It's lunchtime, and Artie Lange is feeling hungry. He picks up the phone in his sleek Hoboken, New Jersey, apartment, gazing out over his ridiculous, postcard-worthy view of Manhattan. "Hey, it's Artie," he says. "Can you send over a large pie with extra cheese? Thanks." No last name, no address. Minutes later, the pizza arrives. They don't even charge him since he's mentioned the place (Uptown Pizza) on the radio so many times, but he still makes sure the delivery guy gets a $20 bill.
Lange looks like he just rolled out of bed. He's wearing a faded blue T-shirt and sweatpants, and his graying hair is sticking up in every direction. He hasn't been on The Howard Stern Show, where he became famous as Stern's foulmouthed sidekick, in three years – not since some really dark things happened.
Addicted to heroin and gambling and hookers, Lange hit bottom in 2010 with a truly gruesome suicide attempt. Reaching for his fifth slice of pizza, Lange casually notes it happened in this very room. He chugged from a bottle of bleach, stabbed himself in the stomach nine times and slit his wrists.
Lange's mother discovered him and rushed her son to the hospital. He spent the next 18 months bouncing between psych wards and failed detox efforts. All of this happened right as Lange was reaching a level of success few comedians even dream of. After a decade on Stern, he was pulling in $80,000 a weekend doing stand-up. His 2008 memoir, Too Fat to Fish, was a surprise smash, shooting to Number One. He was also in love with a stunning Christie Brinkley look-alike named Adrienne, whom he met at a New Jersey tanning salon. (She's now his fiancee.)
A new book, Crash and Burn, co-written with Anthony Bozza, comes out October 29th. It tells the whole tale of his return from absolute hell. Over the course of 90 minutes, Rolling Stone spoke with Lange about the book, why he's unlikely to ever appear on Stern again and coming back from rock bottom.
Did you hesitate about writing this book since it was so personal and so intense?
Well, life is life. I had the book deal, and I was lucky to have had a career where I saved up enough money where I could take a year and eight months off so I could get better. I literally needed that much time. I said, "I need time here, man. I'm as big a mess as you can get." And it was a public situation, so not only is it what's happening to in your mind and body, but it's all happening in a public situation. I didn't know if I would ever recover from that alone.
And then the physical addiction of it and the depression . . . There's so many layers to go through. I don't know if dope causes depression or if depression causes dope . . . I don't know what came first. It's too long ago. But I got to a point where I said, "OK, I need to start making some money." I had taken 200 grand from an $800,000 advance. Too Fat to Fish was so successful that they gave me the 800 G's real quick, like a month after it came out. And I was like, "OK!"
So I took the 200 G's, and of course that was spent. My agent said, "Listen, you're going to have to write the book, and they really want you to write about this. If you don't, you have to give the money back." I was like, "Christ! Well, I guess that will be therapeutic, in a way." They were willing to wait as long as it takes to get a book out.
I think a lot of people are going to read the book and be like, "I don't understand why this guy is so miserable. He seems to have everything in the world going for him."
The weirdest and most damning addiction for me, in some ways, was gambling. It's not wanting to walk away from the table until you lose. I've always had that need for instant excitement. It's like, "OK, well, stuff is going well and it's boring the hell out of me. How do I make this fucking bad?" And when you're not married and don't have kids . . . I hope to God we get married and God blesses us with a child someday. It'll then be over. I'll be like, "OK, I'm not bored anymore."
This is the fourth time that show business has given me another shot. And it's not just another shot. Two days out of rehab I got this job with DirecTV. Then the deal was back with the book and I was booked to do stand-up in theaters immediately. I was selling out 3,000-seaters again. My first gig back was 3,000 seats, and it sold out. And that night I made 80 grand. So I was like, "OK, I guess I'm back."
I had a whole new hour of material different from my special. It was about rehab, and it worked. People were interested. And the Stern show creates a family atmosphere. They see me and they want to hug me like I'm a cousin or something that just got better.
Was it hard to come back to this apartment because so much bad stuff happened here?
I've been here for 12 years, and I have more good memories than bad ones. God, and I love this view. For someone who has a depressive attitude, when I get up on a day like today and it's clear and I look at it, it makes me want to just dive into life. When I stabbed myself, I was sitting right there on the corner of the couch. It was six a.m. and the sun was coming up and I looked out at this exact view, and it didn't save me. I felt like I was looking at it for the last time. I was such a morbid, heroin-crazed fucking thing.
The part of the book where you describe the suicide attempt was hard to read.
And write! [Laughs] People say to me, "You think you hit rock bottom?" And I'm like, "I hope so." I don't know what's worse . . . At the time I did that, there was a part of me that just wanted to get that heroin feeling or that opiate feeling or whatever. My logic was, "If I get bloody, I'll get queasy, and I'll go to sleep." When you're on the road a lot, you're in perpetual search of a good night's sleep. I thought it would help me get a solid eight hours. But I don't know what I thought was gonna happen when I got up. Put on a red shirt and hope no one notices?
