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Explainer: Built to spill: 16 shocking book confessions

  • Image: Celebrities
    Getty Images

    Ah, the catharsis of an unburdened heart. There's really nothing else like it. Perhaps for that reason, unstoppable legions of famous people stand ready and eager to share highly personal — even cringe-worthy — details about their lives with the rest of us. And more and more of them are doing so in stubbornly permanent book form.

    Memoirs from the likes of Andre Agassi, Hulk Hogan, Gayle Haggard, Laura Bush, Belinda Carlisle, Elizabeth Edwards and Jenny Sanford contained revelations about neglectful parenting, drug use, suicidal thoughts, fatal car crashes and messy and humiliating extramarital affairs. Still more confessional autobiographies are due out in the months to come.

    Read on for 16 recent — and upcoming! — examples of household names who felt the urge to purge.

  • She feared for her life


    Although the public perception of her marriage to WWF icon Hulk Hogan seemed nothing short of idyllic – thanks to their hit reality TV series, “Hogan Knows Best” – Linda Hogan says actually living through the situation was very different.  While the family’s stability unraveled very publicly in a flurry of tabloid headlines, in her telling memoir, “Wrestling the Hulk: My Life Against the Ropes,” Linda asserts that there were serious problems long before accusations of infidelity.

    Hogan says that her husband’s abuse of prescribed drugs prompted unpredictable rages, punctuated by bursts of violence. “He tore my shirt. He threw lamps. He held me down on the bed with his hands around my throat during arguments, slamming doors, pounding walls,” she wrote in her book. “I was always afraid he would kill me in one of his rages.”

    Related story: 'Wrestling the Hulk': Surviving a celebrity divorce
    Related story: Linda Hogan: I was afraid Hulk would kill me

  • She snorted cocaine at son's school

    Image: Belinda Carlisle
    Mark Lennihan  /  AP

    Energetic Go-Go's frontwoman Belinda Carlisle just released a new memoir this month, and — surprise! — it's loaded with heaping helpings of personal revelations.

    Among the pop star's confessions: She battled drug and alcohol abuse for decades and couldn't stop using cocaine after the birth of her son. At one point she went so far as to snort cocaine in a bathroom at her son's school. "That's how sick I was," Carlisle said.

    In "Lips Unsealed: A Memoir" — a play on the name of her band's hit song "Our Lips Are Sealed" — Carlisle chronicles the extent of her secret drug addiction and explains how she ultimately triumphed over it in 2005 and became a better mother.

    Related story: Go-Go's singer writes of stardom, cocaine use

  • He lied about using crystal meth

    Image: Andre Agassi
    Vincent Yu  /  AP

    It certainly wasn't your typical doping scandal surrounding a famous athlete. In this case, hottie tennis star Andre Agassi confessed in his autobiography "Open" that he used crystal meth in 1997 and lied about it to tennis authorities. In his book, he describes the way his assistant "Slim" introduced him to the drug by placing a pile of powder on a coffee table.

    "I snort some. I ease back on the couch and consider the Rubicon I've just crossed," Agassi writes. "There is a moment of regret, followed by vast sadness. Then comes a tidal wave of euphoria that sweeps away every negative thought in my head. I've never felt so alive, so hopeful — and I've never felt such energy. I'm seized by a desperate desire to clean. I go tearing around my house, cleaning it from top to bottom. I dust the furniture. I scour the tub. I make the beds."

    Later, when he fails a drug test, he pens a letter designed to deceive sports officials about his drug use.

    "I say that recently I drank accidentally from one of Slim's spiked sodas, unwittingly ingesting his drugs," Agassi writes. "I ask for understanding and leniency and hastily sign it: Sincerely.

    "I feel ashamed, of course. I promise myself that this lie is the end of it."

    Related story: Tennis star Andre Agassi: I used crystal meth
    Related link: Read an excerpt from 'Open'

  • She faked being off drugs

    Image: Jodie Sweetin

    Jodie Sweetin — the child actress who played Stephanie Tanner on the TV show "Full House" — developed a mean drug and alcohol problem shortly after the show went off the air. She details the ensuing drama in her autobiography, "unSweetined," which chronicles the way she faked being off hard drugs and came to be in high demand as a speaker. Her speaking gigs — designed to inspire young people to stay clean and sober — gave her plenty of cash to keep fueling her high-dollar cocaine and methamphetamine habit.

