Crude comic Artie Lange, he of the Howard Stern show and a former heroin addict, thinks VH1’s ‘Celebrity Rehab’ series exploits troubled celebrities battling a serious problem. He reportedly turned down $200,000 to appear on the show.
Rodney King, the 1991 recipient of LAPD’s most publicized beatdown beatdown, disagrees with Lange. King, who participated in ‘Celebrity Rehab’’s second season, cleaned up on camera and says it forced him to realize that “when you start losing it, you really have to look at yourself and fix yourself.”
Thus far, King, whose next project is a boxing match November 6, is still sober. Lange, who has battled his drug and alcohol problems in front of the Stern audience, continues to fight his demons.
Yet it’s still not clear who’s right or wrong in this instance. Recently VH1 and ‘Celebrity Rehab’ host Dr. Drew Pinksy, who also gave us the spinoff ‘Sober House,’ launched another semi-celebrity-populated spawn, ‘Sex Rehab.’ Good or bad? “The dilemma I always face in watching [Dr. Drew’s] shows is that I can never decide whether it’s exploitative or not,” mused writer Josh Wolk on EW.com.
Talk about a brain teaser. Rather than try to answer the question ourselves, though, we spoke with two ‘Celebrity Rehab’ participants: former ‘American Idol’ contestant Nikki McKibbin and one-time super module Amber Smith, who also appears on ‘Sex Rehab.’
McKibbon plays gigs with her band Wicked Attraction and has music on her website. Smith was recently cast in the feature film “Mother’s Little Helpers” with Denise Richards and Natasha Henstridge and is doing public speaking about recovery.
Check out what both women have to say and then you can decide on your own whether these TV shows are exploitative.
Fancast: Amber, how did you get into the new series, ‘Sex Rehab’?
Smith: It came out organically. I’d had a double dose of reality TV, but Dr. Drew invited me on Love Line (his radio show). He asked how sobriety was treating me, and I said, ‘The truth is, I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m sober but I’m depressed.” The truth was, I got really obsessed with a guy. I couldn’t stop.
What is the difference between doing both shows?
Smith: There’s something more acceptable about the drug show. I thought I’ll expose drug addiction. This one was harder. I had a meeting with the doctors and I told them it was scary stuff. There’s a deeper level of shame going on national TV and saying I stalked this guy. It’s humiliating. I almost backed out. It was almost too intimate. But I went for it.
How would you describe your experience on these shows?
Smith: Ninety-five percent is positive. The five percent is that it’s a reality show, and it’s going to play up some of the drama. You just think please let them treat this with respect.
Are you still sober?
Smith: Yes. But this new show is even better for me. Here’s the difference. On ‘Celeb Rehab,’ you’re still using, in a way. I was trying to sober up, but there was stil stuff in my system in the first one. They’re trying to detox you. So for three weeks, they’re trying to detox you, showing you what it does to the brain, what addiction is, what different types of recovery there are. It’s a lot of information. But you’re not quite ready to dig into the core issues because you’re not ready yet.
Nikki, how do you look back at your experience on ‘Celebrity Rehab’?
McGibbon: I don’t remember a lot of it, if that makes sense. I was so messed up. From what my husband says, I would call every day and ask to come home. I don’t remember any of that. On top of detoxing and being messed up, I was heavily medicated, too. I remember feeling like I was alone and not bonding with anybody.
How do you think the show dealt with addiction?
McKibbon: I’ve never been to rehab before, but for me, I think it kind of was what I put into it. Granted, there were cameras and stuff going on around you, but there was that core element of we’re trying to teach you how to get better. I have an uncle who just got out of rehab. I went there for family weekend and it was similar.
Nikki, are you still sober?
McKibbon: Yes. I never fell off the wagon once I started. I’m very stubborn. For the first six months, I wanted to drink every day. But I told myself, I’ll give it six months. They say you shouldn’t do that, but it worked for me. Then I revisited every six months. Up until that day of that sixth month, it was really that cut and dry for me. Then when I hit that day, I gave myself three more. That’s how it was for the first year.
Amber, why do you think the show worked for you?
Smith: Because it’s like $100,000 in therapy. In addition, you’re also held accountable – not just to yourself but also to everyone you went to rehab with and by the whole world htat watched. I like the fact that I’m held accountable by people on the street. They come up to me and ask, “Amber, how are you?” It keeps me sober. I like the idea of being a role model if I can. I like the strange aspect that the world knows. It’s one more thing that helps me.
Nikki, what did you think of Dr. Drew?
McKibbon: I love Dr. Drew, but I hated him at first. All he wanted to talk about was my mom (she died just prior to McKibbon going on ‘Celebrity Rehab’). I didn’t realize that if I didn’t get through that I wasn’t going to get better. It was a daily struggle. I was sick of talking about it, crying about it. I didn’t know what he wanted from me. At the end, though, I was like, ok, I get it.
When did you hit that point?
McKibbon: The day of graduation. Everything just kind of hit me. I was like, oh my God, I’m doing with this? I have to leave now and go into the real world and deal with these issues. If Dr Drew hadn’t pushed me to deal with those issues in the house, I would have probably come out and gone straight to the bar.
Why do you think ‘Celebrity Rehab’ worked for you?
McKibbon: I think TV does a good job of showing addiction and the process. I love the show ‘Intervention.’ It’s hard for me to watch because I’m an addict. But I don’t think you could ask for a more accurate or real portrayal of what’s going on. It wasn’t only the rehab part that got me where I am today. It was also having to watch myself, look at myself on TV and think, oh my God, did I really look like that? That was a big thing for me.
Amber, you just booked a big film. Is it scary?
Smith: I’m going to do the film, but I’m not going to get blinded by Hollywood. I won’t let them suck me back in it. I lost 15 years to Hollywood and drug addiction and the fame game. That was a nightmare and my life was empty. So this was a great thing. That’s why I’m telling everyone to hold me accountable. I ain’t going back. There’s a reason I did this show – to get my life back.