Somehow, hearing you drank bleach was harder to take than the stabbing.
I thought that would get me drunk. [Laughs] I threw that up two or three times. I had the knife and made it to the bedroom with a trail of blood behind me. I had lost enough blood where I finally did pass out. My mom, my sister, Colin Quinn and a bunch of people were coming over for an intervention-type thing. Thank God I got found by them. They saved my life.
You didn't slit your throat or stab yourself in the heart. Some part of you must have wanted to live.
I didn't slit my throat. I did slit my wrists, though. It was weird. I thought about jumping off the terrace when it turned suicidal. I said, "What am I doing? I can't live like this anymore. Even if I get that heroin feeling, what am I doing?" But I said, "I guarantee it's not high enough. With my fat ass, I guarantee I'll just fucking break both my legs and wake up the next day." But, um . . . [laughs] . . . I didn't know how to make it permanent. Hang myself? I don't know how people figured out how to do that.
Still, it sounds to me like part of you didn't want to die.
It was half-ass, yeah. If there was a gun here I probably wouldn't have blown my head off, but I don't know.
I interviewed David Crosby a few months ago. He was telling me he doesn't know why he's still alive when so many of his peers are dead.
I ask myself the same question. I do. It's called survivors guilt. I wrote about Mitch Hedberg and Greg Giraldo in the book because I knew them. Mitch was shooting heroin, which is just so brutal. But with Giraldo, there's no way he did more drugs than me. There's no way. Again, it's just a bad night or whatever. He left behind kids . . . But I totally identify with Crosby.
Look, I make great money at DirecTV. I was just in Tampa two nights ago and played a theater for great money. My best year, back when I was on the Stern show, was 3.5 million bucks. But I have a house down on the shore and I just over-extend myself and do too many one-nighters. I'm forced to do that . . . But I gotta lose weight. That's always been the case, but I was thin when I was a kid. This is all just bad living. And plane travel is getting worse and worse. My back hurts.
Are you saving money now?
Yeah. Thank God, I saved a bunch of money. I have IRAs like crazy. I have a stock fund. Thank God I have a financial planner who is really conservative. At the end of every year he begs me, "Put money away!" So I have a portfolio that's really nice and I bought my mom a house. I have this place and I have other real estate. But cash-wise, it got real low for a while.
But the gigs are amazing, and stand-up is such a great thing to know how to do. If you have a following, it's instant money. You just say to your manager, "I need 50 grand. Book me in St. Louis in some theater." And that can literally happen. You go get money by telling dick jokes for an hour. It's like Jesse James. I'm like, "Bam bam bam!" Then I put the money in a trunk and get the fuck out of there. Thank God. In the last 20 years money has never been a problem, and thank God. I will gladly admit, knowing how bad my addiction is, I would have done crimes to get money. I would have stolen shit. So I don't think I'm better than a thief who steals for dope.
How long have you been clean?
Well, I'm hard on myself. There are some people in the program that say if you have an injury and you take a pain killer as prescribed, you're OK. I don't put myself in that category. So a month and a half ago, I took a prescribed Vicodin for back pain. I had an enormous pain that I gotta have surgery for. And I ended up going in and getting an epidural. I didn't drink with it, but I took a couple of the pills one night and they got me feeling nice. And the next night I took it again for the pain, but I was looking forward to the fucking buzz and that was scary.
There was 10 pills. I finished the prescription, and now I have six weeks and two days. But there are people that go, "That's fine. You didn't get more. You didn't go on a run. It was just prescribed." But I like to think that I should have tried Advil. But with the epidural and everything . . .
And before that?
Before that was Paris, which was about nine months ago.
Do you still crave it?
Every day. Every day. [Laughs] I know guys who have 20 years now. You'll be in meetings and they say they still crave it.
How do you resist?
I just concentrate on the positive. My fiancée. My really good friends. I try to go to meetings as much as I can. I wish I could sit here and tell you this insanely great success story from meetings, but I diligently have done it. I do have a sponsor who I'm brutally honest with, but I should be doing that more. There's a great meeting right before my show down in the Village on Wednesday night and Friday night. I do go, but I should go there every single week, every night.
Taping the show at night must be so much easier than taping the Stern Show at six a.m.
Yeah. I'm a comic, so I like to stay nocturnal. I work 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.. The problem is that the Stern show was like having a paper route in the morning, and then I was nocturnal, coming up and down from that, getting on a plane, getting off . . . That's where the drugs came in. And the kids have these amazing pills these days. Whoever would come to these shows would have everything! They were walking pharmacies! I started doing Adderall to get up to the plane. I'm come down with an opiate or whatever, Xanax. It was crazy.
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