The Secret Drew Barrymore
America's favorite child actress fell off-camera into alcoholism and addiction, but now she's fighting back
No one has ever played a cute, lovable kid better than Drew Barrymore. Steven Spielberg spotted her as a “natural ham” when he picked her at age 6 to portray the irrepressible Gertie in E.T. Beginning with her plate-rattling screech when she first glimpsed that kindly extraterrestrial, Drew captured America’s heart in the most successful movie—and now video—in history. She went on to become Hollywood’s pet moppet, starring in Firestarter, Cat’s Eye, Irreconcilable Differences and See You in the Morning, out next month. She was the modern Shirley Temple.
So it would come as a shock to millions to learn that Drew’s precocious movie stardom was accompanied by a more frightening precocity offscreen—a premature appetite for drinking and drugs. By her own admission in the following article, she had her first drink at 9, began smoking marijuana at 10 and at 12 took up cocaine. Now only 13, she has twice undergone extensive drug rehabilitation treatment.
Drew’s talent is a family heritage: The name Barrymore conjures up an unparalleled line of theatrical greats stretching back to the 19th-century English actor Maurice Barrymore, his actress wife, Georgiana Drew, and the theater and film standouts Lionel and Ethel, Drew’s great-aunt and-uncle. But if acting is one Barrymore legacy, so too is tragedy. Grandfather John Barrymore, one of the finest Shakespearean and movie actors of the 1920s and ’30s, drank himself to death at age 60. Aunt Diana Barrymore confessed her reckless hunger for booze and drugs in the 1957 best-seller Too Much, Too Soon. Drew’s father, sometime actor and poet John Drew Barrymore, has a history of alcoholism and drug arrests and hasn’t seen his daughter in seven years. Of them all, little Drew seems to have been driven earliest by the dark Barrymore destiny.
On Sept. 17, Drew again went into therapy at ASAP Family Treatment Center, a private drug-and-alcohol rehab hospital in Van Nuys, Calif. “She was so sick, sick, sick when I met her,” says Betty Wyman, a counselor at ASAP. “I thought, ‘What a sad kid.'” Her mother, long in the dark about Drew’s problems, could no longer cope. “Like most parents, I had no idea what was going on,” admits Ildiko Jaid Barrymore, a former actress who, since separating from her husband, has raised Drew on her own. “So where was I? The question is a shocker since our lives have been intertwined like braids, almost like the two of us against the world. But when she turned 9 or 10, I felt I had to give her time and space. I began to lose perspective on what was going on with Drew.”
Despite the initial misgivings of her mother, Drew contacted PEOPLE shortly before her pre-Christmas release from the center. At the suggestion of her therapists, she had decided to talk about her troubles in the hope of helping other kids. (Help is needed. Experts say similar teen and preteen addictions are on the rise. See box, page 81.) Wearing jeans and a baggy sweater, Drew bounced into the ASAP reception room to greet correspondent Todd Gold after one of her daily group therapy sessions. “I walked out of the session carrying the tissue box,” she announced cheerily. “God, the tears were gushing.” On the outside, she was a normal, spirited, if unusually beautiful early teen who proudly unfurled pictures of best friends and relatives from her wallet. But as the conversation went on, she also revealed a cool realism, and sometimes a world-weariness, far beyond her 13 years. “These days,” Drew has concluded, “it’s pretty hard being a kid.” On the pages that follow is her story in her own words.
From the time I became famous in E.T., my life got really weird. One day I was a little girl, and the next day I was being mobbed by people who wanted me to sign my autograph or pose for pictures or who just wanted to touch me. It was frightening. I was this 7-year-old who was expected to be going on a mature 29. By the time I was 8½, I felt like I was some abnormal, crazy girl. I could walk up to the door of any nightclub and they’d say, “Hi, you’re that little girl. Come in.” Most days I just went to school, ditched school, hung out with friends and went to movies—it was pretty low-key. Sometimes the teachers called my mom and said, “You’ve got to get her butt in class.” But I was happiest when I was working, and the more school I missed, the more I feared being there since I wouldn’t know the answers. Around this time I quit hanging out with people my own age. I didn’t think I could relate to them or that they could understand the kind of life I had.