    In one instance, Sweetin says she snorted cocaine until 5 a.m. the night before a speaking engagement at Marquette University — and she did more cocaine just before taking the stage.

    "I put on my best TV smile ... they didn't think I was coming down from a two-day bender of coke, meth and Ecstasy, and they didn't think I was lying to them with every sentence that came out of my mouth," Sweetin writes. "I finished, they applauded. Just how I liked it."

    Related story: Ex-'Full House' star: I faked being off drugs
    See related video

  • He held a gun to his head

    Image: Laila Ali and Hulk Hogan

    Hulk Hogan, as big a star as professional wrestling had ever spawned, had reached the end.

    For days he sat in his empty mansion, mixing rum and Xanax, shattered by an impending divorce and a family tragedy, holding a gun to his head and thinking about how little force it would take to pull the trigger and end it all.

    Hogan's friends and fellow stars of a revival of "American Gladiators" knew he was depressed and called him to see if he was all right. He lied and said he was, even as he moved closer to a final exit. That's when his "Gladiators" co-star, Laila Ali, came to the rescue.

    "All of a sudden the phone rang, and it was Laila, and she said, 'Hey, what's going on? You're on the set. You're all depressed. We're worried about you. You going to be OK?' ...

    "She called with no agenda, just to say hi and check on me," Hogan told TODAY. "It snapped me out of it. At that moment I switched gears. I got sick and tired of being sick and tired. Her voice saved my life, it really did."

    That pivotal moment when Hogan decided against committing suicide forms the first chapter of his memoir, "My Life Outside the Ring."

    See related video

  • She vomited when she learned of affair

    Ellen Ozier  /  Reuters file
    John and Elizabeth Edwards

    Elizabeth Edwards' memoir "Resilience," published in May 2009, recounts a number of exceptionally painful experiences she's endured in her lifetime. What generated the most headlines, of course, was the affair her husband — former presidential candidate John Edwards — had behind her back with videographer Rielle Hunter.

    When John Edwards first admitted to his wife that he cheated, she says she became physically sick. "I cried and screamed," Elizabeth Edwards writes in her memoir. "I went to the bathroom and threw up."

    Less than a year after publication of "Resilience," John Edwards admitted that he had fathered a daughter with Hunter. A week after that public admission, John and Elizabeth Edwards separated. She passed away in December 2010.

    Related link: Read an excerpt from "Resilience"
    Related story: Edwards admits fathering child with mistress
    Related slideshow: Sex scandals and elected officials

  • She had sex with her father

    Image: Mackenzie and John Phillips

    Mackenzie Phillips insists that her father — folk-rock superstar "Papa John" Phillips of The Mamas & the Papas — was not a monster. She also stresses that their 10-year incestuous relationship is not as easily categorized as it might seem.

    "My father was not a bad man. He was a very sick man," the former child star of "One Day at a Time" told TODAY. "He didn't set out to hurt me. He did the best with what he had. He was a damaged guy."

    The allegations of rape and incest came to the forefront when Phillips promoted her tell-all memoir, "High on Arrival." The controversial book divided her family and horrified many who learned her story; Phillips had an abortion at one point because she wasn't sure whether she had become pregnant from her father or her husband.

    Phillips told TODAY she did not intend to reveal so much when she began writing her memoir, but she decided that it would be dishonest to do otherwise and a disservice to others who have suffered the emotional horrors of abuse and incest.

    Related story: Mackenzie Phillips: I was high on TODAY
    See related video

  • She forgave his trysts with gay prostitute

    Image: Ted and Gayle Haggard

    It's been several years since charismatic pastor Ted Haggard left his megachurch in disgrace, mired in a scandal involving drug use and a male prostitute. His wife stood by him, and she says the entire experience brought them closer together than ever.

