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Authors: Bob Forrest

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Running With Monsters: A Memoir

BOOK: Running With Monsters: A Memoir

This is an uncorrected eBook file. Please do not quote for
publication until you check your copy against the finished book.

Copyright © 2013 by Bob Forrest

All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Crown Archetype, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

Crown Archetype with colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available upon request.

ISBN 978-0-770-43598-1
eISBN 978-0-770-43599-8

Printed in the United States of America

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

First Edition


ho am I? That’s a good question. I’m the guy with the horn-rimmed glasses and the hat that you’ve seen on VH1’s popular TV show
Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew
. I’m also known in some circles as “the Junkie Whisperer.” It’s a title I worked hard to earn. I’ve helped addicts from all walks of life and have offered them support, encouragement, and guidance based on my own firsthand experiences as I navigated the stormy seas of my own drug and alcohol dependency. I know the pain and desperation of addiction from the years I spent wasted and from my many futile attempts to get sober. It’s been a strange trip. I started out as a teenage drunkard from the Southern California suburbs and became a sidekick of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and, later, Dr. Drew Pinsky. Now here I am.

Last night, my wife, Sam, and I got into a little argument. About what isn’t important. It was just a typical married couple’s squabble that quickly deteriorated into “You don’t feed the dogs!” and “Well, I feel unappreciated.” Blah blah blah. You get it. Everyone who has ever had a relationship has had those fights. I went into the den—what my precious two-year-old son, Elvis, calls “Daddy’s room”—and I started to think. I thought about my life, what it means, and how I got to where I’m now at. This book has mind-fucked me about a lot of things. It hasn’t been easy to write. In fact, it’s been painful. It hurts to look back over my childhood; my young adulthood; the music career that I threw away; the friends who have come and gone; survivor’s guilt; gossip; stupidity; genius; joy; my older son, Elijah; all the mistakes I made; all the people I have let down; and the drugs. Constantly the drugs. No matter what, always the drugs. I was bound to them forever, I believed. I was never going to stop. There was no way to stop. I had no desire to stop.

Drug addiction has changed since I was young. Back then, there were certain prerequisites for the lifestyle. You read authors like Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and Hunter S. Thompson. You listened to bands like the Velvet Underground and the
Sticky Fingers
–era Rolling Stones. You found out about this lifestyle through the popular culture. There were course requirements to become a drug addict. Of course, only a small percentage of the people who enrolled in those classes actually graduated to the addict life, but they were pretty well versed in what to expect by the time they took that first hit of heroin or cocaine.

But prescription drugs became huge. Today’s addict is fed a steady diet of these medications—which are often prescribed by doctors for so-called legitimate reasons. Later, maybe, these addicts might shift over to heroin because it’s cheaper—and better—but modern-day addicts will often just stick with their prescribed medications and go from doctor to doctor to get more of what they need. OxyContin, Vicodin, Adderall. A whole palette of multicolored pills to bring you up or bring you down. But it’s still the same old drug-addict lifestyle that I knew: the Big Hustle and the Endless Search.

However, I was fortunate enough to experience a miracle. I managed to stop using and my reward was a new life beyond what I or anyone who ever knew me could have envisioned in their wildest dreams. I write this foreword as a completely different and changed human being. My name is still Bob Forrest, but that’s about it. I am square and middle-class, and I live in a tract house in the mundane San Fernando Valley. I am happily married and I have a young child. We go to the zoo and I almost fit in with all the other dads. When I meet parents at my son’s preschool and shake their hands, I think to myself,
If they only knew. Oh, my God, if they only knew who I used to be

What you’re about to read is the story they don’t know. It may seem sensational and a little surreal, but that’s just how it was. Hollywood has always been a crazy place, but it was particularly so in the 1980s and 1990s. If I’m a little fuzzy on the dates, I apologize. I tell time by album releases and popular music. Unless it’s something particularly momentous, I mostly associate the events of my life with what was playing on the radio at the time. But even then, a lot of those years I spent in a walking stupor, so I still may be off a little. It wasn’t like I kept notes. But I did keep it real. And I hope I’ve done that here.

—Bob Forrest

Encino, California, 2013


or a long time, I was angry. Angry at life. Angry at people. Angry at the world. But I wasn’t always like that. The early years of my childhood were ideal. I was like a modern-day Huckleberry Finn, but one whose footloose and carefree Mississippi River had been traded for the burning sun and decomposed granite sands of Southern California’s desert basin.

