This story first appeared in the May 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
"We have three billionaires with us right now, and no one's complaining," says Justin Carroll, co-founder of One80Center, a luxury rehabilitation company in Los Angeles, as he bounds along on a recent afternoon tour of its posh properties. Nestled in Laurel Canyon, a building formerly known as the Lookout Mountain Air Force Station -- where a top-secret film unit was once tasked with documenting nuclear tests in the Pacific and Nevada -- is being converted into yet another treatment sanctum amid the area's burgeoning "Addiction Alps."
Carroll, 48, the English-Irish son of a diplomat, is a former soap star (David Hastings on Passions) and addict, now clean years after multiple stints in rehab. He and his partners, One80Center CEO Alex Shohet and Shohet's wife, clinical director Bernadine Fried, believe that they're about to open Hollywood's ultimate rehabilitation refuge. "You can't force them to recover," he says. "You have to conspire." The loftlike, 100,000-square-foot complex, painted bright white inside and out, will feature a pool, screening room, "Soho House-type" lounge "for the sober community," bells-and-whistles gym ("we want it to be Equinox-level"), auditorium ("for TED-like events") and even editing suites ("we'll have Pro Tools and Final Cut"). But wait, there's more: One80Center -- which has locations in Elizabeth Taylor's former estate above Beverly Hills and on a lush spread (where Harry Houdini is rumored to have lived) that boasts a $7,000 monthly gardening bill -- is installing a state-of-the-art recording studio to be named Recovery Vinyl. "It's going to look like the hall of fame once we have our friends sign the walls," says Carroll. "It will also be the only one in the business that doesn't smell of pot." With all of the deluxe upgrades, One80Center leaps beyond the by-now-quotidian Four Seasons aesthetic of the rest of the pack with the calculatedly hip vibe of a boutique hotel.
Welcome to the latest round in L.A.'s highly competitive high-end rehab wars. Price is no object for their crisis-driven clientele who never stay far out of the news, whether it's a celebrity vet like Lindsay Lohan mandated by a judge to return to the circuit or a famously addled rocker like Ozzy Osbourne announcing that he's fallen off the wagon yet again.
Luxury rehabs, clustered mostly along an archipelago of Malibu mansions and first birthed 25 years ago this past February by progenitor Promises -- whose A-list alumni include Ben Affleck, Robert Downey Jr., Britney Spears and Charlie Sheen -- has expanded in the past decade to roughly a dozen like-minded facilities, some offering rooms costing as much as $90,000 a month. Yet while high-end rehab has become an inextricable fact of show business life, most people know little about what such treatment, which is only loosely regulated, consists of. Nor how much more effective the luxury approach might be than that offered at such cut-rate in-town options as Cri-Help, Clare and Friendly House. Russell Brand even started his own nonprofit, no-cost program, Freehab, which received community development funds April 17 from the Los Angeles City Council to renovate and expand an existing 88-bed facility in the less-than-glam eastern San Fernando Valley.
By contrast, many high-end treatment centers have a predilection for unproven holistic methods (yoga, equine therapy) and extended stays (sometimes three months or longer). "These places try to get ahead of each other with holistic approaches," says Anne Fletcher, author of Inside Rehab: The Surprising Truth About Addiction. "A lot of them claim to be science-based; they're not. The reality is, if you stay at a rehab overnight, 24 hours is a long amount of time. They have to fill a day."
L.A.'s top-tier centers have come to specialize in industry cases -- always called "clients," never "patients" -- be they high-profile actors, producers or executives, whose distinctive issues range from out-of-control egos to enabling entourages. "When people come in here, they've often been 'yes'd' nearly to death," says Susan Winston, a therapist at Prominence. This population comprises between 10 percent and 30 percent of their customer base. But a sizable quotient of customers is drawn from a middle- and upper-middle-class demo that relies on insurance (which covers a portion of the cost, at best), loans and money taken out of mortgages.
The famous, of course, are the luxury rehabs' metier. Although the facilities make strenuous protestations about privacy, they benefit in national brand recognition when reports surface of a celebrity's visit, whether a David Hasselhoff at Passages or even a Brooke Mueller at The Canyon. This is because those researching rehabs are often low-information consumers, put in the spot of having to make a quick decision. A star's stay becomes an implicit endorsement.
How the star ends up at a particular treatment center also can be born out of expediency, not careful research -- especially when it's a contract forcing the issue and the celebrity's legal team has gotten involved. "By the time [it's the] lawyer," observes Cliffside owner Richard Taite, "you are doing crisis management. Something went very wrong, and this is the way to fix it." Adds a top entertainment attorney: "People at that point are less concerned with the clinical quality than in making sure they've put a lid on a problem. It's not an uncommon tactic when someone's facing a criminal charge, or they've just done something stupid or embarrassing publicly, like using some slur. If you're really serious about getting well, you go to [traditional places like] Hazelden or the Betty Ford Center." (Liza Minnelli and Ally Sheedy are alums of the former, Tony Curtis and Jerry Lee Lewis the latter; both facilities are known for being well-manicured but not tony.)
So why the need for luxury? Proponents of the high-end rehab scene say that their affluent clientele often would avoid treatment if opulent options didn't exist, since those accustomed to luxury are loath to give it up. Says Sherri Lewis, a 20-year veteran counselor and sober companion who's worked at several of the Malibu treatment centers: "You have to meet people where they're at if they come from backgrounds of privilege."
For the affluent crowd, the relative unrestrictedness of these costly programs proves just as appealing. At lower-cost, more spartan counterparts, the approach is arguably somewhat punitive (if modest enforced cleaning chores like sweeping are considered punitive) and the treatments far more regimented -- or, in the parlance of the high-end rehabs, less "individualized." Within the luxury treatment centers, clients -- when not doing one-on-one or group meetings or completing personalized homework -- can often hang out on-site with approved visitors for hours on end. And, following the first few days of intense lockdown, they're allowed to leave the premises as long as a staffer accompanies them. (As one rehab employee notes: "After a week, they're going for retail therapy over at the boutiques in the Palisades. But at least they're off the Xanax.")