Stone Temple Pilots: The Needle & the Damage Done

The uncensored story of Scott Weiland and STP

Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland rehearsing for VH1 Storytellers in New York on March 8th, 2000. Credit: Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect/Getty

It was a one-man cell, furnished with a bunk, a toilet and a wash basin, all made of steel. There were no bars, just a metal door. There were no windows, either.

Technically, Scott Weiland was in protective custody. As a member of an 11 million-selling rock band, the Stone Temple Pilots singer was deemed by the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department to be at risk in the general population of Men's Central Jail in downtown L.A. But to Weiland – inmate 6158735 – his accommodations were solitary confinement in all but name.

"I've been in a p.c. block there, which has bars – it also has rats and cockroaches," he says brightly, as if comparing two pieces of real estate. "When the lights go out at night, the cockroaches come out. You wrap yourself in your blanket and hope they don't crawl all over you. But it's worse in that little room. No sound of anything. It's just your own head – the wheels inside, turning.

"It was," Weiland confides in a sudden hush, "a struggle not to commit suicide. There was a huge part of me that didn't want to go on."

On August 13th, 1999, he had walked into the Los Angeles County courtroom of Judge Larry Paul Fidler, where Fidler told Weiland that he had run out of last chances: After repeatedly violating his probation on a 1997 conviction for heroin possession, the STP frontman was going to prison for a year. Weiland left the room in handcuffs and was immediately transferred to his shoe box at Men's Central.

Soon after his arrival, Weiland received some "kites" – a kind of unofficial inmate telegram – from a neighbor. "He was a heavy in the Mexican Mafia," Weiland says. "He found out who I was – he could find out anything – and I signed some autographs for him and his family." In return, the gangster offered to procure drugs – heroin and speed – for Weiland. The singer politely declined.

"That was," Weiland claims, "the most pivotal moment of my life – turning down drugs when I knew that they would at least temporarily shut my mind off. My feeling was, 'If I'm gonna ask God to help me in this situation, I can't spit in his face.' "

It is seven months later. Weiland, thirty-two, is talking over dinner – not in a prison chow line but at a trendy Chinese restaurant in Hollywood. He says he grew a beard ("my Soft Parade look") and put on weight in jail despite the cuisine. But tonight, Weiland looks like a rock star again: cleanshaven and cleareyed, slim and rakish in black pants, a black turtleneck sweater and a long ice-blue scarf. There is also a slight but palpable punch in Weiland's voice. It is the sound of sobriety, the cautious pride of a recovering addict in the early stages of healing.

After five days at Men's Central, Weiland was transferred to Impact, an inmate drug-treatment program at another Sheriff's Department facility, Biscaluz Recovery Center. On December 30th, he was granted parole. Weiland is now a free man – of sorts. He is back on probation, required to maintain a strict regimen of counseling and drug tests.

Weiland is also sorting through the wreckage of his life, attempting to repair the battered love and trust of his family, friends and STP band mates: drummer Eric Kretz, bassist Robert DeLeo and Robert's older brother, guitarist Dean. Asked about what he learned in jail, Weiland keeps repeating the word humility.

"It's not me thinking less of myself," he says. "It's me thinking of myself less. A lot of my ways of thinking have backfired on me. My stubbornness. My pride. My arrogance. The difficult thing is that those defects of character become assets in my business, the rock & roll world.

"It's great being a rock star," he crows. "But you know what? Being a rock star doesn't give you the license to view yourself as more important than anybody else. And if I am to become a better man, a man who has some compassion and humility instead of just expecting people to understand me, that doesn't make me less of a rock star."

Weiland throws back his shoulders in mock godliness and beams like a man plainly in love with his job – and eager to get back to work.

