There was a kid in my fourth grade class who used to take a piece of paper, pour glue on it, stick live crickets to the glue, and then roll it up like a burrito. He would then proceed to eat it surrounded by cheers, claps, as well as looks of disgust mingled with pity. I hadn’t thought of that kid for almost a decade until I read Professional Idiot: A Memoir by Stephen “Steve-O” Glover. It seems that both Steve-O and The Cricket Kid had missed out on one of life’s great lessons; attention is not the same thing as respect.
Crickets and the old fish hook through the cheek trick aside, I was shocked to discover that Steve-O’s book was, well… good. And when I say good, I mean a surprisingly honest and vulnerable account about his life. Steve-O apparently has feelings. Who knew?
Steve-O’s upbringing consisted of zero supervision and benign neglect. His father, a rich and successful CEO, provided extremely well for his family. But this job meant he spent a large amount of time overseas, leaving Steve-O and his older sister alone to deal with the fallout of an alcoholic mother. His mother would perpetually claim she was “sick with a cold” as an excuse to spend week-long benders on the couch. Steve-O and his sister would fend for themselves as children. Rarely would they verbally acknowledge the sad truth of the situation.
Steve-O and his sister Cindy grew very close, each being the other’s only constant in a family that moved almost annually and was full of denial & dysfunction. Cindy continued to be his anchor during a rash of homelessness throughout his early twenties as well as his post-fame spiral into addiction. Steve-O never expressly states it, but it doesn’t take Sigmund Freud to realize that growing up with parents such as his, creates a need to be seen and acknowledged, even if that means screaming, “LOOK AT ME!” while jumping off a bridge for cameras.
Steve-O was already a bit of a mess by college, a drop-out with a drinking problem before he was 21. After learning some amateur tricks and a stint in clown college (yes, you read that correctly, flippin’ clown college) he caught the eye of Jeff Tremaine, the director of Jackass, by setting his head on fire. Even though Steve-O ended up looking like Freddy Krueger for a while after the stunt went horribly wrong, the insane lengths Steve-O went to landed him a spot on the show.
Right before Steve-O’s big break he suffered personal tragedy: his mother was struck down with an aneurism that left her severely physically & mentally handicapped. Now if you were you tell me that a memoir about Steve-O would choke me up I’d have raised my eyebrow, scoffed, and went back to drinking my Diet Coke. But the descriptions of his complete helplessness in the face of his mother crying from bedsores are just so damn pitiful. Anyone who has been cursed to watch a loved one physically suffer will have a hard time getting through that chapter. In fact, anyone that holds a shred of empathy for their fellow man will have a hard time.
Steve-O’s life had all the ingredients for a train wreck waiting to happen; sudden fame and the knowledge that it’s not going to last. An inability to communicate his grief in a healthy way. A compulsive need for the spotlight. A penchant for cocaine, nitrous oxide, and ketamine. Add a large pinch of narcissism, stir, and wait for a very violent and very public downfall. All the clichés about fame and fortune are true and Steve-O was no exception. His decline was dark, depraved, and very sad.
The descent into his addictions led to violent episodes, hallucinations, broken personal & professional relationships, and the general train wreck of his life & career. When you’re too faded to be tolerated by the Jackass gang it’s safe to say you’re in trouble. After sending out a thinly veiled suicide e-mail the Jackass crew gathered and delivered Steve-O an ultimatum; they were taking him in for an involuntary 72 hour psychiatric lock-up facility in order to be evaluated.
After reading about the disturbing events of Steve-O’s drug use an unlikely event happened. Steve-O, against most predictions has thus far stayed sober. As Johhny Knoxville says about Steve-O’s continued recovery, “I’m as surprised as I am happy.” The need for attention & the spotlight became an addiction in its own right and Steve-O completely rearranged his life in order to follow the directions of recovery. He seems to be on a good track and I wish him well.
I picked up this book because the untimely demise of Ryan Dunn inspired some Jackass nostalgia. Sitting around the dorm room watching the boys crash shopping carts into each other was always good for a cringe-inducing laugh. I was in no way expecting a genuine and mature account about a man struggling with his own need of recognition and being careful what he wished for.
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