I was raised in Palm Desert, California, an affluent sister city to the more famous Palm Springs in Riverside County’s Coachella Valley. Back then, in the sixties, it was still semirural. There were vast stretches of unspoiled desert, alive with birds and reptiles, but in town, there were golf courses, tennis and basketball courts, and all the normal amenities of upscale California suburbia: restaurants, bars, shops, and markets. It was an idyllic place for a kid. There was always something to keep me occupied. I had my family around me, my mother and my father, my three sisters, and my aunts and uncles. There was always something going on and our house served as a base of operations for trips to the golf course, motorcycle rides, barbecues, and fishing trips with my dad. I couldn’t have asked for a better childhood. I was the center of the family’s attention and I felt loved. I had a lot of fun. I didn’t know any better. It was an alcoholic household.

The mistake most people make when they conjure an image of the alcoholic household is that they picture it as dark and grim. That’s not completely true. If there’s one thing that most drunks—and addicts—love, it’s music. They can’t live without it. Music keeps the party alive. It keeps it going. The Forrests lived by that motto. In the family room was a huge console hi-fi, its cabinetry a work of art in dark, cherry-stained hardwood. At full volume, you could hear it down the street and the floor and walls of our home would vibrate with the sound pushed out of the speaker grilles. If I stood close enough to one of them, I could feel the air move with each stab of sound. In the den was another, equally big and beautiful stereo rig. Along with those, we kids each had smaller record players in our bedrooms to spin the latest 45s, as well as our little portable transistor radios to catch whatever made the charts on the local Top 40 AM radio stations.

KHJ “Boss Radio” had the wattage to blanket most of Southern California with the station’s signal and featured the “Boss Jocks,” all of whom delivered the hits in rapid-fire teenage patter. I may have been too young to decipher a lot of it, but I somehow sensed that what they were saying was cool. It helped that my sisters loved rock-and-roll music and through them, it became the day-to-day soundtrack for my little kiddie life.

My dad was Idris Forrest, but everyone knew him as Idie. He made a good living and worked out of downtown Los Angeles, where he ran his own sign business, Fudge Neon—named for some nebulous, long-forgotten reason—with his brothers. In those days, there was a huge chain of discount supermarkets called Thriftimart. The stores were ubiquitous throughout Southern California, and each one featured a forty-foot-tall red neon T perched on the roof. You could see those fire-crimson electric beacons from miles away. My dad’s company had the contract to supply the Thriftimart chain with these signature pieces, and Fudge Neon built them and maintained them for the company’s growing empire. Idie would take me with him when he would supervise the crews that installed and maintained them. I remember climbing up the iron ladder that ran up the middle of the T with him when I just a little kid. By the time I was ten, I knew how to bend the delicate glass tubing that held the neon gas that provided the eye-popping color in those signs. In the early sixties, neon advertising was a lucrative business, and it put the Forrest family solidly in the upper middle class and knocking at affluence’s golden door.

While Idie was a fun guy, my mom, Helen, could be kind of a bitch. She was high-strung. Idie loved her, but I don’t think she liked him at all. She believed she could have done better. Before Helen married Idie, she had dated future College Football Hall of Famer Bud Wilkinson, the head coach at the University of Oklahoma from 1947 to 1963. After Bud finished coaching the Sooners, he went on to get involved in Oklahoma Republican politics and was ABC’s lead commentator for the network’s college football coverage before he returned to the field and coached the St. Louis Cardinals for the 1978 and 1979 seasons. He had also served on John F. Kennedy’s President’s Council on Physical Fitness. Bud had an impressive resume, I’ll give him that. Helen followed his career, and I think she always resented that she’d missed out on being the wife of someone famous. I’m sure she blamed it all on my dad.

Because Fudge Neon was located in downtown Los Angeles, during the week, Idie stayed at the other house we owned in nearby Inglewood, and my mom, my three sisters, and I stayed in Palm Desert. But if there was a Dodgers, Lakers, or Rams game scheduled on the weekend, my mom would drive me out to Los Angeles, where my dad and I would catch the action at Dodger Stadium, the Coliseum, or the Forum and then head over to Chinatown for a feed at Hop Louie’s Golden Pagoda, a rickety, templelike structure that served up Cantonese grub. There was always an old guy who wandered the haphazard Chinatown alleys and footways with a hurdy-gurdy and a flea-bitten squirrel monkey that would come and harass you for coins under the brightly colored paper lanterns that hung overhead. There were live-food markets stuffed to the rafters with turtles and frogs and fish writhing around in algae-coated tanks. It was like visiting another planet. We had nothing like it in Palm Desert. Best of all, I got to bond with my dad—in Palm Desert I was trapped in a house full of women. Though that had certain advantages. My sisters helped shaped my early musical tastes.

