Mindy McCready and the ‘Celebrity Rehab’ Curse

by Bill Brenner on February 19, 2013

CNN doesn’t say so directly, but in its follow-up coverage of country singer Mindy McCready’s death, it suggests that those who appear on Celebrity Rehab are cursed.

Mood music:


The report notes that McCready is the fifth Celebrity Rehab alum to die in the last two years. She follows former Alice In Chains bassist Mike Starr, Real World cast member Joey Kovar, Grease actor Jeff Conaway and Rodney King, who had been beaten by police in 1991, to the grave. McCready’s death is especially horrific. The mother of two shot herself to death on the front porch, the same spot David Wilson, her boyfriend and father of her children, committed suicide a month ago.

Many people watch Celebrity Rehab to laugh over the wreckage of celebrity lives. We see these people at rock bottom, slaves to their addictions. Their money has run out, their careers have crashed and burned and they can’t stop from embarrassing themselves in public.

When we laugh at the spectacle, it’s usually over the relief that it’s not us on the TV. Some viewers have sympathy, while others make heartless, tasteless jokes about how the mighty have fallen.

Some people have suggested that the show’s host, Dr. Drew Pinsky, is presiding over a Hollywood circus, showing off the freaks to an eager public, so to speak. But that’s not how I see it.

Pinsky has seen a lot of his famous friends die at the hands of addiction and the underlying mental illness, and his stated goal is to show people just how terrible a disease this is. He told CNN:

One of my hopes was, in bringing ‘Celebrity Rehab’ out, was to teach people how dangerous addiction was. … If I was doing a show on cancer, there would not be much surprise when my cancer patient died. In fact, we’d celebrate a few years of good quality life. People don’t understand that addiction has virtually the same prognosis. If you have other mental health issues on top of that, it’s so much worse. …

There’s a cautionary tale here about the stigma of mental illness and the way in which the public attack celebrities who take care of themselves. … [McCready] became so fearful of the stigma and the way people were responding to her being hospitalized that she actually checked herself out prematurely. … She is a lovely woman, we have lost her, and it didn’t have to go down like this.

Having followed Pinsky’s work over the years, I think his efforts are sincere and useful.

We see celebrities crashing and burning on TV, but countless people from all walks of life suffer these horrors every minute of every day. We can’t help them unless we know the behaviors to look for. Pinsky and the people who have been on his show have given us quite an education.

I hope we don’t waste it on mere gawking.

Dr. Drew and Mindy McCready

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

io_saturnalia February 19, 2013 at 9:40 am

I’m ambivalent about “Celebrity Rehab.” I think Dr. Drew’s intentions are good, but one has to wonder about the commitment to sobriety and treatment by someone who agrees to display their journey to recovery on television.

That is, are they well-served in such a forum? Are they truly motivated by the desire for sobriety, or are they anxious for another shot at the limelight, irrespective of the costs to their dignity and well-being once that show’s season is a wrap?

I suspect some of these celebrities are convinced that appearing on television is a good way to keep them accountable and a way to help others, but they have an inadequate appreciation of the hate and judgment they’re in for from the public (in what people ridiculously term a “Christian nation”). Instead, by amplifying the drama, the physical altercations and the “slips” in sobriety, these patients subject themselves to ridicule and scorn in a way that a more private recovery process wouldn’t.

I don’t think the problem is one of “stigmatizing” those with substance abuse and mental health issues, per se: I think it’s because these celebrities’ struggles have become just another reality TV sideshow and, in that, Dr. Drew is complicit.

Trish February 19, 2013 at 6:59 pm

Bill- I found your blog today while googling Lucinda Basset and her husband. Lucinda was on NPR today, on the Diane Rheam show. I have watched Celebrity Rehab a total of once. Too difficult. How horrifying that people would watch it as you suggest, to laugh over the wreckage of these peoples’ lives. I find that incomprehensible. I make myself aware of it only because I have serious mental illness in my family (4 of 7 siblings) and it is somewhat comforting to think that I am not alone.

I am new to your blog so forgive me if this is a topic you have already discussed. I was wondering if you happened to catch Charlie Sheen on Dr. Oz, about a month or so ago. To me he seemed very manic, as in the manic phase of bipolar disorder. I am surprised it isn’t being highlighted more. I did think Dr. Oz seemed disturbed or perhaps at least concerned by his behavior, but nothing more was made of it. Just curious about your thoughts. Thanks

Bill Brenner February 20, 2013 at 10:54 am

I feel for Sheen. He’s clearly not in control. That’s not an endorsement of the man, necessarily. He’s a great actor, but, let’s put it this way: I’m glad I’m not him.

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