The Death of Mike Starr Questions the Value of Celebrity Rehab

The death, at age 44, of former Alice in Chains bassist Mike Starr brings into question the real value of reality television shows like Celebrity Rehab and Sober House with Dr. Drew Pinsky.  Should we be gawking at the medicated and the mentally ill for pleasure and profit?

We don’t yet know precisely what killed Mike Starr — but what we do know is that he struggled for years with a massive addiction to drugs — and as hard as Dr. Drew and Celebrity Rehab tried to make us root for Mike against his addiction, that effort failed in total.

When we watched Mike in rehab television, he was a nasty and crude man to everyone around him, and he was especially vengeful against staff member Jennifer Gimenez on Sober House, the odd aftercare show for celebrities who graduate from the rehab program and then cho0se clean living in a structured environment — but still in the public eye.

It was clear Mike was a hopeless case from start to end.  He craved drugs more than he loved his life — and that forces us wonder what sort of role Celebrity Rehab is supposed to play in the lives of the viewing audience?  Are we supposed to laugh at the spectacle of these misfits, or are we to feel supportive of hopeless causes?   Are we expected to live in Pity and Terror?

I find Celebrity Rehab and Sober House to be depressive and memeingless.  The toxic relationships are difficult to tender and impossible to abide.  Should rehab and therapy and healing be done in private and away from the public square or shown weekly on VH1?  I can’t imagine anyone who is addicted ever wanting to attend a rehab program after watching those Pinsky train wreck soap operas.

I am most disappointed in Drew Pinsky, who appears to be a good man, but his direct involvement in the exploitation of celebrity addiction is stunning because he is trained to know better.  Drew Pinsky must know those people need privacy and ongoing, deep, therapy away from the very lights and microphones that likely helped push them down the path to their addiction in the first place.

Instead of facilitating addicted celebrities with the cover of a respected privacy, I believe Dr. Drew is doing them full, foul, harm for the world to see, and he is peddling tickets to the slaughterhouse so we can vicariously watch a melting bloodbath as many of those celebrities lose their minds, and sometimes — like Mike Starr — their lives.

20 comments

  • True rehab takes place behind closed doors, not in front of the Panopticonic cameras of “reality” television. Sad about Mike Starr passing.

    • Absolutely. I’ve always wondered how shows like Celebrity Rehab get the “stars” on the show to sign a release. If they are obviously as addicted as the show claims, they are not in a right mind, so how can they sign an valid contract — or even give consent to have their lives rendered raw on TV?

  • I never thought about it that way. I guess Drew is doing a disservice to his patients by putting them on tv when they are so vulnerable.

    • I don’t understand why Drew would be involved in this sort of exploitation of his patients. Is the greater good really served by making rehab a reality television show?

  • I do not agree with this at all. Dr. Drew did everything he could for Mike Starr, I watched every episode and clearly he did not want the help he was given. Drugs played a major role in this decision. Dr. Drew is not a miracle worker, he can only advise and suggest. He can not make them want to be sober. Celebrites get themselves into this lifestyle, they knew coming into this that their lives would be broadcasted for everyone to see, drugs or no drugs they knew. The should be used to people viewing their lives considering most of them have been in and out of the media for years now. I hate what happen to him and wish that there was something that could have changed the outcome but there is not. Mike Starr was a great musician and will be remembered always but we are also so quick to blame someone else. The blame is on one person and he is no longer with us. RIP Mike Starr!!!

    • Stephanie –

      I, too, watched every episode of Celebrity Rehab and Sober House and Mike Starr was nasty to everyone. He was clearly not mentally fit to be in that sort of rehab environment, and I believe having his rehab filmed for television in any way was unethical — it certainly didn’t help him one whit. Mike Starr was clearly not of sound mind to agree to have his rehab exposed to the world. He was nothing but brutal to Jennifer in Sober House and Dr. Drew defended Mike instead of protecting his staff. The responsibility for putting Mike Starr on both of those shows belongs squarely on the shoulders of Dr. Drew Pinsky. He is ethically oathed love his patients more than he loathes his television shows — and that should have meant no Mike Starr on TV.

  • I don’t like some of the ways Dr. Drew handles some things, and my opinion was reaffirmed after speaking with someone he treated. He does ease the detox process in his own way, but afterwards these celebrities are raw, uncomfortable in their own skin but have to feel everything in front of the camera. I have been a fan of Alice In Chains for at least 20 years. It was so obvious that Mike yearned for the spot he had since the band’s creation. He needed a lot more time and intense treatment. I am saddened, but not very surprised that he passed away. If he was mixing methadone and Xanax to achieve it’s “heroin like high,” he was at a very high risk for death. This combo has killed several people I know. We will have to wait for the tox screens for the cause. He is at peace without that chronic disease eating him up day by day.

