Taylor-Ann Hasselhoff was desperate. Her father, David, was drunk again-this time mumbling, shirtless and splayed on the floor of his Las Vegas rental home in early 2007, struggling to eat a cheeseburger-and she was at her wit’s end about how to get him to sober up for good. On a whim, she grabbed her video camera and started filming the Baywatch actor. “I took the tape because I wanted to be like, ‘Look at how you are when you’re [drunk],’ ” says Taylor-Ann, who was then 16 and visiting her dad during his Vegas run in The Producers. “You can’t remember anything, so I want to show you.’ ”
Show him she did-along with the rest of the world when the crude home video was leaked onto the Web that May and went viral, devoured like catnip by late-night talk show hosts and millions of YouTube surfers. Having his private struggle with alcoholism-which had begun to spiral out of control around his 2006 divorce from second wife Pamela Bach-become so brutally public was humiliating for the Baywatch and Knight Rider star, but it was also the wake-up call he badly needed. “Although I was working, I was a complete, absolute runaway train with no control over anything,” says Hasselhoff, 58, sitting beside his daughters Taylor-Ann, now 20, and Hayley, 18, at the Encino, Calif., mansion they share with seven dogs and a cockatoo named Peaches. “Thanks to the tape, I realized this was a problem that I needed to deal with. But I knew I could also turn that lemon into lemonade.”
Three years after the incident, he has done just that. On Dec. 5 the actor-famously nicknamed “the Hoff”-will debut in his own reality show, The Hasselhoffs, on the A&E network. The series invites TV cameras into the feisty household of Hasselhoff and his daughters as they juggle their lives and the girls’ burgeoning music career with their techno-pop group Bella Vida. On the show, “I’m not ‘the Hoff,’ just Dad,” says Hasselhoff. “We do a lot of laughing.”
Life behind closed doors at Casa Hoff wasn’t always so funny. Once the tape was leaked onto the Internet (by a “very close family friend who is not in our life anymore,” says Taylor-Ann), the effect on the star’s life was immediate: His chances of reviving a once red-hot career-he is the Guinness Book of World Records’ “Most Watched TV Star in the World”-stalled. Far worse, a judge temporarily blocked him from seeing Taylor-Ann and Hayley while he was in the midst of an acrimonious divorce battle with Bach.
But for all the havoc it caused, the video did have a positive outcome: It forced Hasselhoff to reassess life and face his addiction. Though upset that a “private moment” became punch-line fodder, “when I found out about the tape, I was overcome with an amazing sense of calm,” he says, as Hayley, an actress-singer who recently starred on the ABC Family show Huge, tears up. Her father explains, “God was basically saying, ‘It’s time to stop.’ ”
Hasselhoff quickly got back on the wagon and realized his failing marriage and the subsequent legal disputes had taken a profound toll on his sobriety. “I realized it was time for Dad to put the oxygen mask on first, and then I could put it on the girls,” says Hasselhoff, who won custody of his daughters within six weeks. (Bach has struggled with her own personal issues and last year faced two DUI charges.) Today his relationship with Taylor-Ann, who could be heard on the videotape imploring her dad to stop drinking, has never been stronger. “I knew why Taylor did it: She was afraid for me. I said, ‘That’s pretty cool that my daughter loves me enough to say, ‘Dad, this is what you look like. We’re scared.’ End of story.”
These days Hasselhoff continues to see silver linings in the most unlikely of places. “I was in therapy the other day with [Bach] and I was going, ‘This is hysterical! We’re paying $600 a session. Can’t we just laugh? For all the weird, stupid stuff that’s happened to us, we’ve got two beautiful kids who are successful. We have our health. Life is precious. Let’s move on.’ ”
Still single since his split, Hasselhoff spends most of his time with his ultimate fan club, Taylor-Ann and Hayley, who live their dad’s signature mantra: “Don’t Hassel the Hoff.” Fiercely loyal, they bristle when anyone pokes fun at their famous dad. “We’re like, ‘Are you kidding me? That’s my father!’ ” says Taylor-Ann. “There have been times when he’s had to hold us back because we’re so protective.”
Now, fueled by their devotion, the multitasking singer-actor-reality-star says he is committed to sobriety. “It’s a day at a time, and I’m proud of today,” he says, acknowledging brief relapses along the way. “It’s almost as if I want to go out and have fun like everybody else, but every time I do, I end up in a resort called Cedars-Sinai….But I bounce back in two days and get back on my horse.” He adds, “It’s not about falling. It’s how fast you get up. You can count on me getting up. Hasselhoffs don’t duck. We say, ‘Bring it on!’ ”
After a short-lived but “really positive and humbling” turn this fall on Dancing with the Stars (he was the first contestant eliminated), Hasselhoff is poised for a third act with an ever-eclectic dance card. In addition to The Hasselhoffs, he’s spending the holidays playing Captain Hook in a London stage production of Peter Pan, followed by a New Year’s Eve concert on the Berlin Wall for an expected 1 million fans. “When Europe calls, I have to answer!” says Hasselhoff, who remains a superstar overseas and has garnered some 40 gold and platinum records worldwide.
Next year he’ll continue work on a new live act and an album, and if there’s time, “maybe I’ll fall in love!” he says. “But my commitment is to my girls, to my sobriety and to just being happy.” Doubters be damned. “I don’t care what people think about me anymore. As long as I’m okay with myself and okay with my daughters, then I know I’m doing great. And believe me, they’ll tell me when I’m not!”