Confessions of a G-List Celebrity: Part 5 — ‘Rick James Was Right’

By November 9, 2015
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Don’t miss Confessions of a G-List Celebrity Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4. 

It was 11am on a beautiful Saturday in Century City, California, I was sitting at a table surrounded by several adoring Scottish Buffy fans. My mother was sitting next to me, beaming with pride as her son basked in his brush with celebrity. I smiled. I laughed. I tried with all my might NOT to vomit in my mother’s lap.

Twelve hours earlier I had decided that it would be a good idea to try cocaine for the first time. In case you were wondering, it was not a good idea. At all. In any way, shape, or white powdered form.

If you haven’t been able to tell from the previous four posts (Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4), I am not a man of moderation. My mantra, especially at that time, was “hey, if a little bit is good… then a metric shit-ton must be AWESOME!!!” That applied to booze, attention, women, and apparently, Bolivian Booger Sugar.

The night had started off just like any other night at a con, only this one was WAY different. It was actually being held in Los Angeles. At a very swanky hotel. I remember rubbing elbows with Alexis Denishof and Drew Goddard, I think I actually met Christina Hendricks who, you know, wasn’t CHRISTINA HENDRICKS yet… she was just another Whedon alum hanging out sipping free drinks at a cocktail party. I remember getting into a conversation about drugs… mostly, how I hadn’t really done any. Which most people found odd considering my ability to double fist alcohol at a rate that made both my Irish AND German ancestry proud.

But aside from trying pot a few times in my 20’s and having JUST done ecstasy for the first time a month prior, I had never really done any drugs. Booze was just easier. I remember a time in college that some friends and I had decided we were going to get high for the first time. We called every “stoner” we knew, which was like, four. I went to Texas A&M University in the first half of the 1990s – it was, and is, a notoriously conservative school. I knew an ass load of professional binge drinkers but very few stoners. We couldn’t find any pot! So… we drank Old Milwaukee Light until we passed out while watching “90210”. Good times.

Anyway, during this conversation I mentioned that I thought it would be a super BAD idea for me to do cocaine. I was already “high strung” enough as it was. “Could you imagine me on cocaine?!” To which the people I was talking to laughed and shook their heads. A few minutes later one of them asked “Hey, you wanna’ do some cocaine?”


Ten minutes later I was in a hotel room with a fellow Buffy actor, another actor’s manager and a pile of cocaine. I was nervous, but just drunk enough that it didn’t matter. See, for me, when I drink, I have what I call my “Fuck It Switch” – this imaginary red cartoon switch in the rational portion of my brain that, when in the off position, allows me to make perfectly reasonable decisions.

“You wanna’ do some cocaine?”

“No thank you. My mother, wife and child will be here in the morning to hang out with me all day. That would be a very bad idea. Thank you for a wonderful conversation, I’m going to drink some water and go to bed now.”

But when in the “on” position, boy, there was no telling the amount of bad idea, jack-assery I could accomplish. Back then it was tripped after, oh, about 4 or 5 beers… or two shots. Or 6 beers and a shot. Or 3 shots and a couple of pints. Or a Jager Bomb and a… you get the point. And once in the “on” position, my “Fuck It Switch” was dangerous, and nearly impossible to flip back. Hence, me ignoring all common sense and using a rolled up twenty dollar bill to inhale lines of white powder stimulant into my nasal passages. In the words of Ron Burgundy “It stings the nostrils.” And then… well… the night kinda’ turned into this weird funhouse of images, almost like watching a DVD on x8 fast forward.

image3I remember a tremendous amount of talking. LOTS more drinking. Running up and down the halls of this massive hotel – going from one room party where I would pound beers, then running back to the other room to do more cocaine like some kind of twisted, .gif loop. A shower with two members of the opposite sex was involved, as was running into a crowded room party, buck naked, to grab condoms off the coffee table. Then everything just spinning and spinning and spinning…

Until I was woken up by a friend at 8:30am. Somehow I’d managed to actually make it back to my room. And my friend brought me a croissant, some coffee and helped me shower and get dressed so I could meet my family in the lobby by 9:30.

I remember standing at the bar, which thankfully was open, and sucking down a double cranberry and vodka to quiet my trembling hands and silence the incessant pounding behind my eyes, and having a vague feeling that I had crossed a line of no return. An imaginary Rubicon in my mind from which I could no longer pull back. Up until then, while my behavior had been pretty shitty at cons, I had always been able to pull it together when I got home. To dry out, get back to normal, and go about my life in a somewhat respectable fashion. And, I always managed to somehow justify to myself by saying “Well, you were out of town. At least you don’t do this stuff at home. It’s special circumstances.” (drunks are very good at justifying selfish behavior).

After that particular night the slope of my decline got gradually steeper. My “Fuck It Switch” seemed perpetually at half mast – ready to be flipped at the slightest provocation. Fight with the wife? Fuck it. Don’t book a commercial? Fuck it. Book a commercial? Fuck it. Get stuck at too many red lights? Fuck it. Getting closer and closer together until it was all just one big “Fuck It” for the next 8 years until I found myself at the bottom of a very deep, dark hole that “Fuck It” was all to happy to help dig.

