In the days of Errol Flynn and Judy Garland, a celebrity’s addiction was a nuisance to be contained. A celebrity in treatment, however, was a publicity disaster that studios and record labels worked overtime to keep a secret.
Today, that’s no longer the case. A stay in rehab is no longer regarded as a career death knell—rather, it’s viewed as a good sign. Many celebrities who've sought treatment have not only kicked their habits, but have also gotten their careers back in a form that sometimes surpasses anything they accomplished in the past.
Click ahead to see the celebrities whose careers thrived after rehab.
By Daniel Bukszpan, Special to CNBC.com
Posted 3 March 2011
In 1987, Robert Downey Jr. starred in Less Than Zero and won widespread praise for his portrayal of a cocaine addict. Few people knew it at the time, but Downey was already a heavy drug user himself, and by the 1990s his arrests for possession and his stays in treatment facilities became too frequent to ignore, and his once-promising career became unsustainable.
In a 1999 court appearance, the actor stood before a judge and described his ongoing drug use in alarming terms: "It's like I have a loaded gun in my mouth and my finger's on the trigger, and I like the taste of the gunmetal."
After a 2001 stint in treatment, Downey was finally able to remain sober, and he began the long process of earning his way back into the good graces of the film industry. Initially, this meant signing contracts with terms that were less than ideal, as in the case of 2003’s Gothika, for which 40% of his salary was withheld until the movie was completed. However, he proved his reliability and ongoing sobriety, and in the last few years his career has flourished. He was nominated for an Oscar for 2008’s Tropic Thunder, then portrayed the lead character Tony Stark in the blockbuster Iron Man franchise, and also portrayed the lead character in 2009’s Sherlock Holmes.
Drew Barrymore’s career as a beloved child actor started when she appeared in 1982’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial at the age of seven. From there, she was cast in lead roles in major films, such as Irreconcilable Differences and Firestarter, but behind the scenes she engaged in behavior that belied her innocent public image. She started smoking cigarettes at the age of nine, and by the time she was 13, she was smoking marijuana, drinking alcohol, and using cocaine.
Barrymore entered treatment twice by the time she was 14, and fortunately the second stay was successful. After starring in small films and building up a resume, she appeared in 1995’s Boys On The Side, which revitalized her career. By the late 1990s she had established herself as a leading lady in such romantic comedies as The Wedding Singer and Never Been Kissed, and she moved into action blockbuster territory in the Charlie’s Angels franchise.
Guitarist Eric Clapton has been one of the most popular musicians in the world since the 1960s, thanks to his work with Cream, Derek & the Dominos , and his solo career. However, his well-publicized struggles with drugs and alcohol have threatened both his career and his life on numerous occasions. In the 1970s he became a full-fledged heroin addict, and although he eventually beat that addiction, he began drinking heavily instead.
In 1982, he checked into Minnesota’s Hazelden Treatment Center. A newly sober Clapton returned to the charts with 1985’s Behind the Sun and 1986’s August, which featured the hit "It's i n t he Way That You Use It." However, in 1992 he released the single "Tears in Heaven," which peaked on the Billboard chart at number 2, and he followed it with the Unplugged album, which went to number one in the United States and has sold over 10 million copies to date, making it the best-selling album of his career.
U.K. actor Gary Oldman starred in the 1986 film Sid and Nancy, in which he played Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious. It was his breakout performance, and he won accolades from all quarters, even from former Sex Pistol John Lydon, who was not fond of the film. It wasn’t long before Oldman appeared in major roles in high-profile films: Lee Harvey Oswald in 1991’s JFK, and the lead role in 1992’s Dracula.
Oldman’s upward climb could have been cut short by his problems with alcohol, but in 1993 he checked himself into Marworth, an alcoholism treatment facility in Pennsylvania, and he's remained sober in part thanks to regular Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Since completing treatment, he's appeared in both the Harry Potter franchise and in The Dark Knight, which grossed over $1 billion in ticket sales and is one of the top 10 highest-grossing movies of all time.
In the 1970s, the rock group Aerosmith was one of the most popular bands in the world. They produced such hit songs as “Dream On” and “Sweet Emotion,” both of which have been pillars of FM classic rock stations for decades. However, lead singer Steven Tyler’s drug use was the stuff of legend, and by the mid-1980s the problem could no longer be ignored. His bandmates staged an intervention and persuaded him to seek treatment.
Fronted by a newly-sober Tyler, Aerosmith returned in 1987 with the Permanent Vacation album, which sold 5 million copies, and followed it in 1989 with Pump, which sold 7 million copies, making both albums two of the highest-charting of the group’s history. The group has remained consistently popular since, and embarked on a successful world tour in 2010. Tyler is also the newest member of American Idol's judging panel.
Singer David Bowie created several albums during the 1970s that are still considered classics today, such as 1972’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. He achieved mainstream success in the U nited States in 1975 when he released the single “Fame,” which he wrote with John Lennon and which was his first single to top the U.S. charts. However, at the same time he developed a cocaine habit so severe it threatened his life.