I started smoking cigarettes when I was 9½. I was, like, smoking constantly and going out and doing everything I could do to be bad. I thought, “Well, if I smoke cigarettes, I can drink.” At first it was with friends. Just sneaking. I would drink not to have fun—I would drink to get drunk. I was also a club-hopper at 10, as much as a 10-year-old can be. I would sleep over at a friend’s house, and we would sneak out. And after a while I started thinking, “Well, this is getting boring now, so let’s try something even better. If I can drink, I can smoke pot. There’s nothing to it.” When I was 10½, I was sitting in a room with a group of young adults who were smoking pot. I wanted to try some, and they said, “Sure. Isn’t it cute, a little girl getting stoned?” Eventually that got boring, and my addict mind told me, “Well, if smoking pot is cute, it’ll also be cute to get the heavier stuff like cocaine.” It was gradual. What I did kept getting worse and worse, and I didn’t care what anybody else thought.
One night, last June, I’d been having a beer race with some friends, and I’d had a lot of beers. To put it bluntly, I was very intoxicated. When I got home I confronted my mother and screamed, “What the hell are you doing here?” I wanted her out of the house—I said it was my turn to be Mom. She just stood there blankly, looking at me like I was the biggest asshole in the world. She wasn’t feeding into my shit, and that only made things worse. So I started throwing things—glasses, vases. They were breaking all over the floor. I went from party girl to jerk of the planet.
I walked out to get another beer and was huffing and puffing and swearing at my mother when the front door swung open. “Oh, shit, the cops,” I thought. But coming through the door was a friend I had cut off contact with because she had checked into a rehabilitation program to get sober, and that wasn’t cool. By that time, I could hardly walk or function. She and her mother pulled me into their car. “Where are you taking me?” I asked. They told me the hospital and I said, “No prob.” As long as it wasn’t jail. The last thing I wanted was to get caught in public in handcuffs. At the ASAP hospital I couldn’t walk anymore, so they carried me into this room, where I just sat. I ended up staying 12 days.
I attended group therapy with older kids and adults recovering from drugs and alcohol, but mostly I just sat and listened. I was this little actress who had built up a wall all around my feelings. There was a vulnerable girl inside being hurt by everything she was doing to herself but didn’t want to face it. I was too scared to get to know myself.
After 12 days Drew was released from ASAP so she could film Far from Home in Nevada. She spent 12 days in Gerlach, a small town with several bars that she didn’t use. Then the movie company moved to Carson City.
On location in Carson City, there was a lot of action. I dressed up and turned on my Scarlett O’Hara, sexy-girl act at the casinos, where they really believed I was 22. A crew member let me throw the dice on the craps table. Then I went to the blackjack table and turned $20 into $200, only to lose it all again. I started getting back into that party-girl habit, hanging out with people who were drinking. I managed to stay sober. But it was a real struggle.
When I returned to Los Angeles two months later, I resented having to go back to the hospital for continued treatment. “Where’s my fun?” I thought. “I’ve been missing all my friends for a long time and I have to come back to this place? No way.” I didn’t want to face that I was still as much an addict as when I first went to the hospital. Even though I had not been drinking or doing drugs, I had still been hanging around with a crowd that did. They call that dry time, not sober time. You sit around the things you’re trying to get away from, and your feelings are still very much involved. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before I got into trouble again.
After six days in the hospital, Drew, against medical advice, flew to New York City with her mother to audition for a play. She had not had a drink or drugs for about 85 days, but on the plane, she says, “I was real afraid of what might happen to me.” It happened on Sept. 15.
