Guts: The Endless Follies and Tiny Triumphs of a Giant Disaster, a gritty new memoir by actress Kristen Johnston, dispels any lingering notion that the hard partying life of a celeb is glamorous. Instead, Johnston, the zany Amazonian blonde who won two Emmys for her role as Sally on the comedy series 3 rd Rock From the Sun, describes a secret existence of guzzling red wine, popping Vicodin, and passing out on the couch. Johnston recently said in an interview with The Fix, "I am sick of the fact that people think its just actors or Whitney Houston. It is your neighbor, it's your postman, it's your son, it's your daughter." Nonetheless, her story recalls other stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Heath Ledger, Alexander McQueen, and Amy Winehouse, who were snuffed out by drugs and booze while utterly-no doubt miserably-alone.
Johnston's own death trip came to a screeching halt in 2006 when her stomach (her "guts") ruptured after a performance in a play showing in London's West End. She had developed a painkiller addiction and was feeding her habit by downing handfuls of over-the-counter aspirin with codeine. "I discovered (after much experimentation) that if I took forty to fifty pills a day, I'd be just fine. I was almost proud of myself. I'm like the Nancy Drew of painkillers." Before sedating her for emergency surgery, Johnson's doctors told her point blank that she might not pull through.
Two months and sixty-five pounds later, a skeletal Johnston returned to the United States. Still not ready to come clean about her addiction, the tabloids proclaimed that she had become anorexic in a desperate bid to reboot her television career. Eventually, a terse and brutally honest e-mail from an old friend sent her to rehab. She started telling the truth and writes, "It was the moment I was finally brave enough to face my biggest nightmare, revealing the hideous, revolting monster I had tried so desperately to hide from people my whole life. Me. The real me."
Guts follows a well-trodden path from adolescent "freak" (Johnston hit six feet in sixth grade), to funny girl, to falling over at parties. What's different is her refusal to pity herself or romanticize her life. With a hard-boiled language and a hefty dose of self-deprecating humor, Johnston is the big sister who has "been there, done that" and survived to tell the tale. Being "pill-popping lush" wasn't pretty, and nor is recovery. She sums it up in a quote borrowed from an addiction specialist, "If pushing a peanut up a hill with your nose keeps you sober, well, then just push a peanut up a hill with your nose."
Johnston is currently starring in the TV Land show "The Exes." She is one of the founding members of SLAM (Sobriety, Learning and Motivation) a non-profit organization that aims to create New York's first sober high school. Her memoir Guts is available in hardcover on March 13.