Idol Chatter

What happens if someone made a reality show and it was too real to watch?That’s the thought that was running through my head last night while watching “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew” on VH-1 last night. Yes, the network that resurrected “The Surreal Life” series and perfected the salacious celebrity dating show – “Flavor of Love,” “Rock of Love” — has created a deeply affecting look at the high-price of drug and alcohol addiction.“We’ve reached a time when the excessive use of drugs and alcohol has become glamorized and has even become a right of passage for today’s generation,” intones Dr. Drew Pinsky, the board certified M.D. and addiction specialist best known for hosting “Loveline,” over the opening montage of starlets like Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Richie partying. “It’s time that people understand the real nature of this problem and how we treat it.”And there is no more perfect illustration of the horrors of addiction than actor Jeff Conaway, a.k.a. Kenickie from “Grease.” After being injured filming a musical sequence for the movie, Conaway was prescribed multiple pain killers and never turned back. Thanks to home video that each of the celebrities made, we get to see Conaway go through his vast pharmacopia of legal drugs, his use of illegal drugs and him sniffing a drug that will help him urinate, since the other drugs he takes impedes that bodily function. (You can see some pre-rehab footage of Conaway below.)Upon arriving at the Pasedena clinic where the intense detox and rehab is to take place, Conaway can not even sit up straight, slurs his speech, yet clings to a glass of champagne. He apparently has taken over a thousand dollars worth of drugs as a last hurrah before entering the program.Other home videos reveal Seth “Shifty” Binzer, lead singer of the band Crazy Town, smoking crack and pathetically trying to score more, begging the cameras not to follow him as “drug dealers don’t like cameras”; a glassy-eyed Jaimee Foxworth of “Family Matters” trying to smoke as many blunts as she can before arriving; and Jessica Sierra, the “American Idol” finalist who is best known for her recent relapse, arrest and arraignment, vomiting repeatedly after ignoring her doctor’s orders not to drink while recovering from a recent surgery. Believe me, the written word can’t do justice to the disturbingly graphic nature of the images.While on one had the show reveals horribly repulsive behavior, the show is also horribly heartbreaking. Watching Conaway’s enabling girlfriend help him sniff coke, listening to Sierra explain that her addict/prostitute mother was dead for five hours in a stranger’s backyard before being discovered, and learning that adult film star Mary Carey only considered rehab as part of a deal with God to let her mother live after she jumped four stories from her Fort Lauderdale apartment terrace.While all of the participants are celebrities, albeit not “A” List, their problems mirror the typical rehab population: Folks who become addicts self-medicating for chronic pain; those who don’t think they have a “real” problem; alcoholics; pot-heads; those who have relapsed; those who want to strengthen their sobriety; and users who know that if they don’t do rehab now, they will be dead within six months. It’s the perfect cross-section of American addiction.Unlike Dr. Phil’s recent Britney show debacle, Dr. Drew is not simply being an opportunist. His bedside manner is compassionate and non-judgmental, but firm. This is a man who is committed to helping these people long-term, as is evidenced in the fact that he is readmitting Sierra if the Florida courts will let her travel.When I originally heard that VH-1 was planning on airing the show, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I enjoy “Celebrity Fit Club,” but thought that reality rehab might be too serious of a subject for the channel to take on tastefully and effectively. (Although, it must be noted that several of the celebrities involved – Jeff Conaway, Daniel Baldwin — were first on “Fit Club” where they were offered assistance for their substance, and not just food, abuse.)In fact, Pinsky himself was hesitant to attempt such a public experiment, according to recent reports. But, I’m certainly glad he did. The show in no way glamorizes the use of abusive substances; one look at Conaway drooling, crying and reeling from drug-induced hallucinations and seizures should give any teen, or adult, considering taking drugs great pause. The purpose of the show is “to pull the curtain back on rehab, demystify the process and show you exactly how dramatic it can be,” Dr. Drew says at one point. You may want to push the curtain back just a bit while watching the more graphic scenes of the show, but I’m glad that the good doctor and these celebs are brave enough to open it.

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