Celebs disappear into rehab all the time—then what? A controversial reality show followed nine of them through 21 days of therapy, soul-searching, demon battling, and occasional breakthroughs. Is this eye-opening and helpful—or exploitative and tacky?
Fade in on a nameless hotel room somewhere in Florida, black sheets hung across the windows to block any attempt by daylight to infiltrate.
There, one afternoon in mid-2007, sat Jessica Sierra, a bony shell of the once-curvy girl who just two years earlier wowed millions of American Idol viewers with a gravel-voiced, soulful rendition of Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart."
The 21-year-old singer had recently been in discussions to be part of a reality TV show called Bad Girls Club, a gig for which she was well qualified. "I'd been arrested for aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, possession of cocaine, and introduction of contraband into a correctional facility," Jessica later explains, rattling off the list of charges, as fluent in legal terminology as a cop. "And even at that time I did not think I had a problem. It was just bad luck I got caught. Some guys spit in my face, and I had a blackout, but of course alcohol didn't contribute to the blackout, oh nooo. Normal people have blackouts, right?"
But this afternoon, holed up in the hotel room avoiding sunshine like a vampire, she got a call from her manager with yet another offer: The network VH1 was producing another reality show called Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, and they were looking for participants. While Bad Girls Club was offering more money, the rehab show was a three-week commitment to getting off drugs and pursuing sobriety, with cameras recording 24/7.
Jessica happened to be coming down from yet another weeklong bender, using speed, Vicodin, cocaine, and Xanax, getting by with no sleep and very little food. "I got off the phone and thought about it," she says now. "And then my friends walk in. It was kind of like an out-of-body experience. There is a big tray full of coke, and they're hitting lines, and I look around and think, 'What do I have here? I'm in a hotel room with two friends who don't have jobs, don't have money, don't have a car, both on probation, and we are sitting around snorting coke all day. I'm killing myself. I weigh 80 pounds.'"
In the parlance of drug recovery, this is referred to as a "moment of clarity."
She called her manager back and said, "Yeah, I need rehab."
Enter Drew Pinsky, MD, program medical director of chemical dependency services at Las Encinas Hospital in his hometown of Pasadena, California, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the Keck School of Medicine USC, and author of the memoir Cracked: Putting Broken Lives Together Again. The often-quoted expert—also an "addictionologist" certified by the American Society of Addiction Medicine—is more popularly known as Dr. Drew, the voice of reason on the syndicated radio call-in show Loveline.
Whether his next gig, as star of Celebrity Rehab, which premiered January 10, will be a credential worthy of including on his résumé remains to be seen. At 9 on a balmy Pasadena night some weeks after the series has wrapped, Drew drives to a Los Angeles studio for the live broadcast of Loveline, as he has done five nights a week since 1992. Of course, he hasn't always been behind the wheel of the spiffy Porsche Cayenne he now steers with one easy hand (a sports car, yes, but family-friendly). Drew is listing his initial reactions to being approached by VH1 producers to take nine celebrities through the drug rehabilitation process. These reactions go something like "No way," "Problems, problems, problems," "Seriously, you've got to be kidding," and "This can't happen."
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