Chris Albrecht Blames 2007 Arrest on 'Difficult Relationships With Women' - Not Alcoholism
He also says downplays another run-in with a mistress who once worked for him, saying ‘no one got hurt’ despite $400,000 settlement
In the November issue of GQ, Chris Albrecht breaks his silence about the May 2007 domestic violence arrest that caused him to lose his job as HBO chairman and CEO.
"Have I had a wild and colorful past? Sure," says Albrecht, who took the helm at Starz 10 months ago. "But so much of what's been said about it is wildly exaggerated. In any case, that was a long time ago, and I'm a different guy today."
Albrecht was spotted by two Las Vegas police and a hotel security guard choking his then-girlfriend, 37-year-old Karla Jensen, at the MGM Grand just after 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning. He told them Jensen was "pissing him off." Jensen's neck was red, but she refused medical attention. Albrecht spent 12 hours in jail, which he called "not fun." (He later pleaded no contest to misdemeanor battery, paid a $1,000 fine and went to domestic violence counseling. He still sees a therapist.)
"Violence against anybody is wrong," he says. "I did a dumb thing in Vegas, it lasted three seconds, and the price I paid for it personally, professionally, and financially was enormous."
When news leaked about the fight (which Albrecht heard about after deplaning Time Warner's corporate jet with Jensen), Albrecht called his mom and his daughter, Kate, to call her sister, Tess. Once he returned to L.A., he called his boss, Jeff Bewkes, then Time Warner's president and COO; HBO's communication exec Richard Pleper and a crisis-PR team.
"The idea came up that I would say that I had been drinking and was drunk and fell off the wagon. Jeff said to me that it would soften everything and would help him to keep me," explains Albrecht. "I could not believe I had lost control of myself. And I was, of course, thinking about the embarrassment and the humiliation that would follow… [but] it didn't occur to me that I would lose my job."
On Monday, Albrecht went to work, but left after a few hours. The statement that he was alcoholic was released on Tuesday against the wishes of his two daughters, who didn't believe he had a drinking problem. "I said those things in an effort to help keep my job. I was so ashamed that I just did what anybody told me to do," he says.
But he still had his job… until the Los Angeles Times reported that week that in 1991, Bewkes had signed off on a settlement of at least $400,000 to Sasha Emerson, who was Albrecht's subordinate when he was the head of programming at HBO. The story cited four sources saying Emerson had alleged Albrecht choked and shoved her. Soon after, Deadline's Nikki Finke blogged that Albrecht had been involved in other altercations with women at HBO, "all quietly 'handled' by the cable pay channel." Albrecht was fired.
Albrect says the Times story made his relationship with Emerson sound more brutal than it was. "No one got hurt," he says. (Emerson snipes to GQ: "For him to comment on whether or how I was hurt is colossal hubris.") They were both married at the time. He also denies there were any other settlement. (Still, sources tell GQ that Albrecht would champion women in the workplace, but his interactions with them were often belittling and destructive.)
Albrecht thinks Bewkes should have defended him more: "Jeff could have stood up and said, 'Hey, I was in charge then and I'm in charge now and that's not what happened. Let's wait and see what happens with the Vegas situation.' You could certainly find that under the definition of leadership." (Bewkes did not comment to GQ, but released a statement that he holds Albrecht in "the highest regard.")
Looking back, Albrecht admits he was drinking in Vegas, but wasn't an alcoholic. He'd spent 13 years going to Alcoholics Anonymous, but began drinking again in 2002. "After years of reflection and working with specialists, I have recognized that alcohol is not an issue in my life. What I really needed to get at the heart of was my complicated and often very difficult love relationships with women, "says Albrecht, who spent the GQ interview, conducted in Dublin, drinking whiskey and even consumed a bright green "Liver Cleanser."
He doesn't regret the Vegas arrest that nearly derailed his career.
"I'm certainly sorry for my behavior in Las Vegas," Albrecht says. "But I wouldn't trade where I am now for being that guy at that time… I was still living in a lot of fear, and I think I'm living in a lot less fear now."
Also helping him move on: his 25-year-old fiance, Montana Schillo-Coady, who is 33 years his junior, and whom he proposed to in May with a 7.5-carat engagement ring. (His daughter Kate is 27 -- and has "complicated feelings" about the relationship, Albrecht admits.)
"I feel totally and completely in love," says Albrecht, who plans to dance to Jay-Z's mashup of "Forever Young" at his wedding. "I've experienced this relationship in a way that I've never experienced a relationship with a woman before. I feel like I sort of finally get it."
"There's no growth without conflict," he goes on. "Everybody in life makes mistakes. Where I get really upset with myself is where I make the same one a couple of times, you know?"