September 30, 2002 12:00 PM

Officer Ryan Duplissey didn’t recognize the man he pulled over on the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu just after noon on Sept. 11 as Nick Nolte. But he did recognize that the guy—who had just careened his black 1992 Mercedes sedan through two lanes of traffic toward oncoming cars—was in bad shape. “He was very dishevelled,” says a California Highway Patrol spokesman, who added that Nolte was “drooling and [had] droopy eyes.”

Officials are awaiting the results of a blood test to determine whether to charge the 61-year-old Nolte (who was released on $2,500 bail) with driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs or both. Either way, friends feel saddened, though not completely surprised. Notes JoBeth Williams, 53, his costar in 1984’s Teachers: “He’s made no secret of the fact that he has had a drinking and drug problem over the years.”

Still, Nolte sobered up in the late ’80s and a decade later was devoted to a super-healthy lifestyle, which included yoga, protein shakes and self-injected vitamins. But that was before the eccentric star—who still likes to do interviews in pajamas—took on the role of a drug-addicted gambler in the indie flick The Good Thief. Promoting it at the Toronto International Film Festival in early September, Nolte asserted to a reporter that he shot up with heroin “to get the taste.” (“A stupid idea,” responded director Neil Jordan.) Drugs, Nolte told the Vancouver Sun, “can help you deal with the great hole.”

On Sept. 7, at a late-night party at Toronto’s Bovine Sex Club, he chatted with actor Mickey Rourke, got a lap dance and signed autographs until nearly 3 a.m. Minutes later, buying $218 in rings and pendants at the nearby Shanti Baba Trading Co., he “did seem preoccupied,” says assistant manager Dave Mussio, 24. “He said he’d been up for four days.” Says Williams: “Nick’s a man who can really go to extremes.”

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