It’s all good! On the eve of the writer’s strikes ending, lots of good things are going on at EIC and the PRISM Awards. We’ve expanded our staff, we have bright new interns, several new industry briefings are in the works, we’ve engaged lots of new volunteers, and new publications (addressing depression/suicide prevention and intellectual disabilities) are just waiting to be shipped to show runners and writers the minute the creative community is back in their offices. I’m also excited about working with a new Congressional session, and dynamic new business partners. By most accounts, 2008 is shaping up to be a great year.
But I do have one ax to grind. I’m bugged by a lot of comments I’ve heard—and articles I’ve read—about celebrities going into rehab.
With 25 years of experience bridging the entertainment and health industries, I am uniquely qualified to respond to the finger-pointing, poking, prodding, lens clicking and tittering that surround celebrity rehab.
And I’ve got something to say.
First and foremost, the celebrity rehab we read about is not a joke for people’s amusement. Thanks to our newly tabloid-driven pop culture, we—and our children—have unprecedented access to what addiction and mental illness look like. Britney Spears, Amy Winehouse, Lindsay Lohan and over two dozen other people gained headlines in 2007 for entering addiction recovery centers.
These are lives at risk, out of control, not jokes, and not reality television shows taking place on the streets of Hollywood for public amusement. If we pay attention, we can see complex stories unfolding before our eyes. One of EIC’s primary principles is to be non-judgmental and respect creative freedom afforded in our great nation. For those who judge mental health, making judgment on these people’s lives, I ask:
Who the hell are you?
Do you think you are better than these people? Stronger? Smarter?
Give me a break.
Addiction and mental health issues affect every cross-section of our population. If you’re laughing now at Britney Spears, will you be laughing in five or ten years when, heaven forbid, your niece, uncle, sister, brother, even your mother or your own son or daughter loses control of his or her life? Will it be funny then?
This new access to the private lives of celebrities who face constant scrutiny and challenges unimaginable by most people—and is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it exposes us to the waking nightmare that losing control of one’s life can be, but on the other hand, it has opened dialogue about addiction and mental illness that has, until now, been hush-hush. While I, like most of America, am truly worried about Britney Spears’s health and safety, I am glad to say I have witnessed a national shift from bemused fascination with her spontaneous antics to recognition of her condition as critically ill, and a new awareness of the real point of rehabilitation: to get better.
VH1’s Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, A&E’s Intervention, HBO’s Rehab—these are important, revolutionary shows that serve the public in a unique and valuable way. The insights just might help someone, and that is good.
Taking steps to fight and beat the struggles that come along with addiction, being self honest with oneself and ideally healthier is a process not unlike walking through a maze blindfolded. And the good news is, a whole lot of folks find a valuable piece of themselves that they never knew existed in the process. Some make it to the betterment of their own lives, the lives of families, friends, and society.
So the next time you get a peek into the lives of Britney, Lindsay, Mel Gibson, Kirsten Dunst, Pat O’Brien, Eva Mendes, Marc Jacobs, Jesse Mefcalfe, Eddie Van Halen, Amy Winehouse and others, be thankful for what you’ve got and respect them for seeking help rather than looking down on them for having real problems. If their stories make you query your own actions, consider following their good example and ask for help. Thanks to new public attention to the recovery process, which can include relapses, we must stop mocking and start understanding.
Their stories may be the gift others find to deter the sadness of losing friends, family and great, late artists like Heath Ledger, Brad Renfro, and others…you know the list.
John Goodman recently made a telling comment about his recent work in rehab:
“For my family and myself, I voluntarily took the necessary steps to remain sober the rest of my life.”
Go for it, John, and thanks for sharing. Yes, “thanks for sharing,” that often-repeated mantra: When anyone, but particularly someone who receives national or worldwide attention because of his or her name, shares experiences of such a personal nature, it really does mean something in the big picture.
Here’s a new reality we all need to face: Going to rehab should be a personal and private experience, but since it’s not for so many, why don’t support those who face it openly and publicly. Why can’t we accept these people as real, as we all are …imperfect human beings, as role models who can show us how to take time to help ourselves when we need it most?
I ask: Is this a problem with role models, or a bad habit of accusing and laughing at other people’s problems?
Cheers to John Goodman and everyone else who has the strength and courage to ask for help and to do so in the public eye.
Everyone below received attention over the past year for entering rehab. I list these people to celebrate them as messengers for the rest of us—as evidence that addiction and mental health issues can affect anyone, regardless of fame and fortune. They are among thousands of people who have been strong enough and smart enough to seek help for their own good and for the good of the people who love them. Many of these celebrities are loved by us—so let’s stop pointing the finger at them and start supporting them as they work to win their lives back!
Seth “Shifty” Benzer
Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Ricco “Suave” Rodriguez
Eddie Van Halen