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Book lays bare public addiction, recovery

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Gary Stromberg knows a thing or two about the rock-and-roll lifestyle. He lived it, both as a public-relations man for rock stars in the 1960s and as a participant.

Like many of the famous people he represented, he was a drug addict and alcoholic before recovering and starting life anew.

He wrote a book about the perils and debauchery, inviting 21 celebrities who were once chemically dependent to share their confessions. He's in a unique position to write such a book; some of the household names featured in "The Harder They Fall" were associates who remain his friends today.

Writer Anne Lammot describes her early flirtations with alcohol, which quickly developed into a serious commitment to both liquor and assorted drugs. She reflects on the moment in her 30s when she finally dispensed with the self-destructive myth that chemicals make creativity.

Rocker Alice Cooper writes about pacing his dressing room with worry before appearing in concert sober for the first time. And U.S. Rep Jim Ramstad of Minnesota again opens up about his alcoholism and his life in recovery.

The book includes a few stories about groupies lining up in rock stars' hotels and an actor being paid in a brick of white powder, but it is not a dirt-dishing diatribe. Stromberg said his goal was to show the triumphs, the recoveries and redemptions.

"The roadside is littered with people who didn't make it into recovery," he said. "But I wanted to celebrate the lives of the people who did make it into recovery, who are doing outstanding things today in their recoveries."

Stromberg spoke with Star Tribune North before his book tour. Questions and answers have been edited.

Was it hard to get celebrities to talk about this?

I'm often asked "Wasn't it difficult to get these people to agree to do this?" and it wasn't at all. I'd say surprisingly easy, but I wasn't surprised either. ... I look at myself and I know these people look at themselves as sort of like survivors from the Titanic. We went down in a major disaster in our own lives and looked around, and all of a sudden we're sitting in a life boat. ... People who are in that position are eager to give back and to share that experience.

Do celebrities find redemption and go through recovery differently than ordinary people?

It's different only in that they are in the public eye. They're in the spotlight. So we're watching them as they go through it, just as we watched them when they crashed and burned. So I think that there's probably more pressure to some degree. But I think the nuts and bolts of sobriety and redemption are the same, and that is you have to take a good, hard, honest look at yourself and admit what your shortcomings are, and then do something about it.

As you wrote this book, did you find that there were common threads that tied these stories together?

Yes, there are several threads. One is the commonality in the background of people who are afflicted with alcoholism and drug addiction. There's no singular cause, but there are common causes. That being coming from an alcoholic family; many of the people in this book are the children of parents who are alcoholics. That's often the case.

An area that I found quite fascinating as a common thread among these creative people was the association between their disease and creativity. In other words, "I get high to create." Anne Lammot, the wonderful writer who I interviewed for this book, said her family were all alcoholics and she grew up believing that when you wanted to write, you sat down at the typewriter, you had a couple pops from that bottle and then you started to create. Alice Cooper talks about how he would get drunk before he would go on stage. I represented many rock stars; I never saw a rock star that didn't get high before he went on stage.


WHAT: Gary Stromberg will discuss ""The Harder They Fall: Celebrities Tell Their Real-Life Stories of Addiction and Recovery,"" by Gary Stromberg and Jane Merrill.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday

WHERE: Borders, 3577 NW. River Rapids Drive, Coon Rapids

COST: Free

MORE INFO: 763-755-7550

Featured in ""The Harder They Fall:""

Paul Williams, Jim Ramstad,

Dock Ellis, Anne Lamott,

Mac (Dr. John) Rebennack,

Pete Hamill, Gerry Cooney,

Richard Pryor, Malachy McCourt,

Chuck Negron, Mariette Hartley,

Dick Beardsley, Alice Cooper,

Pat Day, Richard Lewis,

Steve Earle, Malcolm McDowell,

Franz Wright, Grace Slick,

Destry Forgette, Nile Rodgers

Contact the writer at 612-673-7739


More coverage from the Star Tribune is available at

© 2004 Star Tribune. All Rights Reserved.

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