In four television seasons, four have died.
There have been more than 40 patients who participated in the VH1 reality show, Celebrity Rehab. Last week, 29-year-old alumni Joey Kovar became the fourth to die when his body was found with blood trickling from his nose and ears. As of this writing, toxicology lab results in the case are still pending, but he had battled cocaine, alcohol and ecstasy addiction in the past.
Not unlike many 20-somethings, Kovar liked to party, and he made a name for himself as a hard partier on MTV's The Real World filmed in 2008. In Hollywood, he liked to drink; he liked to get high – he liked to do both while the cameras were rolling. It probably made logical sense to get clean with the cameras rolling, and when Celebrity Rehab offered him a spot on the show, he took it.
But if addiction were an animal, it would be a slithery serpent…eye-catching, hard to hold onto, and all muscle. It is not an easy thing to tame, especially with the world watching. The odds are not good for survival when addiction spirals badly out of control, whether televised or not.
I admit that Celebrity Rehab is intriguing. Although I am an alcoholic who has not attended in-patient rehabilitation, I do believe in most of the things they teach there. I still practice many of the same steps for sober living that the celebrities on the show are taught, with one key difference.
In the few episodes I have seen, the topic of having a higher power was minimized, at best. Without the highest power – Jesus Christ – I would no doubt still be active in my disease, if not dead from it. Daily surrender to him is the most important facet of recovery for my alcoholism – it seemed a dangerous vacancy on the show.
The doctor in charge of rehabilitation is Dr. Drew (Pinsky). He guides patients in healthy directions and calls them out on addictive behaviors. The celebrities respond to one another with all the love, anger and dysfunction you would expect from anyone in early sobriety. The difference is that these individuals were once household names in America. Do they miss the spotlight? Ego is always an issue in recovery, but I would imagine it is especially tender for those who have notoriety.
I like Dr. Drew, personally. He seems affable and kind, in a fatherly way, and I’ve no doubt he cares a great deal about his patients, but he cannot save their lives. They have to crave life more than drugs or alcohol. They have to want to live and do whatever it takes to make that happen. Living in a fishbowl cannot make living sober any easier.
And then there is the issue that the addicts are getting a paycheck for appearing on Celebrity Rehab.
Addiction is a disease, not lack of self-control. The early steps of sobriety are too important to be chronicled like an episode of Jersey Shore or Cake Boss. Packaging recovery as entertainment seems reminiscent of the circus freak show we like to think we’re too evolved to condone.
Who would pay to see a person disabled, sick or deformed, even if that person voluntarily toured with the circus? We would. Four famous individuals did not live to retire from the “circus”.
The dead are:
Rodney King. He become a civil rights figure when videotaped in 1991 being beaten by Los Angeles Police Department officers (the acquittal of those officers sparked a violent riot in L.A. ) He died at 47, his body floating in a swimming pool, drugs in his system.
Jeff Conaway, who starred in the movie Grease and held roles in the television, shows “Taxi” and “Happy Days”. He became addicted to cocaine and – after suffering numerous back surgeries – opiates for pain relief. Ultimately, his body could not process the drugs that his brain deemed necessary.
Former Alice and Chains bassist, Mike Starr. His fatal overdose claimed him at only 44 years of age. He was addicted to Heroin, Methadone, cocaine and marijuana.
And Joey Kovar, was lost in the prime of his life.
Recovery is life or death business. If anything comes from the notoriety of Celebrity Rehab, I hope it is a heightened awareness of addiction. I hope that society sees addiction for the serpent it is, and recovery as a life-giving endeavor, out of the fishbowl.