarperCollins, 2009), the non-fiction books Reality Matters (HarperCollins, 2010), Falling for Me (HarperCollins, 2011), By Some Miracle I Made It Out of There (Simon & Schuster, 2013) and True Tales of Lust and Love and the Kindle Singles Animal Attraction (Amazon, 2012) and They Like Me, They Really Like Me (Amazon, 2013). Find Anna on LinkedIn and Twitter.