This is where Stone Temple Pilots belong: onstage, firing hit after hit – "Plush," "Sex Type Thing," "Vasoline" – at exultant fans. STP are at New York's Irving Plaza for a secret club show. It is the band's second concert since Weiland's release from prison, its first in New York since 1996. There are rough spots: a couple of false starts when Dean's guitar slips out of tune. But the power and raw glamour that made STP overnight stars with their 1992 debut, Core – concrete-block riffs, high-class choruses, Weiland's psycho-Bowie vocal theatrics – are still there. At one point between songs, a shirtless Weiland, his washboard chest glistening with sweat, turns to Robert and plants a sloppy kiss of gratitude on the bassist's cheek.

This is what life in STP was like just a year ago, during the recording of the band's current album, No. 4: "We were tracking 'Church on Tuesday,' " says Dean, "and Scott's main concern was to get out of there and get high rather than making his vocal performance as great as it could be. He snuck out of the room. I went into the other studio, knocked on the door and said, 'Why don't you share some? Why don't you fucking share, man?' "

Dean, 38, is sitting in the smokers lounge of his home on the Pacific Coast north of Los Angeles. It is a converted corner of the garage, outfitted with armchairs, a small wooden table and, in one corner, an old Cheap Trick concert poster. Dean, usually bursting with boisterous charm, is not smiling as he talks. He too struggled with addiction, years ago in his home state, New Jersey. "I've been there," Dean says frankly. "I've had the spike in my arm. But I never let my brothers down.

"At the time," he says of that recording session, "I would have liked to kill Scott. I didn't know if it was for selfish reasons or to put the fucking guy out of his misery. Yet when I listen to the record, I'm in love with Scott. I don't think there's anyone better." Dean finally smiles, wanly. "Talk about a dichotomy."

Weiland's most extreme screw-ups are all on public record: two arrests in California for narcotics possession, in 1995 and 1997; a third drug bust, in New York in 1998, while he was touring behind his solo album, 12 Bar Blues; five years of fruitless, court-ordered treatment for his addiction. And he has paid a sizable debt to society – a combined 140 days at Biscaluz and Men's Central, a little less than half of his full sentence.

Kretz and the DeLeos are still doing their version of hard time, their heads spinning in speculation and frustration. They speak of Weiland and his heroin saga with the affection and distress of blood brothers. "We are the guys who loved him the most, aside from his mother and father," says Kretz, 33, a Northern California native with a blond Musketeer-style mustache and beard. "We were always there to help him." Yet for all of STP's success under duress – four albums in nine years with combined U.S. sales of 11 million copies – Kretz and the DeLeos can't help wondering what should have been.

"I don't want to go through my life holding anything against anyone – it's not a healthy thing," says Robert DeLeo, a tall, courtly fellow of thirty-four and a veteran, like his brother, of Jersey Shore bar bands. In 1985, a year after relocating to Southern California, Robert met Weiland at a punk-rock show; they were soon collaborating in Robert's home studio, laying the foundation for what ultimately became STP.

"It's amazing," Robert goes on, "what we have accomplished as a band, with what we've been working on. But I would like to tell people, 'You should see what we can really do.' "

"Even before Scott went to jail," says Kretz, "it was like, 'STP, what's going on?' 'Well, the record's coming out.' 'Oh? Who's singing?' I told Scott that. He probably thought I was lying. But people were like, 'Is he still around?' "

Weiland first tasted heroin in 1993, after a memorable STP show at Roseland Ballroom in New York, where the band hit the stage in full Kiss makeup. "I tried heroin because I wanted to," he confesses, noting that at first the opiate gave him a rush of confidence. "I didn't feel like the guy in this band that was selling millions but who people weren't taking seriously," he adds, referring to STP's early pastings in the press as an imitation Pearl Jam. "I felt talented and valid.

"It wasn't like as soon as I tried [heroin] I became an asshole," Weiland adds. "It was a gradual process."

When Rolling Stone first chronicled Weiland's black odyssey, in early 1997, he had been in and out of rehab more than a dozen times. The singer was so estranged from the rest of STP that the band took no group photos for the covers of Purple (1994) or Tiny Music ... Songs From the Vatican Gift Shop (1996). Tours, undertaken during Weiland's tenuous periods of sobriety, were infrequent and dicey. STP's last road trip before Weiland's imprisonment – in the spring of '97 – ended with Weiland abusing the very medication he was taking to ease heroin withdrawal.