    In her book, "Why I Stayed: The Choices I Made in My Darkest Hour," Gayle Haggard relives the shocking day when her husband confessed to her about what he had been doing. Later that night, Gayle allowed Ted into her bed, and when he reached out, she found herself struggling to decide whether to allow him to touch her. She writes about that moment in her book:

    "My heart broke in that instant. I knew the importance of physical touch ... And I knew the damage rejection could cause. Broken people need to be touched, and by reaching out, Ted was pleading for my help. I wanted to help him; I didn't want to reject him — but what was I supposed to do with the anger, revulsion and pain that were warring in my heart? I had coached other women through this. Now it was my turn. ... And so that night I began my journey of choosing ... Choosing to love."

  • She broke silence on fatal car crash

    Image: Laura Bush
    Scribner via AP

    For most of her adult life, Laura Bush would not discuss a car accident she had when she was 17. The crash in Midland, Texas, killed Mike Douglas, a popular athlete at her school. She finally opened up about the incident in her memoir, "Spoken From the Heart."

    In the book, the former first lady describes the dark night in 1963 when she was driving her dad's Chevy Impala down a pitch-black road and rushing to a drive-in movie with a girlfriend. She ran a stop sign and smashed into a Corvair being driven by Douglas.

    "In those awful seconds, the car door must have been flung open by the impact and my body rose in the air until gravity took over and I was pulled, hard and fast, back to earth," she writes. "The whole time I was praying that the person in the other car was alive. In my mind, I was calling, 'Please, God. Please, God. Please, God,' over and over and over again. ...

    "I lost my faith that November, lost it for many, many years. It was the first time that I had prayed to God for something, begged him for something, not the simple childhood wishing on a star but humbly begging for another human life. And it was as if no one heard. My begging, to my seventeen-year-old mind, had made no difference.

    The only answer was the sound of Mrs. Douglas's sobs on the other side of that thin emergency room curtain."

    Related video: Laura Bush describes deadly car crash
    Related link: Read an excerpt from 'Spoken from the Heart'
    Related video: Laura Bush: We endured a 'viciousness'

  • He chose fatherhood over alcohol

    Image: President George W. Bush

    His book isn't out yet, but George W. Bush has already tipped his hand about how it opens. "Decision Points," a memoir by the former president that is due out in November 2010, starts with an emotional turning point in his relationship with his wife, Laura: She made him decide whether he preferred drinking to fatherhood.

    Bush says the moment forced him to recognize that he had an addictive personality -- and to realize how much his wife and children meant to him. He stopped drinking cold turkey.

    "Decision Points" promises to delve into other significant choices in Bush's life, including the ones he made surrounding the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the troop surge in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina and the financial meltdown. "I don't think you can come to a definitive conclusion about a presidency until the passage of time," Bush told attendees at a recent convention in Dallas. "I want to put you in my position."

    Related story: Bush's 'Decision Points' out Nov. 9

  • He was beaten by his father

    Image: Mark Ndesandjo

    Several of the Obamas' relatives have scored book deals for themselves. One of them — President Barack Obama's half brother, Mark Ndesandjo — unveiled some dark family history in his semi-autobiographical novel, "Nairobi to Shenzhen." In the book, the character patterned after their late father, Barack Obama Sr., is an abusive, erratic drunk.

    In one instance Ndesandjo writes, "David easily remembered the hulking man whose breath reeked of cheap Pilsner beer who had often beaten his mother. He had long searched for good memories of his father but had found none."

    President Obama's parents separated two years after he was born in Hawaii in 1961. He saw his father only once after his parents' divorce, when he was 10. In his own best-selling memoir, "Dreams from My Father," Obama wrote about his fatherless upbringing and search for identity. His father, Obama Sr., went on to have at least six other children in his native Kenya. "My father beat my mother and my father beat me, and you don't do that," Ndesandjo told The Associated Press. "It's something which I think affected me for a long time, and it's something that I've just recently come to terms with."

    Related story: Obama's half brother: Our father was abusive
    See related video

  • He blames himself for error on Iraq

    Image: President George W. Bush with Karl Rove

    Critics have called Karl Rove, the former senior adviser to President George W. Bush, "Bush's brain." Bush himself called Rove "the architect" in deference to his role in shaping White House policy.