Late that night I went with my girlfriend Stacy [not her real name], who’s 18 and a model who’s trying to become an actress, to a popular New York nightclub. I was waiting for my ex-boyfriend to show up, and in the ladies room a girl asked me, “Do you do blow?” Even when I said no, she said, “You don’t mind if we do it in front of you, do you?” I thought it was pretty rude, but I was like, “It’s okay, guys.” A few minutes later the girl said, “You sure you don’t want any?” At that moment I started to cry. I felt really, really sad. I looked at my watch and blew it right there. It was 12:37 and I was supposed to be home in a few minutes. But I didn’t care. I was tired, and I thought, “Well, a little coke will wake you up. Why bother with coffee?”
After taking a quick hit, I started shaking, knowing that I had just blown all the sober days I’d been proud of. I got really scared and thought to myself, “Oh, God, you just had 88 days [sober], and now you don’t even have one minute.” But when I walked out of the bathroom, people were still smiling at me. I figured as long as I’d stepped over the line, I might as well go all out. There was a guy dealing coke at the club, but he said he wouldn’t sell me less than about a gram. “No problem,” I said, and flashed out a bunch of tens I’d been saving the entire summer. (For money, I’d just bug my mom, and I’d save the per diem from my movies, and sometimes I’d take money from my mom’s purse. I wouldn’t spend a dime and I’d have $100 or something like that after a few months.) We made the exchange in the corner, and I put the cocaine in my pocket. We hung around some clubs and just screwed around.
Stacy and I were laughing hysterically when we returned to my apartment about 7:30 A.M., but the minute we opened the door I got real scared. It was my mother. What’s weird is that even though I was treating my mother horribly, I still loved her very much—I just couldn’t let it show. I told her I’d gone to Stacy’s house. Then, after talking with my mother for two hours, Stacy and I went into my bedroom and looked at each other. “Do you realize what a big one we just pulled on her?” I said. “She has no idea!”
Later that day I took a credit card from my mother’s purse and told her I was going out with Stacy for one hour to return a broken clock. Instead we got a cab and headed to LaGuardia Airport. We both had this fantasy about going as far away as possible, some place like Hawaii, with nothing but the drugs and the credit card. I convinced the airline ticket agent that my mother had given me her credit card so I could get to a business meeting in L.A.
In L.A., we went to my house, blasted the stereo and decided to take my mother’s BMW to go out to dinner. Even though I’m 13, my driving is pretty good. After dinner I called my mother and told her in this sickeningly sweet tone of voice that I’d be home soon. “That’s it, I’m calling the cops,” she said. All of a sudden my sweet voice turned acidy. “Do whatever the hell you want,” I shouted. “See if I care.”
Stacy and I drove around Hollywood for a while. At one point we were being tailed by a cop, which was frightening because we had the coke on the dashboard. But once we got out of that, we went shopping. By that time my mother had reported the credit card stolen, but we still managed to buy several hundred dollars’ worth of clothes by conning the sales people. When we got home a few hours later, we did about 12 lines of coke between us, leaving just a small amount, which I stuck in my jeans pocket.
Suddenly a man and woman walked in the house, because we hadn’t locked the front door, and pulled out handcuffs. “Oh, shit,” I thought, “here’s the nightmare I’ve always feared.” But as they walked me outside with my hands cuffed behind my back, they revealed they were private agents hired by my mother to take me back to the hospital. When I realized I wasn’t going to jail, I let out a big sigh of relief.
Driving over there, these people started asking me about movies, which I thought was sick. “God, you’ve just yanked me out of my house with cuffs on,” I thought, “and now you’re asking me what it was like to meet E.T. What a bunch of assholes.” When we arrived at the admitting hall, they unlocked the handcuffs. Then, believe it or not, they asked me for my autograph.
The program at ASAP is structured. Everybody gets up at 7:30 A.M. (“I’m not a morning person, and the staff does not like waking me up,” Drew admits). There is school from 9 to noon, then group therapy, then counseling, then more therapy groups, dinner, and therapy groups with the patients and their families. Drew took part but remained reserved, her “wall” in place.