And when I touch you I feel happy inside.

“Come on, Bobby! Let’s dance!” squealed my sister Jane as she picked me up and twirled me around the room. It was the most joyful sound I had ever heard and we both laughed and spun until we couldn’t stand up. “It’s the Beatles, Bobby!” She was in the grip of that fevered teen condition called Beatlemania and it was contagious. Rock and roll radio pumped out the music all day, but television hadn’t really caught the rock wave yet.

That all changed on February 9, 1964. I was barely a toddler, but I remember the excitement. It was like Christmas, Halloween, and a birthday all wrapped into one as the whole family gathered around the TV set on a winter’s night to enjoy the fine and wholesome variety programming brought directly into America’s living rooms every Sunday by impresario Ed Sullivan. My sisters couldn’t sit still. They bobbed and bounced as they sat on the deep-pile shag carpet as close to the big cabinet that housed the television screen as they could get.

Helen said, “You kids will ruin your eyes!”

The girls answered in unison, “Aw, Mom!”

Then it happened. Sullivan made a stiff introduction and then
“Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you, tomorrow I’ll miss you.”
And with that line, the Forrest living room exploded with girlish squeals and shrieks of delight. “They’re beautiful!” said Jane, tears in her eyes. She grabbed me and bounced me in time with the music and my feet, with not many miles on them, tattooed the floor with each beat.

I’m not sure what Idie and Helen thought. It wasn’t their music at all and it wasn’t aimed at their generation, but they had their own thing with the music of an earlier era. Frank Sinatra and Benny Goodman were particular favorites, and the twin stereos would blast those sounds at their weekend barbecues and get-togethers, where the adults would gather and mix cocktails. I tried to absorb it all. While I could appreciate those records, they didn’t speak to me like rock and roll did.

At first, it was the Beatles. Then came the surf-and-car-culture music of the Beach Boys and the teen-protest, us-against-the-world posture of Sonny and Cher. My sisters were sold on rock and so was I.

Idie, fueled by his booze, could be a character. I was his little buddy. My dad loved to spend money as fast as he made it, and we did all right, especially me. I got what I wanted, mostly. I went to basketball camp every summer, and we had a boat that Idie would use to take me fishing or water-skiing at the Salton Sea. I’d be asleep, and he’d come into my room before the sun was up.

“Get up, Bobby!”

“What?” I’d say as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes.

“We’re going fishing! C’mon, get dressed! Time’s wasting!” he’d say as he clapped his hands for emphasis. I’d fumble with my clothes and we’d pile into the car and head to the Salton Sea, a vast body of water that had been created when the Colorado River jumped its banks during a heavy flood in the early twentieth century and filled an ancient lake bed. Since that time, evaporation, agricultural runoff, and the lake bed itself had given the waters an ever-increasing level of salinity. But there were fish in its salty depths. Corvina, mostly. It was a fun place. In the 1950s and 1960s the area around it had been developed as a resort and there was boating, swimming, hotels, and bars. Now, through years of neglect, it’s nearly a ghost town and an environmental nightmare with huge seasonal fish die-offs and plagues of flies. But back then, with Idie, the Salton Sea was an ideal place for a kid to spend time with his old man.

Idie and Helen liked to drink. Idie especially. He was a naturally gregarious and energetic man, and under the influence he could be a handful. As a businessman and a father, he had to contend with the average day-to-day pressures of a job and a family. He dealt with it by drinking. Booze was his wonder tonic, the magic cure-all for whatever might ail a man. Drinking temporarily freed him from his worldly concerns, so it wasn’t all bad, I guess. I was a just a kid, and to me, it seemed to make him happy. Idie noticed my interest in music and came home one day with a little plywood acoustic guitar. It didn’t sound great, and its stiff steel strings rode high above the fretboard. I didn’t even know how to tune it. I learned a few rudimentary chords from a Mel Bay instructional book, but I didn’t become proficient. Where I shined was when I posed with my six-string machine gun as if I were Elvis or Johnny Cash. I adjusted the strap so that it hung low and cool like a weapon, and then I’d bend a knee and twitch a hip and become a six-year-old rock star, adored by the masses and the envy of my peers. I had a favorite song that inspired this routine: Roger Miller’s “Dang Me.” I loved the twang and Miller’s goofy lyrics. I was obsessed with that song. I fancied I could sing, and I’d belt out Miller’s comically guilt-ridden lyrics in the reedy voice of a prepubescent pipsqueak. Somehow, my act was a hit with family and friends.

