Shakin Like a Leif

Kicking smack with Leif Garrett

"And . . . we . . . are . . . rolling!" says the guy pointing the Entertainment Tonight camera toward the hospital bed on which a bedraggled Leif Garrett is sitting for his latest way-too-closeup. The long-ago teen idol is 37 years old. His shoulder-length hair is greasy, his goatee is surrounded by unshaven stubble, and his ragamuffin getup—cloth cap, blousy shirt, weathered jeans, and moccasins with no socks—goes far beyond faux-boho fashion statement. This is the look of a bona-fide drug addict. Garrett is coming off heroin.

It's been three days since his last hit. He's been taking Vicodin to stave off withdrawal. He walked into College Hospital in Costa Mesa on the morning of Aug. 23 to undergo a state-of-the-art, 24-hour detox-and-neuroregulation procedure known as the Waismann Method, offered for $7,400 by a Beverly Hills company called the Institute.

Not coincidentally, Garrett has also walked back into the public spotlight, which he's been chasing much longer than drugs. The media had been invited to witness and were offered an interview with Garrett and a packet of information about the Institute, presumably improving the professional prospects for both. It's a matter of killing two birds with one stoner.

"For lack of a better cliché," says Garrett, mustering a smile through his somehow-still-perfect teeth as his tired eyes dart back and forth between the camera and his feet, "this is the first day of the rest of my life."

Garrett's life has featured many other such first days. Despite his hopeful intentions and public proclamations, however, all the rest of them have led him back to this one. In fact, it was only a few days after he announced his drug-free existence on an episode of VH-1's Behind the Music that Garrett was among several people arrested June 29 during a sting at a Los Angeles apartment building. He was charged with cocaine and heroin possession but freed on $10,000 bail. He pleaded guilty to drug possession on Aug. 12 but avoided jail on the condition that he complete a rehabilitation program that would wipe the offense from his record. He received a similar deal after a 1997 arrest for cocaine possession.

"The arrest isn't the reason I'm doing this treatment," Garrett flatly tells the camera, the microphone and the crowd of Institute personnel, hospital staff and public-relations people standing just beyond the edge of the TV spotlight. "My motivation is to get on with my life, and right now that means getting back in the recording studio."

Garrett, whose big hits were late-'70s bubblegum pop, is pinning his comeback on his rock band, which is called Godspeed. He has already reserved studio time for Sept. 3 and 4. "Julian Raymond and I wrote a bunch of songs together—he's the guy who produced Fastball's record," Garrett says, enthusiasm beginning to inflate his voice. "Then I do a TV show in Canada from Sept. 7 to 14. Then from Sept. 24 to 29, I'm doing concerts in Japan."

The guy from Entertainment Tonight nods, robotic but attentive, as Garrett meticulously lays out this career-path schematic. But then comes this follow-up question: "What does it feel like to take heroin?"

Garrett cooperates. "It's like being back in the womb—a warm and comfortable feeling," he says, but his ardor is fading. "The attraction of heroin is, uhh, not having to deal with the harshities, uhh, the real difficult things in life. It feels good, and it's hard to quit."

The woman from the E! channel is next, and she begins her interview by picking up on that theme. "I think I kinda know how you feel," she confides in Garrett, her voice low and sweet. "I'm recently de-caffeineated —and it was really hard!"

Garrett appears stunned for a moment, then disgusted, then amused. "De-caffeinated?" he asks, trying to give himself time to mop up the incredulity he has spilled all over the place. But it's too late. "De-caffeinated? Like in coffee or Cokes?" Garrett repeats, then opts for a mock-Shakespearean accent and hopes for the best. "M'lady, I lawf in your face!"

The Waismann Method takes a scientific approach to opiate addiction, emphasizing speed and efficiency and if-then-thus rationality. It is based on evidence that opium addiction is exacerbated by the body's production of opiate receptors—the more opiates in the body, the more receptors are produced. "It's as if your body created more stomachs every time you ate," says Clare Waismann, executive director of the Institute, whose brother, Dr. Andre Waismann, named the method after himself. The Waismann approach says it puts opiate addicts on a crash diet—but makes them think they are full.

First comes a one-day detoxification of the body, which is accomplished while the patient is unconscious. Then comes one year of follow-up medication, intended to block the brain's opiate receptors, thereby eliminating both the desire to take opiates and the effect of opiates should they be taken. Some personal counseling is also offered on a limited basis.

