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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Get mad, go to rehab. Celebrity cure-all or just an attempt at damage control?

John Rogers
Canadian Press
Wednesday, February 07, 2007

LOS ANGELES (AP) - It used to be that celebrities sought treatment for things they put into their mouths. Now it is for things that come out of them.

Michael Richards, warmly regarded for his oddball Kramer character on "Seinfeld," began psychiatric counselling to control his anger just days after unleashing a racist tirade against black patrons at a comedy club. More recently, "Grey's Anatomy" star Isaiah Washington said he would seek help after receiving a torrent of negative publicity for using a gay slur.

"With the support of my family and friends, I have begun counselling," Washington announced after admitting, then denying, then admitting once and for all that he used the invective last fall when referring to fellow cast member T.R. Knight, who soon after declared he is gay.

And, of course, the celeb story of last summer was Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic rant after he was pulled over for drunken driving. As with Richards and Washington, he quickly announced he would seek help through rehab.

So, are celebrities truly seeking to change the way they think? Or are they just doing damage control? It's probably some of both.

University of Southern California sociologist Julie Albright said "it's a form of repentance" for celebrities to publicly admit to bad behaviour and then get help so it doesn't happen again.

Her USC colleague, Bill Boyarsky, does not think most celebrities are really serious about changing their behaviour. And certainly not those who issue a public mea culpa, then disappear for a few weeks to a vaguely defined, unsupervised counselling program.

"Of course it's all bull," said Boyarsky, an adjunct professor at the Annenberg School for Communication and a former Los Angeles Times city editor. Serious rehabilitation requires more than just saying a few public "I'm sorrys" and dropping out of public view for a week or two of counselling, he said.

It is not just Hollywood stars seeking help. Musicians, politicians, athletes and others in the public eye now routinely head off to rehab shortly after some embarrassing incident comes to light.

This week, popular San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom said he was entering a program for alcohol abuse. The announcement came less than a week after Newsom admitted to an affair with his campaign manager's wife.

Rehabilitation can take many forms.

Late last year, the Rev. Ted Haggard resigned as president of the National Association of Evangelicals after allegations of sexual misconduct with a man. One of four ministers who oversaw three weeks of counselling for Haggard said the disgraced minister emerged convinced that he is "completely heterosexual," The Denver Post reported Tuesday.

Hard-partying actress Lindsay Lohan recently checked herself into a posh Hollywood treatment facility following a series of paparazzi run-ins and movie-set problems. When the Web site posted photos showing Lohan going in and out of her Hollywood treatment facility, seemingly at will, some questioned her commitment.

Psychologist Jerry Deffenbacher of Colorado State University said it is not necessarily fair to compare the rehabilitation of drunks and drug abusers with those like Richards who fall into what he calls the "angry, snarly, grouchy, pain-in-the-butt" category.

Richards, who is white, may have violated common decency when he unleashed his racist diatribe at black people who told him he was not funny but he did not break any laws. As a result, Richards himself - not a judge - structured his rehab program.

Besides counselling, he appeared on the Rev. Jesse Jackson's nationally syndicated radio program, "Keep Hope Alive," as part of a series of apologies. He also offered to meet with the patrons he offended.

As to whether counselling can really calm someone like him, Deffenbacher said anger management experts have obtained impressive short-term results with just a few outpatient visits.

"The bad news is we are creatures of habit and it's really easy to slip back into old habits over time," he said.

It was a return to bad habits, Gibson said, that brought about his famous rehab moment last summer. The actor-director had begun drinking again after years of sobriety, and he was three sheets to the wind when he was stopped on the Pacific Coast Highway. His response to the police included loudly blaming Jews for "all the wars in the world."

Gibson quickly headed down what he called a "path for healing," apologizing multiple times, announcing that he was getting help for his drinking problem and meeting with Jewish leaders to say he did not really mean what he had said.

To publicist David Brokaw, it is important that celebrities mean what they say when asking the public's forgiveness, then prove it by not engaging in the same stupid behaviour again.

Before taking on a troubled celebrity, Brokaw said, "the first thing that I'd want to know is that they really are interested in not just solving the PR problem, but taking ownership of the personal problem."


Some notorious rehab cases:

-Actor Isaiah Washington apologizes and says he will seek counselling after using a gay slur last October in reference to fellow "Grey's Anatomy" actor T.R. Knight.

-Former "Seinfeld" actor Michael Richards is caught on video angrily shouting the N-word at black patrons during a November appearance at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood. Richards seeks counselling, apologizes publicly and meets with civil-rights leaders.

-Actor-director Mel Gibson is stopped on the Pacific Coast Highway for suspicion of drunken driving on July 28, 2006, and unleashes an anti-Semitic tirade against a Jewish sheriff's deputy. He apologizes, pleads no contest to drunken driving and says he will seek alcohol counselling and meet with Jewish leaders.

-Lindsay Lohan checks into a private rehab program in January, six months after a studio executive publicly upbraids the 20-year-old actress, saying her "all night heavy partying" is disrupting filming.

-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom announces he is entering an alcohol rehabilitation program days after acknowledging he had an affair with his campaign manager's wife.

-The Rev. Ted Haggard resigns as president of the National Association of Evangelicals after allegations of sexual misconduct with a man are made public. A minister who helped oversee three weeks of counselling said Haggard emerged convinced that he is "completely heterosexual."

-Former U.S. Republican Rep. Mark Foley resigns from Congress last fall and enters alcohol rehab after his sexually explicit computer messages to young congressional interns, known as pages, are made public.

-Actor Robert Downey Jr. had several drug-and alcohol-related run-ins with the law in the 1990s, including one incident in which authorities said he mistook a neighbour's house for his own, broke in and went to sleep on a bed. He was in and out of jail and rehab before eventually completing a program in 2002.

-Oft-troubled musician-actress Courtney Love was sentenced to 180 days at a drug treatment centre after violating probation in 2005.


Blogger TC said...

In response to your blog and quote by Professor Boyarsky, I would like to state that it is not “bull” when someone checks into rehab or seeks help for their problems. Although a person’s motives for checking into a facility may not always be considered to be the right motives, they can still sometimes get the help that they need. If a famous person’s behavior is that bad, then there must be a reason for that inappropriate behavior and rehab may be the only answer at the time. While in rehab, even if it is only for a short time (as Bill Boyarsky stated in your blog), the person may experience a life changing event that they may not have experienced if they had not entered rehab. As you stated, Lindsey Lohan’s commitment to a rehab facility might be questioned because she is in and out of the facility. I like to state that at least she has entered a facility. She is seeking help and she may not be a perfect example of a recovering addict or alcoholic, but she is doing the right thing by checking into a facility. It may take her some time to achieve full sobriety and recovery.

6:26 PM


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