Bowie cleaned up in the late 1970s, and in 1980 he released the single “Ashes to Ashes,” which put him back at the top of the U.K. charts. The following year he teamed up with the rock group Queen for the single “Under Pressure,” topping the U.K. charts once again. However, in 1983 he released the Let’s Dance album, which sold over one million copies in both the U.K. and the U.S. The album spawned the single “Let’s Dance,” which topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic.
One of the most ubiquitous character actors in recent memory is Samuel L. Jackson. According to the Los Angeles Times, if one were to add up the box office receipts of every movie he’s been in, the total would be greater than that of any other actor in film history. His prolific resume includes appearances in Jurassic Park and the Star Wars saga, but it might never have happened had his family not checked him into drug treatment for heroin and cocaine addiction, which nearly killed him on more than one occasion.
Immediately after completing treatment, Jackson was cast in the Spike Lee film Jungle Fever as a crack addict, and he won rave reviews for the performance. Now clean and sober, his film career took off and he never looked back. After Jungle Fever he appeared in a string of films including Pulp Fiction, which got him nominated for an Oscar, as well as Die Hard with a Vengeance, and the 2006 cult film Snakes on a Plane. Currently, he is set to appear in two of 2011’s most anticipated superhero films, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger.
Marshall Mathers, better known as the rapper Eminem, had nearly unprecedented success with his second album, 2000’s The Marshall Mathers LP, which sold almost 2 million copies in its first week of release and went on to sell 19 million copies worldwide within 5 years. However, in 2005 the rapper’s busy career came to a sudden halt, and he disappeared from the music scene for two years. It was revealed later that he had entered treatment for an addiction to Ambien.
Eminem re-emerged in 2009 with his first album in five years, Relapse, which sold 5 million copies worldwide. He followed it one year later with the fittingly named Recovery, which debuted at the top of the Billboard charts and sold 3 million copies in the United States inside of five months. The first single from the album, "Not Afraid," also debuted at number 1. The rapper claims that he has stayed sober since leaving treatment, and in a 2009 interview with British TV talk show host Jonathan Ross, he said, "Rap was my drug... Then I had to resort to other things to make me feel that... now rap's getting me high again."
During a recording career that spanned six decades, the late Ray Charles scored hit after hit, starting with 1953’s "Mess Around" when he was 23 years old. However, few people knew the pioneering recording artist had been a heroin addict since the age of 16. He was arrested for possession in 1964, but he avoided jail time by serving five years’ probation and voluntarily committing himself to California’s St. Francis Hospital to get clean.
Once the drugs and legal troubles were behind him, Charles became nothing less than an elder statesman of American music. His version of the jazz standard “Georgia on My Mind” was named the state song of Georgia in 1979, and his 1972 version of “America The Beautiful” has been played at such major sporting events as the Super Bowl and WrestleMania. He also performed at the inaugurations of President Ronald Reagan in 1985 and President Bill Clinton in 1993, and in 2003, he performed at the White House Correspondents Dinner in front of President George W. Bush.
During the 1960s and 1970s, actor Michael Douglas was best known as the son of legendary actor Kirk Douglas. He had starred in his own movies and television shows, and he had produced the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but he still existed in his the long shadow cast by his father. That changed in the 1980s, when he achieved leading man status in his own right in the popular film Fatal Attraction. One year later, he won the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of the tycoon Gordon Gekko in Wall Street.
In 1992, six months after the release of his hit film Basic Instinct, Douglas entered treatment for cocaine and alcohol abuse. If the stint negatively affected his star power in any way, it didn’t show. Not only did he continue releasing popular movies like Falling Down and Disclosure, but he won critical acclaim for his work in the 2000 films Wonder Boys and Traffic, and he revisited the role of Gordon Gekko in 2010’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.
Kelsey Grammer is best known for his portrayal of the psychiatrist Frasier Crane. The character was originally intended to appear in just a few episodes of Cheers, but he was so popular that the character became a regular fixture on the show. Frasier Crane got his own spin-off show soon after, Frasier, and it became one of the most successful spin-off shows in television history. All told, Grammer played the character for 20 years, a record matched only by James Arness, who played lawman Matt Dillon on the series Gunsmoke.
Grammer’s reputation as a gifted comic actor contrasts sharply with his background. His early life was marred by several family tragedies, including the death of his father, and according to a 1993 article in People magazine, the actor began drinking at the age of nine. Problems with drugs and alcohol plagued him into his adult life and culminated in a drunk-driving accident in 1996. After the accident , he entered the Betty Ford clinic, and went right back to work after finishing treatment. In 1999 he provided voice work for 1999’s Toy Story 2, which went on to gross over $485 million, and in 2006 he starred as the mutant Beast in 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, which earned over $459 million worldwide.