    • You make some great points, Nansee Anne. I agree that Mike was salvageable, but not in the Dr. Drew television arena. Drew should’ve realized early on, as we did as viewers, that Mike was not of the right mind for the show. Mike’s problems were deep and intensive and he needed a major intervention and isolation in a hospital and not be paraded about on a live-in rehab television program. I’m not blaming Mike’s death on the show — I’m blaming Drew for not treating Mike the right way right from the start to give him the best shot at success — because if Mike had been in the proper treatment program, he might have been better able to later command and control his addiction. Celebrity Rehab and Sober House pretty much guaranteed Mike’s demise would unnecessarily become a public spectacle.

  • Can’t say that I agree. You obviously are not an addict. I am, I get this.

    For one thing these celebrities made a choice to do this show. In some ways I could see it being helpful in the sense that by doing this publicly it would give them a sense of accountability to someone. That is so important in this process.

    When Mike arrived the nurse said he was the most polite patient she has ever had. And he was, mind you he had not detoxed yet. Detoxing brings out the worst, it’s the end of the world at the time, especially heroin and crack. The anger and the violence everyone saw was simply withdraws and feeling feelings that have not been felt for years, or ever.

    I find it personally comforting and inspiring to see these “celebrities” we all have known someway or another, being human. They struggle just like me, and I say Bravo to them for having the courage to do this on TV. It’s not very often people can hit a bottom, and try to get up again and have it to watch, at a later date. Hopefully there will be a day when Charlie Sheen is well and can look back at this year and see how crazy he looked and acted, and remind him to never go there again. I know, bottoms come and go, as time goes on you can forget that things were that bad.

    I believe Mike was truly trying. What I believe most is that he had so much guilt over Layne Staley’s death, that he would have never gotten over that, and he would have been destructive in other ways, had he been able to somehow get a better hold on his addiction. It is soo very hard to learn how to live “properly” and finding out everything you did to live and cope with life is wrong.

    I like Dr. Drew, he’s helped a lot of people in many areas in life, not just addiction. He cannot be accountable to every single one of his patients after they go to live their lives. They were there to get life skills and tools from him, it is up to the individual what they do with that information. He is not a babysitter. Mike Starr being on Celebrity Rehab, if anything, may have kept him here, fighting, a little but longer then if he didn’t go to rehab. Oh and lets be real here, we are not seeing their individual therapy sessions, and not really much of anything else, so their privacy is in tact and the patients share what they want to share with the public. Most addicts want it all out, (if they truly want to get well) tell it all, cause it’s all been a secret for so long, that it’s a releif and a new beginning.

    • Lisa –

      Thanks for the comment, but you’re making a lot of assumptions based on information you cannot know about Mike and his condition.

      Let’s deal with what we actually saw on the show:

      1. Mike threatening staff and camera people on Celebrity Rehab. He should’ve immediately been removed from the program and forcibly hospitalized.

      2. Mike physically threatening staff member Jen on Sober House. He should have immediately been removed from the show. Instead, Dr. Drew basically blamed Jen, brought in another staff member to “help” Jen, and then he let Mike stay without any meaningful punishment for his horrific behavior. What sort of message does that send to the viewing public? The addict is untouchable and the staff are incompetent.

      As I argue in my article, if these “celebrities” are truly addicted — and not “addicted to love” like the silly Rachel Uchitel — then they are not of sound mind and they are incapable of signing any legal contract to appear on the show. And, yet, there they are, on the show, and behaving, not at their peril, but at the producer’s peril and at Dr. Drew’s peril — because the producers and Drew are the parties with the sound minds trying to legally bind an incapacitated person to appearing on a television show.

      Even if these addicted celebrities want to be on the show, the proper thing to do is to turn them down because they are sick and are unable to sign a binding contract in their current state of mind.

  • i ha ve been on methadone oxy and xanax for ten years.i feel like im losing the battle. Somehow imanage to work for money for insurance.im also in the music field.not saying who i played with for privacy. I can only say that mike was in a terrible place and desperate to try anything to get out of his eventually life ending situation.i will say even only knowing people who knew him that he was introvert and sad from laynes death after introducing him to heroine. Even sosynthetic drugs eat you alive but i know only a couple of people who have survived it.as for me.getting the help is hard when your not with the tools you need to do it.money.transportation.family members putting you out of site and mind. God help all us addicts whether due to an auto wreck or experimentation. Jlow

  • I am shocked that the CA Medical Board has not yanked this famewhoring [*****], Drew Pinsky. He is not helpful. He is harmful. Guess he forgot about: First do no harm.

    [Comment edited by David W Boles.]

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