Dr. Drew: 'I'm Not Addicted to Fame'

6:03 PM PST 04/03/2011 by Shirley Halperin
Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic/Getty Images

With a new HLN show set to premiere tonight, Dr. Drew Pinsky talks about his growing media empire, defends his assessment of celebrities like Lindsay Lohan and explains why his presence is needed on TV.

Dr. Drew Pinsky premieres his new HLN talk show tonight, adding another arm to his already flourishing media empire which includes a syndicated radio call-in show ("Loveline," broadcast from Los Angeles rock station KROQ), the VH1 reality hit Celebrity Rehab and a forthcoming daytime program (Lifechangers on the CW, slated to air in September). Throw in appearances on every form of gab fest, and soon enough, Dr. Drew will be almost as inescapable as Ryan Seacrest -- no small feat. But dig deeper, as he does on a daily basis when helping his patients battle their addictions, and you soon learn that it’s not about fame or fortune, though Dr. Drew does have an agenda, as he tells THR

The Hollywood Reporter: Between your medical practice and all the TV work, we count five jobs. Is there a business plan in play for Dr. Drew, Inc.?

Dr. Drew Pinsky: There's never been a blueprint, I just keep exploring doors as they open. But whenever people would ask me what’s my favorite thing to do, it was sitting in for Larry King. So the next phase is HLN and having the opportunity to do that kind of show, I'm very excited about. I hope we can create programming that makes a difference.

THR: How will the HLN show work? 

Pinsky: It looks at the people at the center of the story of the day and what is in the human experience. So dismantling why Charlie Sheen does what he does but really looking at it from different angles, be it a panel or people who have experienced or treated this kind of subject themselves. 

THR: You’ve gotten some flak before for presenting a diagnosis of celebrities who you weren’t treating, including Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan, who tweeted "I thought REAL doctors talked to patients in offices behind closed doors." Does that concern you going into a show based largely around opinion? 

Pinsky: It’s bizarre to me that you can have political commentators, sports commentators, weather commentators, but with medicine, people go, "You can't do that." It’s like, if you show me a picture of a rash, I don't have to know the person to tell you what that rash is. There are lots of medical conditions that you can diagnose never having met the person. Soon enough, we’ll have telemedicine and do it through the internet -- that's the future. You can educate people about politics, criminality, the law, but not about medicine? It's just silly…. I really don't want to hurt anybody, but to say the truth and to offer words that might be helpful in understanding what some of these conditions are. I can't see any reason not to do that. That's changing things for the better. 

THR: To that end, there’s Celebrity Rehab, which just wrapped its fifth season featuring patients Sean Young, Michael Lohan, Bai Ling and Amy Fisher. What’s the most gratifying part of that show for you? 

Pinsky: The experience we all share and the outcomes, which have been remarkable in a way I never could have predicted. Taking unmotivated people -- maybe marginally motivated to get on TV and make money – and ending up with a group that values and is changed by the treatment process and wants to share it with other people. Bai Ling grabbed me [on the night we wrapped] and said, "We have to go to China. We have to help people." She was one of the most resistant patients we've ever had. It was amazing.

THR: And then you have Mike Starr... 

Pinsky: Mike Starr was a very sick guy. He was doing well, then he left and went to Utah against our recommendations. I spoke to him maybe a week before he died and he started talking about his back pain. I said, "Mike, whatever you do, don't see doctors." And he did, they gave him pills and that was that. It's very sad. But that's how all of my patients die today, by my peers giving them meds and not understand what this thing is: addiction. 

THR: With the rehab success rate at around 20 percent, what about the notion that by offering these addicts $50,000 to participate, you’re essentially the biggest enabler in town? 

Pinsky: That's the whole point. We start with people who are motivated to get paid and be on TV, and we end up with people who have been transformed by the experience and go on to embrace sobriety. If they relapse, like most of my patients do, we continue to support and treat them. I’m thrilled that five out the eight [Celebrity Rehab cast members] showed up for after-care, and two more committed to coming back. 

THR: Some might say you’re addicted to fame… 

Pinsky: I could take it or leave it. I was very resistant to being on television… I never wanted it to interfere with my day job. Then in about 1998 I realized that I've had these amazing opportunities and that maybe I should use TV to change the culture, so I spent the next 10 years shrinking my medical practice and developing partnerships where I could flexibly move around. And I've spent the past two to three years really focusing on TV and radio. That's the next stage of my career, if it involves a public life or fame, so be it. I don't know any other way of doing it, frankly. I'm not addicted to it – it’s just my job now. 

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THR: But you’re entering Ryan Seacrest territory, where you become sort of omnipresent… 

Pinsky: Ryan Seacrest is a very successful guy who’s good at his craft, does that mean he's addicted to fame? He does a great job. But that's the thing -- it's a job. I'm climbing into a vehicle that has a powerful influence on our culture. I'd like to make it do something good. The media is populated with attorneys, psychologists and pundits but there are only three physicians: me, Dr. Oz and Sanjay Gupta. We are the only MDs who practice medicine and have board certifications in one or two fields. That's it. We need more physicians on air. We understand the human being, experience and condition, and we need to be using media to deliver that. We cannot be afraid to entertain. Experiential phenomenon that entertains, educates. It changes peoples’ ideas and culture. I believe that strongly. 

THR: On the other hand, the media builds you up and then it knocks you down. 

Pinsky: That's true. I have a little theory about that, too. It's clearly envy. It's bringing people down to your size. It's a narcissistic impulse that didn’t used to exist, but we've become increasingly narcissistic as a society, and envy is one of those outcomes.

THR: You published a book based on your study of narcissism. Dozens of celebrities took the test, how did you score?

Pinsky: I got an average score. But like Howard Stern, before I started treatment, it probably would have been higher. 

THR: Do you disconnect easily? If you don't have access to Twitter for a day, do you freak out? 

Pinsky: Not at all. I can go down to zero fast. And I'm not a Twitter fan. I do it because I feel responsible to the two million people that follow me, but Twitter to me is just another thing I have do. And it's mostly a place for people to attack and abuse you. I don't really get much out of it, personally. I get hundreds of demands to answer the kind of medical questions that require three years of treatment to assess, yet people are furious when I don't solve their problems in 140 characters. It's really stunning. 

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