Rodney King is swigging a beer as he talks with TV’s “Dr. Drew” Pinsky.
“Every day I wake up with a beer is a good day,” he says as he drains the bottle.
King, whose 1991 beating by Los Angeles police led to deadly rioting the next year, is among eight famous people set to face their addictions on the second season of VH1’s “Celebrity Rehab.”
The premiere episode, airing Thursday, shows actors Jeff Conaway, Gary Busey, Amber Smith and Tawny Kitaen hooked on opiate painkillers; King and former “American Idol” finalist Nikki McKibbin dealing with drug and alcohol dependencies; and rockers Sean Stewart and Steven Adler struggling to stay away from street drugs, prescription pills and alcohol.
Patients are either referred to the show by their counselors or approached by the casting team, said executive producer John Irwin. The group spends about 21 days in the live-in Pasadena Recovery Center, a real chemical-dependency unit that’s open to the public. The current cast completed treatment in June. All have made strides in recovery, and many have remained clean and sober, Irwin said, adding that Pinsky runs an aftercare program for show alumni.
King calls his participation on the show and newfound sobriety “a blessing.” In separate interviews, he and Pinsky discussed their experiences with on-camera rehabilitation.
AP: Talk about the concept of televising celebrities in rehab.
Pinsky: The only thing the public has ever really known about (addiction treatment) is either patients’ memoirs ... or the way the entertainment press reports it. One of the reasons that pushed us toward doing the show was that we were tired of people talking about celebrities with a life-threatening illness as though they were engaged in some sort of a publicity stunt. There’s a whole field of addiction medicine that is how do you motivate people to get better. There are experiments going on out there where they paid patients to get better. Well, we did the same thing. We paid them and we put them on TV.
AP: How do TV cameras affect treatment?
Pinsky: The experience is so inspiring that they have a natural tendency to want to share it with other people. And it’s in their personalities — they are celebrities after all — but they want people to understand them in this transformative experience. The other thing that the cameras have done that’s a net positive is it made them feel a sense of obligation to the community, like, ‘We want to be an example to other people.’ ... It also kept them, I don’t want to say more honest, but more in the game.
King: It felt like I was, in one way, helping a generation before me and a generation coming up after me, to let them see a good, fairly decent human being struggle with this disease. After a while, I didn’t even really notice the cameras. I threw that out of my mind and just focused on me and what I was there for. What I was there for was to help myself, and at the same time I knew that by me being upfront with this thing that other people would see and they might think, ‘It’s not so embarrassing, let me go get myself some help.’
AP: How does it affect the dynamic to be a public figure who isn’t a performer?
Busey joins ‘Celebrity Rehab’
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trueH6falsetrue1King: I’m a simple guy. They were so nice and so welcoming, I just felt like part of the fellowship being among them. They were really encouraging. I was very happy and very lucky to be around so many successful people who are struggling with whatever they’re going through. To see them front their problems right there on camera, it made it a lot easier on me.
Pinsky: He is the unwitting, the unwilling celebrity... But he does understand his life has been lived under the shadow of those events, so he is a celebrity, he is a public figure, he knows that ... he was a great story in this. I ended up using him as a leader among his peers to help stabilize some of the problems that developed in the unit. He’s a really interesting guy. And he tells his story for the first time. He does the Barbara Walters sort of interview with me about that night. I didn’t expect that but we got into it in great detail.
AP: How was your “Celebrity Rehab” experience?
Pinsky: It is so dramatic, it is so impactful, it is so human. I knew people would be interested in it. I didn’t know how it would turn out, whether it would be entertaining. And my gravest concern would be that it do no harm... I was very anxious about that. I knew we could do good treatment, but I worried that the cameras would somehow have a negative effect on the treatment process — which it did not, it had a net positive effect.
King: It was a real positive experience, just getting myself to be alert again and dealing with life on life’s terms. It was a good experience to face some demons. It just felt good to have people still out there rooting for me and giving me the strength and the encouragement to go get some help.