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by dr andrew cousins

Robert Dooley - Out on the wiley, windy moors

We'd roll and fall in green.
You had a temper like my jealousy:
Too hot, too greedy.
How could you leave me,
When I needed to possess you?
I hated you. I loved you, too.
Kate Bush – Wuthering Heights

With these lyrics Kate Bush could very easily have been describing the pain of drug addiction. Of course she wasn’t. It’s actually about 19th Century sexual repression, but that’s beside the point. Drugs are so commonplace in Hollywood that Los Angeles has become like a giant stick of rock with the word ‘Smack’ running down the middle.

One man who knows more about the subject than he probably wants to is troubled actor Robert Dooley Jr. He’s been arrested numerous times for various drug offences and has just got out of prison for the second time after he broke the parole agreement on his initial release. I went to talk him about Hollywood and drugs.

AC: Robert you found fame very early on in your career when you starred in Richard Attenborough’s film of the life story of Buster Keaton, ‘Buster Keaton: His Life Story’. Do you think that early success led inevitably to your drugs problem?

RDJ: Well I don’t think it helped, put it that way. But you know, I don’t think it’s the whole story. I mean unless you’ve lived in Hollywood you just don’t realise what it’s like. I was downtown the other day and I went into Mothercare. You can buy gold cocaine straws with the Tellytubbies on them in there. It’s jungle. A jungle full of drugs.

AC: I read in your autobiography, ‘Baked on Powder’ that you were spending upwards of $25, 000 a week on your habit. Surely there must have been point when you thought, "What am I doing?" Didn’t you?

RDJ: To be honest I’m not sure how much money I was spending towards the end. If anything that’s a conservative estimate. When you have so much disposable income then you start to run out of ways to spend it. If you’re on drugs on top of that then all sorts of shit goes down. In 1971, Dennis Hopper got so loaded one weekend that he drove down to Cape Kennedy and started screaming that NASA had faked the moon landings and that he had the pictures to prove it. Then he offered them $500,000 to buy an Apollo lunar module and passed out. Drew Barrymore once tried to eat a live Llama. I got so bad that I was putting cocaine in everything. I was having cocaine burgers, cocaine coffee. Actually, cocaine is the only thing I’ve ever found that makes Starbucks coffee taste drinkable.

AC: Your eventual arrest caused something of a media circus didn’t it?

RDJ: It’s funny but I don’t bear any ill will towards the media at all. In fact a lot of them have been very supportive. When CBS News won a Newsy Award for the coverage of my trial they sent me a postcard that said, "We couldn’t have done it without ya! Love from the CBS Newsroom" I was touched by that. I suppose when you get arrested in a motel room in a drug-induced stupor with twelve prostitutes dressed as cheerleaders you have to expect a certain level of public interest. The fact that when the police tried to question me, I told them that I could turn into a pumpkin any minute really didn’t help.

AC: You were sentenced to two years in prison. As a well-known celebrity how did you find the prospect of being locked up with hardened criminals?

RDJ: At first I was fearful. I didn’t know what to expect. This was something so far outside of my sphere of consciousness that they might as well have sent me to prison on Venus. Then my agent came to talk to me and she gave me some advice. That really helped me more then anything else anybody said to me at that time.

AC: And what was that?

RDJ: She looked me right in the eyes and she said, "Honey. You’ve worked in Hollywood for fifteen years. You ain’t never gonna find a bigger bunch of crooks then the people you’ve been working for all this time. Go get ‘em tiger!"

AC: So what was your actual prison experience like?

RDJ: One thing that prison takes away from you is your freedom. But in a way what it gives you back is time. Time to think. To look back at your past and to see where you went wrong. In my case that was simple, I’d been inhaling half the gross national product of Bolivia for years.

Prison makes you conform. You have to wake when you are told to. Eat when you are told to. You even have to go to the toilet when you are told to. When you’re used to having what ever you want that’s very hard. When I hear people complain on set now, I say, "Yes, Michael Mann may be a demanding son of a bitch but compared to a six foot five prison guard called Jeff he’s a pussy cay."

But having so much time on my hands was in a way a catharsis for me. I discovered literature, poetry and art. I even found God for a short while. You know, the love of Jesus is a powerful force. It also impresses parole boards no end.

AC: That brings me onto your initial release. You were paroled but within 48 hours you were back inside again. What went wrong?

RDJ: That was my own stupid fault. I got out of prison and the minute I get home, I received a telephone call. It’s Charlie Sheen. He says, "Lets celebrate your release." I reminded him of my parole conditions but he convinced me that everything would be fine. 24 hours later the cops picked me up. I’d been driving at 80 miles an hour the wrong way down the freeway dressed as Penelope Pitstop screaming, "Who’s the Daddy?" at the oncoming traffic. They suspected immediately that I might have been taking drugs. They blood tested me and discovered that I should have been clinically dead. I was back in jail within hours.

AC: That must have been a very bitter blow.

RDJ: No actually it was Columbian so it was quite easy on the nasal membranes. The Bolivian is the nasty stuff.

AC: I mean’t going back to prison must have been a bitter blow.

RDJ: Oh it was. I was in the depths of despair. I honestly hadn’t been so depressed since I’d lost the lead in ‘LA Confidential’ to Russell Crowe. But again my friends supported me. I got a card from Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman saying, "We know your resolve is as strong as our marriage. Love T and N". Also Lennie on ‘D’ wing made a card for me. It read, "Sorry you’ze got busted – Killer". Killer was his prison nickname. He wasn’t actually a murderer, he was an arsonist. He burned down a church. Unfortunately there’d been a service on at the time.

AC: Your time in prison seems to have made you a stronger person. Now that you are free again are you going to make changes in your life?

RDJ: Yes. Yes I am. This is Year Zero for me. I’m wiping the slate clean and starting over again. I’m attending therapy regularly. I also go to Los Angeles Addicts Anonymous. LAAA have been great. They really support you when you’re at your lowest. Carrie Fisher started going there just after she married Paul Simon. One thing they told me is "Don’t look back. Look forward." That’s what I’m doing. This is where I start again.

AC: Robert Dooley Jr, thank you.

Since this interview was conducted Robert Dooley Jr has been rearrested on suspicion of drug offences. He was arrested at Kennedy Airport trying to direct the planes while dressed in a Superman suit and singing a medley of Britney Spears greatest hits. His trial comes up next month.

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