Dean DeLeo recalls, with a bleak chuckle, a memo that STP's production manager distributed during that tour: a photograph of an empty stage with the caption "Wanted: Band to play five nights a week, sold-out shows, $100,000 a night." "It was," Dean says, "such a satire on what we were doing."

For the rest of '97 and most of '98, there was no STP. Kretz and the DeLeos completed a record they had started in 1996 with another singer, Dave Coutts, and released it under the name Talk Show. The album stiffed; crowd reaction at Talk Show gigs was cold, even cruel. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, Dean spotted a kid holding a sign that read, "You suck without Scott Weiland."

Weiland, without STP, was riding an express elevator to rock bottom. He started a record label, Lavish, and built his own studio in Burbank, California, where he recorded part of 12 Bar Blues. Weiland also separated from his wife, Janina (they are now divorced), and gave up any pretenses to getting clean. On his solo tour, Weiland turned the back lounge of his bus into a shooting gallery. "I'd fly my dealer in," he says, "and she'd bring in a big chunk of dope and a big box of syringes." But Weiland was consuming so much heroin and cocaine that he had to make his own buying trips as well: "I almost got stabbed in D.C. – even brought some of the people back to the hotel room, then got so paranoid, I had the road manager call security while I locked myself in the bathroom."

Weiland lets out a huge sigh of disappointment. "I could have had a great time in my artistic life," he says. "I'm really proud of that record. I can listen to it and not have it dredge up a lot of the darkness. But it was really frustrating – and lonely, man."

So STP tried again, reuniting to write and rehearse in January 1999. Weiland was sober and attending meetings. The others were guardedly hopeful. "I was really nervous driving in that first day," says Kretz. "But within the first couple of hours, we had two great songs" – No. 4's opening glam-metal bomb, "Down," and a bittersweet peach of Beatlesque pop, "Sour Girl." "Scott had ninety percent of the lyrics written on the spot."

"I always thought they would come back together," contends STP's longtime manager, Steve Stewart, who declined to work with either Weiland or Talk Show during the '97-'98 split. "Diplomatically and structurally, it was better not to side with one camp or the other. But as bad as it got, I knew there was a mutual respect for what they had together. It's evident every time they play. They can't deny it."

Yet STP could not argue with the force or depth of Weiland's addiction. Work on No. 4 stopped, started and stopped again according to his haywire cycle of binge and rehab. Even so, the album – produced, like its predecessors, by Brendan O'Brien – is taut, hard and spiked with surprises: the uppercut chorus in "Sex and Violence"; the rhythmic stutter of "MC5." During the sessions, in a moment of rash inspiration, Robert DeLeo suggested that the band try to make two records at once. "We had two albums of material," Robert says. "I thought, 'What if we could have another record done, on the back burner, in case something did happen?' " The idea came to nothing: "At that point, you're just searching for comfort in the whole thing."

Weiland hit one last brick wall, on July 8th, 1999. That day, his younger brother Michael, himself a former addict, became a first-time father. Instead of being present for the birth of his niece, Scott was detoxing in a Los Angeles hospital after suffering a near-fatal overdose the night before. When Weiland finally got to see the baby, "it awoke something in me," he says. "I always wanted to have kids. But there was this feeling that it was something I really wanted out of life – to be selfless and caring about someone else, to put their life before mine." As of this writing, Weiland has been drug-free since that day.

Weiland also realized, when he woke up in detox, that he was going to prison. The OD was his third probation violation on the '97 California conviction, a felony in that state. (He was also on probation for the New York arrest, a violation that's a misdemeanor there.) As Weiland puts it, "My egg was cooked."