"After nine months to a year, the patient will have the same amount of opiate receptors as I do," says Clare Waismann. "He will not be an addict anymore. If he then decides, 'I want to be a heroin addict,' fine. But if the patient fails at that point, it is by choice—not because he can never feel right without heroin."

Waismann claims the Institute has a 65 percent success rate after one year. "But as opposed to Narcotics or Alcoholics Anonymous, which require total abstinence from all mind-altering substances, when we say 65 percent success, we mean 'opiate-free.' Leif can have a beer three days after the treatment. He can smoke pot once in a while. He can do anything I can do. But because he will no longer crave opiates, he will no longer be a slave."

The interview over, Waismann excuses herself. "I really need a cigarette," she says.

The TV cameras are off and the moment of his treatment is impending, and Garrett is getting simultaneously quieter and more talkative. "I'm kinda nervous," he confides. "For one thing, I hate needles. I'm really afraid of needles." The heroin addict chuckles at what seems like hypodermic irony. "See, but I only smoked it," he says.

Looking around the room at the crowd of people watching him, considering the audiences that will view what has just been videotaped, Garrett seems struck by the sad collision of his professional aspirations and his personal addiction. He realizes that just about the only time he gets media attention anymore is when he is in some kind of drug trouble.

"I'm sure there are people out there who have doubts about my sincerity or my chances of making it," Garrett says. "I'm sure they think, 'He's doing this just for the media or to get his name clear.' That's okay. The most important thing is how I deal with it and what I do with it and my own health and whatnot, you know?

"When I did Behind the Music, I was clean. I was pretty much toughing it out. I would occasionally go to [Narcotics Anonymous] meetings, but not really. I was cold-turkeying myself, but that's the toughest thing in the world. And then I had a loss in my life—my girlfriend of five years died of a heart problem, non-drug-related—and that was just sort of an excuse, if you will, not that there's ever an excuse, but it was something that sent me over the edge."

And then all visitors are told they must leave the room. About 15 minutes later, the guy from Entertainment Tonight decides he needs one more visual for his story: videotape of Garrett undergoing the detox, stretched out in bed, his veins detouring into tubes, his vital signs monitored by machinery. Somebody takes this request inside to Garrett, who says no.

"He's worried about the Internet," comes the relayed reply. "He's worried that an image like that will end up everywhere, that it will follow him the rest of his life. He's worried that he's already gone too far."

Three days later, Garrett is on the phone, calling from home. "I feel great, man," he says energetically. "I can guarantee you, in all honesty, I'll never go back to heroin again." He has taken his daily opiate-blocking pill, as well as a few others to deal with conditions ranging from anxiety to nausea. He'll begin once-a-week counseling soon.

Meanwhile, Garrett can't stop thinking about his first semiconscious thoughts as he was coming out of the operating room, emerging from sedation after the six-hour detox.

"I dreamed I was doing a concert, that I had collapsed onstage and that I was being carried off on a stretcher," Garrett recalls. "It was scary. It seemed so real. But it turned out I was being wheeled through the hospital on my way to my private room. During the next few hours, I got my bearings—and I was so grateful it was only a dream."

Or, he allows, maybe a subconscious warning. "This has been about a six-year run for me," Garrett says. "At times, I got to the point where I thought this was the way it was going to be for the rest of my life. I wanted to stop, but I couldn't stand the horrible pain of withdrawal and that bad downtime that always seems to come after that. For some reason, so far, I don't really have that."

Garrett is mindful that others with heroin addictions—and he mentions friends of his such as actor Robert Downey Jr. and Stone Temple Pilots front man Scott Weiland—have had so many relapses that they've nearly run out of legal options. "That's one of the reasons I'm talking about this," he says. "I want them to get through it. But the only reason I did it is that I don't want to live that way anymore. Sure, there could be a potential chance of wanting to do it again, possibly, at some point, but I have absolutely no craving whatsoever. It's like night and day.

"As far as drinking a glass of wine with dinner, I couldn't make that promise, nor would I want to. But it's something I want to stay away from for a while. I need to be clear for a while. I may never use it again. I don't think anybody can say, 'Never, ever again.' I'd like to say it and mean it. I could say it to you now and mean it, but who knows what's gonna happen and how I might feel sometime down the line? I mean, you really can't predict anything."

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