I was in the middle of a painful divorce, I was 40lbs overweight, drinking myself into blackout sleep every night, racking up debt faster than a Bush/Cheney war, and I couldn’t see how it was ever going to stop. I was depressed and full of self pity and anger. As I’ve written about before, I had my last drink on August 30th, 2013 and after the first two weeks of withdrawal hell was over I was finally able to see where I was (and WHO I was). And I didn’t like who I was one teeny tiny bit. Surprisingly, the depression wasn’t there anymore — drunks love to talk about how they drink ‘cause they are depressed — shocking how fast depression clears up when you stop consuming gallons of a central nervous system depressant on a daily basis. Drunks (myself included) drink ‘cause they are drunks. Period. But the self-pity and anger hadn’t gone anywhere and I now no longer had my coping mechanism to deal with it.

Two things happened at this time. I took an improv class, and… I got invited to a convention. Again, I’ve written about how important improv and performing has been to my recovery… but, equally so, has been getting back out onto the convention circuit.

My first show “back” was Alamo City Comic Con in 2013. I put “back” in quotations because, I never really took an official hiatus from cons. I was a guest at Wizard World in Austin in 2010, Wizard World New Orleans 2011 (good god, I was a train wreck at that show), and Wizard World Austin again in 2011 – where I judged a costume competition so drunk that the MC had to pull me aside because I was being an ASSHOLE. If you were at that competition, especially as a contestant, I’d like to officially say how sorry I am; there is a fine line between funny and mean – and I jumped all the way the fuck over it. And there was Wizard World New Orleans again in 2012 – I was an even bigger train wreck, but trying to hide it… and failed – so, I really didn’t take that much time “off.” But it felt like I had been away for a decade.

I was scared and nervous and excited all at the same time. I was scared because I was barely 3 months sober and very worried that the con would be a trigger (I brought a trusted friend with me who was by my side 24/7), nervous because would anyone still care that I had done 8 episodes of a show that had been off the air for a decade (I didn’t want to be the guy hawking pictures of himself from 15 years ago like some kind of used car salesman), and excited because… sometimes you get a chance to do it right, to try and make up for all the craziness and self indulgent man-child posturing and flat out horrible behavior, and this was my chance. It was a great weekend. I reconnected with old friends. Met new fans. And, while it was not the hectic madhouse of say a con in 2004, I signed some autographs and posed for some pictures. People did indeed still care.

My most recent convention was just a few weeks ago in Lafayette, Louisiana. My Friday night consisted of me eating a gloriously mediocre ribeye steak at The Cracker Barrell by myself and taking ridiculous selfies with various ‘tchotchkes’ in their gift shop. I then bought a pint of over priced Haggen Daas ice cream in the hotel which I ate while watching “Forensics Files” until 1am. Then I got up, had a wacky Uber ride to go do CrossFit where I tried to keep up with a bunch of muscle bound 20 year olds and hurt my shoulder. Even sober, my ego kicks my ass. Finally, I spent the weekend meeting appreciative fans who were just happy to have a “celebrity” (G-List or otherwise) come to their city.

The only regret I had was NOT eating more gumbo… and THAT is a regret I can live with. Damn, now I want gumbo… ALL OF THE GUMBO.

James Leary
James C. Leary’s television credits include a two-year stint as Clem, the loose-skinned demon on the critically acclaimed hit Buffy the Vampire Slayer starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. James turned the original five-line part at the beginning of season six into a regular recurring role and was soon a fan favorite. He also had roles in HBO’s The Comeback, with Lisa Kudrow, and NBC’s Passions. James is an active member of the Austin Improv community and most recently starred in the B. Iden Payne award nominated Late Night Time Machine with Teddy Hancox. You can reach him here:
  • David Johnson

    Coke’s was My drug of choice for the 80s (Start to finish), never cost Me money because I’d buy volume & sell part. Worked the Oil patch through the Rockies, to the Midwest, to the Deep South, with a Miami connection that we’d take turns visiting. Never missed work & hardly ever did it at work, when We meet ask Me about 2 full little brown coke bottle caps then driving a HUGE Ford truck with 3/4 million dollars of electronics equipment down the side of a mountain; it was that or roll it down the side of a mountain. About a year after My 2nd coke intervention I quit, & 2 weeks after that some bikers I knew dumped a 1/4 ounce on my glass coffee table AND I SAID “no thanks”, you don’t yell at strung out bikers. Glad You found Your Path & I’m loving Your Social Media Affirmation, Thanks.

    • James Leary

      Damn, son.

      • David Johnson

        I’ve started My book (sort of Hunter S Thompsonish), but its only the Light Side maybe a little Gray Side, As You know there’s always a Dark Side!

  • Lorethiel

    Wonderful as always! The 2004 picture helps illustrate the story so much.

    • James Leary

      Ha. Yeah… I look at the main photo which I think was from NO in 2011…Oh, man, I look rough… really really rough…

  • Kyle Lawrence

    Holy shit, Jimmy! You must have the most interesting shares at AA meetings.