STP played in Las Vegas on August 12th, the night before Weiland's fateful appearance before Judge Fidler. Dean DeLeo remembers the look on Weiland's face at the final rehearsal: "It was obvious what was going through the guy's mind. He was a wreck, and it takes a lot for Scott to look like a wreck. We threw the crew out of the rehearsal room and said, 'Is there anything you want to say? Can we do anything?' He just goes, 'I can't think of three people I'd rather be with on my last night of freedom.' "

Dean, Robert and Eric were also with Weiland in Fidler's courtroom on August 13th, along with Steve Stewart; Weiland's parents, Sharon and David; and his girlfriend, Mary Forsberg. "For years," Kretz says," we had a lot of anger and vindictiveness for Scott, like, 'Fuck, I wish he'd go to jail.' "Then, when he actually went, I cried."

There are no rock stars in prison, and no sleeping late. At Biscaluz, a military-style facility used during World War II as an internment camp for Japanese-Americans, the lights went on in Weiland's barracks each morning at 5 A.M. He and his fellow inmates had ten minutes to get out of bed, use the dormitory's common washroom and don their regulation threads: black shoes or boots, blue denim pants and a matching jacket with a small corduroy collar, buttoned to the top. Everyone walked to the mess hall for breakfast – single file, no talking. The one thing about jail that Weiland can laugh about now is the food. "It's amazing, the stuff you get used to," he says, grinning. There was the breakfast sausage ("This hockey puck of congealed meat substances") and the SOS, a.k.a shit on a shingle ("Weird ground-beef substance in some cream-esque gravy over potatoes"). Dinner on Mondays and Saturdays was, in prison argot, donkey dick, or gigglers: "This thing that looks like a hot dog, but it's not, and instead of baked beans or chili, they put white navy beans with ketchup and chopped onions, boil it together and put it on the hot dog." The chicken on Tuesdays was no joke, though: "It tastes good, but you have diarrhea an hour after you eat it. The dorm is not a pleasant place to be after the chicken."

The rest of Weiland's day was a series of cleaning chores, group-therapy sessions, and solitary reading and writing assignments. "The time goes faster when you lose track of it," he says. "The time went slow when I found out there was a possibility of parole – anticipating and agonizing when I would find out new information. My head would start attacking me: 'I'm not gonna get this, because I'm a celebrity.' "

Visits were limited: one a week at first, then two after Weiland passed a sixty-day progress review. Forsberg, a twenty-six-year-old model who is now Weiland's fiancée (they plan to marry on May 21st), came most often. The couple first met in 1991. STP were searching for a record deal, and Weiland worked as a driver for a modeling agency, chauffeuring the women to their assignments. Forsberg was a frequent passenger.

Dean DeLeo saw Weiland a couple of times at Biscaluz but found it too painful to continue. "He looked glazed," Dean says. "And I could not be a cheerleader, because of what I was feeling." Weiland's mother, Sharon, a real estate broker, flew with her husband from their home in Colorado to visit Scott on holidays and his birthday. She was torn between rage and relief by her son's imprisonment.

"To criminalize somebody for an illness is unconscionable," she says angrily. "We should put the emphasis where it needs to be, on treatment and prevention."

But Sharon had suffered her own long days and nights, wracked with worry, when Scott was running free with a needle and spoon: "There were times that the only way we could track Scott was through his business manager. Scott was smart enough not to drive when he was using. In order to get money, he had to call his business manager. So we would know if he ordered a limo or if he was in a hotel.

"I slept better when Scott was in jail than I had slept in five years," she admits. "As a parent, there are far worse things than your child being in jail – and that's not knowing whether they're alive or dead."

On a recent afternoon, Weiland sits on the couch in a rented house he shares with Forsberg in Hollywood and recounts his long trip through addiction, much as he did each day with his counselors and his conscience at Biscaluz. As dusk falls outside and Forsberg catnaps peacefully with her head in his lap, Weiland pours it all out in a two-and-a-half-hour monologue, without melodrama or pleas for sympathy. He goes back to his childhood in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, and his high school years in Huntington Beach, California: drinking himself stupid at age twelve; entering rehab for the first time at sixteen, after Sharon and David discovered that he was using cocaine.

