Drew Barrymore: Wild Thing
“I had asked her not to do anything because she’s so fucking volatile that she’ll do anything,” says Barrymore. “But when he laughed, my mother grabbed him by the collar and said, ‘If you ever fuck with my child again, I’ll cut your fucking dick off.’ ” Barrymore roars with laughter. “Mom,” she says to the thin air, “thank you for that.”
Clearly, Barrymore believes some common ground must exist. Although she asked that her mom not be interviewed for this article, she predicts that sometime soon, she and her mother will be speaking again. Barrymore’s father is a different story altogether. Although Barrymore doesn’t know his precise location (she believes he might be down South), she does know this much: Her father has not owned a pair of shoes in 40 years, does not believe in material possessions and lives the life of a vagabond – often muttering Scripture to unsuspecting passers-by.
It wasn’t always so. Born into one of Hollywood’s most illustrious and entrenched acting dynasties, John Barrymore Jr. achieved modest success in the movies before drugs and alcohol proved to be his undoing. All that, unfortunately, was before his daughter knew him. Her first memory of her father was when she was 3. He threw her into a wall.
“My father was a junkie and an alcoholic for 30 years,” says Barrymore. “Nice combo, huh? So that breeds shitty behavior. It was hard for me to deal with [while] growing up. It was chaotic and violent and scary. When I was 7, I finally said, ‘Look, Dad, see ya.’ I wrote all over his cigarettes – ‘Fuck you, you’re an asshole’ – and I handed him the cigarettes and said, ‘Smoke this, you motherfucker.’ I threw a chair at him and told him to never touch me again. I didn’t speak to him again until I was 14.”
By that time, Barrymore had grown-up problems of her own. Having achieved stardom in E.T. at the age of 7, she moved on to a series of successes in such movies as Firestarter and Irreconcilable Differences. She was a 40-year-old in a 9-year-old’s body, and she played the role with precocious ease. Talk shows, drinks, movie offers, nightclubs, cocaine. All before the seventh grade. Then, at 14, it all seemed too much.
“I did attempt suicide, but I didn’t really want to die,” Barrymore says now. “At least I didn’t want to disappear permanently. They rushed me to the hospital and saved me, and there I had to make a conscious decision. I made a conscious decision that I really wanted to live.”
The hospital where she spent the next few months was a cross between a rehab center and a mental institution. On the inside she experienced characters like Lillian, the elderly woman in the adult ward who would suddenly slam down her lunch tray and in her best Mae West imitation scream, “You just paid a quarter for an orgasm!” On the outside, living on her own and trying to make ends meet, Barrymore filed the papers necessary to emancipate herself from her parents in order to legally work the same hours as 18-year-olds. Fifteen-year-old recovering substance abusers, she found, sometimes have a difficult time paying the rent.
“She’s so appealing, and she’s so bright, and she’s such an essentially nice human being,” says rock star David Crosby, who along with his wife, Jan, took in Barrymore for close to a year after her treatment. “We found it very easy to love her, and I still do. I knew her dad, and I know her mom. I’ve watched the four generations of major alcoholic destruction that she comes out of. So I feel very strongly about her. She’s an extremely talented kid who got dealt a very short hand. Her father was a disaster and never made any attempts to correct it – let’s leave it at that. And to put it very mildly, as politely as I can, I disagree with her mother’s approach to life rather much. I would really hope that Drew keep a distance from her. I will say this: I consider her mother one of the worst influences possible.”
Luckily for Drew Barrymore, there were more parental substitutes – fantasy figures for most of the world but the only grounding forces in her existence. To this day, Steven Spielberg still tells Barrymore that she is his eldest child.
“If people like David and Jan and Steven weren’t in my life, I’d probably be a lot more fucked up than I am,” says Barrymore. “They made me believe that there actually were trustworthy people out there.”
Barrymore fidgets and for a split second begins a microtirade about how Spielberg can only see her as his little girl. Then a moment later she smiles and admits that this is precisely the way she likes it.
This year on her birthday Spielberg sent a package to a restaurant where she and friends had gathered. In it was a blanket and a copy of the Playboy magazine in which Barrymore recently posed for a pictorial. The note said: “Here’s my version of you in Playboy and a blanket to wrap yourself in.” Inside the magazine Spielberg’s art department had woven its own computer-generated wardrobe to cover her in every photo.
Drew Barrymore claims that no one who truly cares about her would dare call her Drew. It is a name she has heard and read so many times in so many contexts that she can barely stomach it. Some people call her D, but to most she is Daisy. Around her neck she wears a beaded, grade-school-style necklace that proudly spells out her flowery alias.
In person Barrymore is tiny, a miniature version of herself: ultrahip, 70s leftovers tightly clinging to her matchstick limbs and a coquettish expression attached to a face that doesn’t look a day removed from her role in E.T. Because of this she possesses the ability to charm those around her in two contradictory manners. One is overt: all over-the-top enchantment and a contagious overflow of positive energy. The other is passive: a thinly veiled sadness and a distinct awareness that she comes with her share of baggage and could certainly use a little help in carrying it. She uses both tactics equally, and each comes in handy. Her history, she knows, is one in which most of the world is well schooled.
“I think the day I read an article that doesn’t talk about my past, I’ll probably shit in my pants,” says Barrymore out of the blue. “Just shit my pants. I’ve never shit my pants my whole life, but that will be the time.”