    In his memoir, "Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight," Rove admits to a major mistake in his handling of the Iraq war: He writes that the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq badly damaged the Bush administration's credibility and led to dwindling public support for the war.

    In a review of the book, The Associated Press writes: "The former White House political adviser blames himself for not pushing back against claims that President George W. Bush had taken the country to war under false pretenses, calling it one of the worst mistakes he made during the Bush presidency."

    Related story: Karl Rove: I wasn't George Bush's brain
    See related video

  • She felt 'gut-punched' by infidelities

    Image: Jenny Sanford

    It's one thing to have your very high-profile husband cheat on you in a very high-profile manner. It's another to have him seek you out for romantic advice about the other woman.

    In her memoir "Staying True," Jenny Sanford writes about how the extramarital affairs of her husband, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, made her feel. In particular, she details the way Sanford asked her how to proceed with his romance and handle the media when it came to light that he was having an affair with an Argentine woman. He wondered aloud whether he should follow his heart to Argentina, and whether he would live a life of regret if he didn't.

    "Clearly those are thoughts I wish he had kept to himself," Jenny Sanford writes.

    She also writes that she felt "gut-punched all over again" when she found out the governor had dalliances with still other women in addition to the Argentine woman.

    Related: Jenny Sanford: Husband asked me for affair advice
    Related slideshow: Sex scandals and elected officials
    See related video

  • She details effects of divorce on her kids

    Image: Kate Gosselin

    Kate Gosselin, star of the reality TV show "Kate Plus Eight" (formerly "Jon & Kate Plus Eight"), has gotten plenty of media coverage and exhaustive scrutiny in recent years. In the middle of it all — and in the wake of a painful divorce from her husband, Jon — she released the memoir "I Just Want You to Know: Letters to My Kids on Love, Faith, and Family."

    In it, she writes, "I want to share with each of my eight children about our life together so they will know without a shadow of a doubt how much I love them and how much every decision and sacrifice I made was worth it for them."

    Critics slammed Gosselin for focusing so much of the book on herself and for highlighting her children's vulnerabilities in the aftermath of the divorce. To her son Aaden, she writes, "I do not possess the skills to father you. But I will do everything to show you the way." To her son Collin, she writes, "I know that all the recent events in our family structure have greatly upset you, maybe you most of all. When I leave for work, I will always come back."

    For her part, Gosselin maintains that she wrote the book because of her deep love for her twins and sextuplets. "Never forget that inside my hard, strict outer shell is a heart bursting with love for each of you," she writes.

    Related link: Read an excerpt from "I Just Want You to Know"
    See related video

  • She'll share details of her three marriages

    Image: Demi Moore
    Evan Agostini  /  AP

    Hollywood actress Demi Moore is all set to go public with details of her three marriages and a showbiz career spanning three decades. Her as-yet-unnamed memoir is scheduled for release in 2012, and she'll reportedly be paid more than $2 million for it.

    Moore, 47, has starred in movies including "Ghost," "Indecent Proposal" and "A Few Good Men," as well as some widely panned films such as "Striptease" and "G.I. Jane."

    She was married for five years to singer-songwriter Freddy Moore, from whom she took her last name. She went on to marry actor Bruce Willis in 1987. The couple stayed together for 13 years and had three daughters, Rumer, Scout and Tallulah. She then married actor Ashton Kutcher, 32, in 2005.

    Related story: Demi Moore to dish on her marriages in memoir

  • He'll relive 'life of sex, drugs, rock-and-roll'

    Image: Ace Frehley
    L.G. Patterson  /  AP

    OK, so the revelations in this particular memoir may not be all that shocking. But they certainly won't be boring, either.

    In a classic case of 'Kiss and tell,' Ace Frehley, the 59-year-old former lead guitarist of the heavy metal band Kiss, plans to release a memoir titled "No Regrets." Frehley's publisher says the book, due out in 2011, will reflect on a "life of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll." Hoo-boy.

    Related story: Ex-Kiss guitarist to write on crazed life


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