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“When they get what they want, they never want it again”— “Violet” by Hole
I hate Courtney — I love Courtney — much as she herself does.
No woman in showbiz has embodied the conflicting, outsized impulses of rage and need as has Courtney Love in her bratty, boisterous dozen years in the spotlight as seething rocker and affecting actress, selfish druggy and loving mother, disheveled nightmare and statuesque dream, brazen woman and little girl, self-parody and serious artist.
Love’s expressiveness — as lyricist and singer for her band Hole, and as actress, especially her devastating performance in “The People vs. Larry Flynt” — is a rare talent and her greatest artistic asset, but in real life her messy jumble of self-loathing and unbridled ambition are wearing thin in the popular imagination.
At 39 years old and the mother of an 11-year-old daughter, Frances Bean, from her marriage to doomed grunge icon Kurt Cobain, Love is at a turning point in her career and life: at a time she should be getting it together, she seems to be falling apart.
Her catalog of public and private sins over just the last year is astonishing and should be acutely embarrassing, yet her powers of self-deception seem to be boundless — despite ample evidence to the contrary she recently denied having a drug problem. Note the prophetic lyrics of “Doll Parts,” the best-known song from Hole’s post-grunge classic album “Live Through This,” from 1994:
“I fake it so real
And someday you will ache like I ache”
Simultaneously aching and faking, this week she pleaded innocent to two felony drug charges, and her rambling impromptu press conference outside the Beverly Hills courthouse was less than reassuring as to her state of mind.
'I used to do drugs'
Holding her beagle Molly and a bouquet of red roses, green eyes blazing, Love called the charges against her “retarded” and counseled against dating married men. She also told reporters with a chuckle, “Don’t tell, but I used to do drugs and if you tell it will ruin my image.” This from a woman who has admitted to using a “small amount” of heroin while she was pregnant with her daughter.
More troubling still is the incident that led to the charges. Well past midnight on October 2 Love was found by police in her nightgown outside the Wilshire area home of her former boyfriend, record executive Jim Barber, behaving erratically. She was taken into custody, admitted to breaking four windows in an effort to get into the house, charged with misdemeanor suspicion of drug use, and released around 5:30 a.m. But that wasn’t nearly enough.
Less than an hour later paramedics and police responded to an emergency call regarding a woman under the influence at a Beverly Hills home. The woman was Courtney Love, and she was taken to Century City Hospital for an accidental overdose of the powerful prescription narcotic OxyContin. Unfortunately for her, she didn’t have a prescription for the Oxy or for another narcotic, hydrocodone, and was charged with felony possession of each.
Overdose made fun
Later she said that Frances had made tea for her and kept her company while they waited for the ambulance. “That’s the only time my daughter has ever, ever, ever pitched in one of my little crises,” Love said. “I made it fun. I said it was going to be gross and I was going to have to make myself throw up, but it was going to be okay.” Um, maybe.
More horrifying still to a reportedly “loving” mother, a week later Frances was taken away by the Department of Child and Family Services, then placed in the custody of Kurt Cobain’s mother, Wendy O’Connor (with whom Love got into a shoving match in court), before being returned to her mother’s house under the care of Love’s stepfather, his sister and a nanny. The court kicked Love out of her own house, but she may visit her daughter daily. Yeay.
The same day Frances was taken away, Love was herself involuntarily bundled off to a psychiatric hospital in Pasadena with a “ping pong ball” taped into her mouth for “observation” after a friend reported she had left a suicidal phone message on her machine.
Love walked out the next day and hid in the bushes before getting a ride home from a stranger. She claimed the suicide message was a “joke.” Ha ha. I am certain this was reassuring to poor Frances, whose father committed suicide in 1994.
Appeal, in spite of everything
In the past year Love has also been linked to Dr. Jules Lusman, the disgraced Beverly Hills cosmetic surgeon who was known as “Dr. Feelgood” for supplying illegal prescription painkillers to celebrity clients including Winona Ryder. She was arrested in London for allegedly verbally abusing flight attendants on a Virgin Atlantic flight from Los Angeles (the charges were dropped), and had her debut solo album delayed from October of this year to February 2004 so that she can put the “finishing touches” on it (that is never a good sign).
And yet, somehow, she retains an appeal. Many of her emotional problems can be attributed to a wretched childhood of rambling and neglect at the hands of her hippie parents, Grateful Dead hanger-on father Hank Harrison and therapist-feminist mother Linda Carroll. She was allegedly given LSD at the age of six, was a gawky, gangly (5-foot-10), chunky, unloved teen, traveled on the cheap from New Zealand to Ireland and stripped in Alaska before picking herself up by her bootstraps and becoming a rock star, widow-by-suicide, and striking blonde icon.
There is still hope and her talent is undeniable, but time — and our patience — is running out.
Eric Olsen is the editor of and a frequent contributor to MSNBC.com.