The Last Temptation of Steve-O
All the Jackass star ever wanted was to be famous for doing insane stunts. But after a suicidal flameout landed him in a psych ward, what's left for a kinder, gentler self-mutilating exhibitionist to do?
This story was excerpted from the feature in our July 2009 issue.
At 8:00 on a cool, sunny April morning, Stephen Glover walks barefoot across a leafy side street in Pasadena, California, toward a white Chevy pickup. The blue oxford shirt he borrowed from his roommate is unbuttoned and hanging open. In one hand, he’s carrying well-worn black shoes, in the other, a letter from his drug treatment counselor attesting to the fact that he’s been sober and drug-free for just over a year.
The truck belongs to Glover’s bail bondsman, Dan Nesser, who is driving the Jackass daredevil to the Los Angeles Criminal Courts Building. Glover, 35, is on probation after pleading guilty last June to felony cocaine possession; six days after his arrest, eight friends, including Jackass ringleader Johnny Knoxville, had him committed to the psych ward at Cedars-Sinai. Glover’s hearing this morning is to check his progress in the probation-mandated recovery program. Hence the letter.
Once in the truck, Nesser apologizes for the early-morning departure, but he expects the courthouse to be a zoo: Chris Brown’s arraignment is also on the docket. When they get to the parking lot, Glover greets his lawyer, Barry Sands, and offers a toothy smile to a waiting paparazzo. Sands assures Glover that today’s hearing is just a formality, and he’s right — it takes TMZ longer to set up their in-court video camera than for the meeting to take place. Glover stands next to Sands, the judge glances at his letter and announces that everything looks good. A final hearing is set for December 3. If Glover avoids trouble until then, his felony will be dismissed.
Glover exits the courtroom, motions to the TMZ camera, and cackles: “How much do you think that footage is worth?”
If anyone would know, it’s Steve-O. Glover has been obsessed with shooting footage of his own ill-advised exploits ever since he was a teenager and stole a video camera from his dad’s closet.
“I started out making skateboard videos,” he tells me when we sit down for breakfast at a Pasadena diner later that morning. “Soon it dawned on me I just wasn’t that great at skateboarding. So I put down the skateboard and just kept going with the camera.” He began filming himself doing whatever crazy stunts he could dream up: jumping off buildings, setting himself on fire, getting punched in the face. As his older sister Cindy puts it, “It was okay for him to get hurt as long as it made people laugh and there was footage.” His goal in all this was both mind-numbingly simple and staggeringly complex: fame.
“If anybody asked me then what the meaning of life is, I’d answer that the meaning of life is to get off your ass and pick a meaning,” he says. “This pursuit of fame was what I picked. I wanted to be the tree in the woods everybody could hear falling.”
After a year out of the public eye, Glover turned up last March wearing a bespoke suit and an apologetic grin on Dancing With the Stars. This afternoon, he’s headed to the ABC studio lot to compete in week five of the show. Two months from now, MTV will air a one-hour special, Steve-O: Demise and Rise, chronicling his drug-fueled breakdown and celebrating his grand achievement of not dying. The footage is car-wreck compelling, but the story, familiar though it may seem at first blush, is incomplete. Glover isn’t just a guy who did an obscene amount of drugs, became a flaming asshole, and then lurched back from the brink to try to regain his career.
“Steve was doing an amplified version of what young people are doing throughout this country, using the Internet, using available media to try to create fame,” says Dr. Drew Pinsky, the addiction specialist who hosts VH1’s Celebrity Rehab and its spin-off, Sober House, and is the co-author of The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism Is Seducing America. “That’s a new phenomenon.”
For Glover, this ambition became all-consuming, an addiction not unlike his chemical dependency but one for which there are no rehab facilities, no 12-step programs, and no wizened sponsors to point the way forward.
“I really need to reevaluate my situation,” Glover says. “Because if video footage and the pursuit of fame are the meaning for my life, I’ve got to brace myself for the depressing reality of sitting back as life loses meaning. I mean, I saw that go down.”