“Bobby! Get your guitar and play that song! You know the one I mean!” Idie would say after he’d had a few at one of his barbecues. “Get a load of this kid,” he’d say. I’d scramble to grab my instrument from my bedroom and stand front and center ringed by adults. I’d hit my pose and grab an E chord as best I could. Then I’d launch into a hip-shaking version of the song:

Dang me, dang me, they oughta take a rope and hang me.

When I’d finish the line, I’d mimic Miller’s scat singing and drink in the laughter and applause. It was my first taste of show-business success.

I got a weird, little-kid thrill whenever Idie and Helen would come home late from a night at the local watering hole, the Del Rey. Mom would needle Dad and they’d get into it. Eventually, Idie would have enough and turn his attention to us kids. I could hear him dramatically stomp into my sisters’ rooms and wake them up with a good-natured “What the hell’s going on in here?” The girls would shriek and plead, “Dad, we’re trying to sleep!” but Idie would launch into some nonsensical monologue liberally peppered with swear words. The girls hated it—and my sister Jane says this is the reason why she still can’t sleep well—but it never failed to crack me up. I guess Idie’s humor didn’t translate well to the feminine mind.

As kindergarten loomed, my parents became concerned about the local school district and didn’t particularly want me attending public school in Indio with a bunch of Mexican kids whose parents were farther down the social scale than they were. They thought I might do better with a Catholic school education, so Helen covered the furniture with old sheets to protect it from dust and boarded up the house to await our eventual return and we left to be with my dad in Inglewood, which, in those days, was white—and safe—as milk. Besides providing me with what they thought would be a better education, the move would also save my dad his three-hour commute to the desert to be with us on the weekends.

Idie didn’t change once we were all living together full-time. He was a full-time character. I left the house to go to school one morning and was stopped dead in my tracks by what I saw in the driveway. There, already surrounded by the neighborhood kids, was a golden two-seat sports car. Maybe it was an MG. Maybe it was a Triumph. It was hard to tell since the front end had been reworked. There, in midroar, with a fixed, thousand-yard stare and a frozen tongue, was the skillfully preserved head of what had once been a living, breathing African lion. It really was a testament to both the taxidermist’s and the auto body worker’s art. It had been painted gold to match the rest of the car. It was the weirdest fucking thing I had ever seen, but also the coolest. Idie had been out drinking the night before and overheard some guy who boasted about his custom car. Idie chatted him up and went out to the lot to have a look at it. After he saw the one-of-a-kind creation, and with several drinks in him, he had to have it, so he bought it on the spot. Helen wasn’t happy about it.

“What the heck is that … thing?” she asked.

“Baby, it’s custom. There isn’t another one like it anywhere!” he said.

“It’s hideous,” she said. “And it’s impractical. There’s only room for two in it.”

“Well, we still have the station wagon for you to haul the kids in … but this has a real lion’s head right on the front! I’ll have to see if I can get a horn that roars.”

“It’s ridiculous,” said Helen.

She may have hated it, but I dug it. The kids in the neighborhood were impressed and I basked in the reflected glory of being the son of the guy who had a car with a real lion’s head on it. You didn’t see stuff like that in sixties suburbia. Not in Inglewood. Not in Palm Desert, where our other house sat idle. Probably not anywhere. And it had a radio, which I was allowed to control whenever I’d ride with Dad. The hits never stopped. Thanks to the AM radio of the day, I was constantly exposed to a wide variety of music. For anybody who didn’t experience it, Top 40 AM radio of the sixties and early seventies was like nothing that’s followed since. Stations played the best of everything in every genre. You’d hear poppy British Invasion stuff followed by James Brown’s haunted screams followed by some twangy Jerry Reed country followed by jangly California folk rock followed by Carole King followed by who knows what. And on and on it went for twenty-four hours a day, only broken by the staccato ads for Clearasil, Marlboro cigarettes, local auto dealers, and the rest of the things that teens and young adults couldn’t live without. Now radio’s dominated by format and you get the best of nothing … or you get talk. The commercials are pretty much the same.

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