Weiland talks about the history of alcoholism in his family and how drugs and alcohol erased deep-rooted feelings of inadequacy. He goes into harrowing detail about his episodes of cocaine psychosis around the time of 12 Bar Blues – flirting with voodoo; sitting in a bathtub clutching crucifixes, "trying to say the 'Our Father' and 'Hail Mary' and being convinced that I couldn't remember them, things I had known all my life." And Weiland describes what may have been his true jones: the thrill of cheating death.

"I would beat myself down, use mass quantities for days on end," he says with clinical frankness. "And when my body was just about to quit, I would get put into detox. All of a sudden, there's a feeling of, 'Whew, I made it through,' like being saved from a shipwreck or plane crash. There is this elation that comes from knowing that you nearly lost your life – and knowing that you've come through it. You become addicted to that pattern."

Weiland takes a deep breath of consideration when asked whether he walked out of Biscaluz with a feeling of achievement. "I felt," he says finally, "I was achieving something after I had been there a month and a half. They say that in order for this thing" – sobriety – "to work, you have to surrender. It happened over a period of time, being locked down, dealing with fear of the unknown. But once I surrendered, stopped trying to control everything, I started getting peace of mind.

"I don't feel resentful toward Judge Fidler. He did what he promised to do, and he allowed me a great opportunity to work on myself. I've been meaning to write him a letter, to let him know he was a big part of why I am starting to really enjoy my life.

"I know this sounds strange," Weiland says, "but I want to thank him for what he did."

Stone Temple Pilots are a working band again. They have the schedule to prove it: appearances at modern-rock-radio festivals this summer; an opening-act slot on part of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' U.S. tour. But do they have a career after that? Steve Stewart is forthright about the damage done to STP's momentum and credibility by Weiland's troubles.

"We're the underdogs," he says. "There was a perception that the band broke up, that the band couldn't be counted on." He gives an example of the latter. "Someone said the other day, 'Stone Temple Pilots never completed a tour.' That's not true."

Stewart cites only three of the group's headlining shows that were canceled after tickets were sold: New Year's Eve 1996 in Alaska and two subsequent shows in Hawaii. And when STP were forced by Weiland's health to bail out of 1996 gigs opening for Kiss, each band member wrote a personal check for $83,000 to cover the money they had already been paid. "I have never burned anybody in my existence on this planet," Dean notes with fierce pride.

The kids may not agree. "A lot of the fans are going to take a wait-and-see attitude," suggests Val Azzoli, co-chairman and co-CEO of the Atlantic Group, STP's record company. "Scott has two strikes against him. I don't think there'll be a third, frankly. But there isn't a band who has done this for a while that hasn't gone through personal mishaps – the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Who. If you can last and continue making good music, the public will forgive you."

The four members of STP are of two minds about their long-term future. There is Weiland's overflowing enthusiasm – "I think it can go back to better than it was" – and the others' fragile optimism. Robert DeLeo, who is newly married and recently spent three days writing with Ozzy Osbourne, is willing but wary. "If it's going to happen," he says, "I'll be there. But to rely on STP as my central being – I could be setting myself up to be let down again."

"But the other side of it is so sweet," Kretz admits. "When we put a set list together, we just sit and laugh. We look at it and go, 'Look how many fucking hits are here!' It reminds you – so what if there are problems? We'll get through 'em."

Weiland knows that the rest of his life will be one long test of his commitment to clean, honest living. He is not afraid. He recalls a tense phone conversation, shortly after his release from Biscaluz, with Robert DeLeo. The two, friends for fifteen years, had not spoken since Weiland's sentencing. Over the phone, Robert unloaded a backlog of frustration. "It was," Robert says, "something I had to get out."

"That was his feeling at the time," Weiland acknowledges stoically. "I felt like no matter how bad it hurt me, his reaction ..." He pauses. "I have to put myself in their position," he says of his band mates. "There's not a lot I can verbalize on the phone. These things will come when we have more time together.

"The best amends I can make," Weiland says in a soft but assured voice, "is a living amends."