When I first came into the hospital, they told me I could address myself in meetings as either an alcoholic or an addict, and I was like, “Right, total joke. I’m neither one. I just happen to have this excruciating headache from a hangover, but it’s no problem, really. I get them all the time.” When I said, “I’m Drew and I’m an addict-alcoholic,” I put on a big front and didn’t take it seriously. But gradually, as I looked over the way I’d been behaving and feeling, I realized that I have a very addictive personality. Friends say the two best words to describe me are obsessive and compulsive. I’m also an overachiever. Then it just dawned on me. I said, “I’m Drew and I’m an addict and I have so many days’ sobriety.” And that was it. I knew it was true and something had to be done about it.
When I’d been back in the hospital about a month and a half, my grandpa Anthony [Mako] died, and one of the biggest emotional risks I took was sharing my sadness about it in a group session. He was one of the people I loved most in the world. But I worried I had missed the chance to let him know how I felt because I was into my teenage bullshit and rotten drug usage. The last time I talked to him I told him I loved him, but I felt like that wasn’t enough.
Then came big risk No. 2: sharing about my dad. He never lived with us, and when I was little all my friends had [a father], and I thought, “Well, I must be some kind of alien because I don’t.” Once, when I was really little, he spent the night with us, and the next morning he came into my room. I looked up at him and asked, “Dad?” I was really scared he was going to say no, he was just a friend. But he said, “Yeah.” I felt so happy thinking he was going to be back in my life. But it never happened. In fact, until just recently, I’d woken up every morning hoping he would be there like that. When my grandpa died, I started worrying that my father might also die before I’ve had a chance to get to know him.
But with the encouragement of my friends at the hospital, I recently got up the courage to call him. For the first time in my life, my father said, “I love you, daughter.” I said, “I love you, father.” I laughed and cried at the same time, thinking about what would it be like to have a family. Then I reminded myself that my father is gone from my life and will never be there for me again. It’s hard, but that’s the way it is.
Drew had one big relationship still to explore: the one with her mother. When Drew was small, Ildiko worked as a waitress six nights a week to support them, but Drew saw her absences as abandonment, “another parent who didn’t care about me.” As Drew’s career boomed, she found she loved acting—”becoming a different person with a different name”—so Ildiko quit her job “and became a part of my career—managing it, reading scripts, things like that.” lldiko’s involvement was not appreciated. “As time went on, I came to resent her because it seemed so much other life and career was invested in me. What I never realized was my mom changed her life so I could continue doing something I loved.” Drew took her anger out on her mother, in spades. “I’d always ask myself if she really, truly loved me, which was stupid but I did. Whatever she said, I’d do the opposite just because I was so hurt.” In early December, mother and daughter sat down together at ASAP.
The most emotional part of my treatment has involved trying to get my relationship with my mother straight. That day I brought up one of my biggest gripes: the question of whether she was my mother or my manager. It was so hard to actually say it to her face, and when I did, I started crying hysterically and ran out of the room. But late that night everything started coming out one-on-one, and I told her all that I was feeling, how I wanted her to be there as a mother and all that. I just let down the sacred guard and allowed her back into my life, and she reacted like a mom, with total love. That was the best feeling in the world. After we’d been through several boxes of tissues, she said it was time for her to go home and sleep. I was so scared to let her go that I wouldn’t quit hugging her. I didn’t want her to walk out on me.
At a group therapy session the next night, my mother gave me this little bag with a healthy sandwich in it, and I thought, “Yeah, she’s being my mom.” She didn’t talk about a script or business. She actually said, “Hi, honey, how are you?” And she held my hand while they took my temperature.
Some days in the hospital, all I did was cry. It was frightening confronting all the new feelings about my family. For weeks I kept asking when I’d be able to go home, especially as I saw a lot of my friends leave and I remained. Finally I had this big fight with my roommates, as will happen when people get stuck in one room together for a long time. But then I learned I would be released a few days before Christmas. I just burst into tears with this big smile on my face. I was so incredibly happy to be going home.
I’m not psychic. But for today I can stay sober. I never want to go back to my old ways. I know that. That is my future. One day at a time. I’m Drew, and I’m an addict-alcoholic. I’ve been sober for three months, two weeks and five days, and I’m really proud of that.