Howard Stern's radio sidekick, the brilliant Artie Lange, was at the pinnacle of his success when, last year, he repeatedly stabbed himself in the gut with a foot-long knife. We search his life for an explanation and cure.
The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, February 12, 2011. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.
What's Wrong with Artie Lange? Father Overattachment Theory
Artie Lange was the on-air radio sidekick to Howard Stern, as well as appearing in movies and TV, and having a highly successful stand-up career. Lange is brilliantly funny, and has had every addiction known to man - alcohol, heroin, cocaine, gambling, food. Lang made the transition with Stern from broadcast to satellite radio until, last year, he attempted suicide by repeatedly stabbing himself in the stomach with a foot-long kitchen knife.
Lange's addictions and mental state were a constant subject for conversation on Stern's show. Some months before his suicide attempt, however, Lange revealed that he had quit drinking and drugs, had lost 45 pounds, and planned to lose more. Since his attempt to end his life, Lange has spent time in a psychiatric ward. He has made a few comedy appearances - but his Website lists no future appearances scheduled.
The on-air Lange steadfastly refused to cooperate with treatment - even to see a shrink (although he was repeatedly induced - forced - to do so). So I return to his 2008 best seller, Too Fat to Fish, to search for clues about why Lange hates himself so much, even as fans, family, and friends love him dearly.
Lange's memoir embodies his life narrative, which is this: he had a highly unique working-class Italian father with whom he was uncommonly close. His dad, who installed rooftop antennas, fell off a roof and was paralyzed until his death several years later, after which Lange went off the deep end for three decades.
Here is how Lange describes these events, in five vignettes:
Lange's father scored tickets to the 1977 Yankees World Series, the sixth and final game of which, on October 18, was the time-immemorial epic in which Reggie Jackson hit three consecutive first-pitch home runs off three different pitchers, the last of which cleared the farthest part of the outfield. At the end of the game, Lange's dad came up with the plan to throw him onto the heavily guarded field (Lange was 10) and pick him up after the field cleared.
"To this day, I have never been as happy as I was at that moment. I think that deep down, subconsciously, I have been chasing that feeling ever since. That type of rush, the kind that overcomes every bit of your being, is the same rush you get when you first chase money and gamble. And heroin?"
"That night was the pinnacle of my childhood, and I am so thankful to have shared that moment with my father. Exactly eight years later, on October 18, 1985, my childhood and the carefree part of my life officially ended. On the eighth anniversary of that day, my father fell off of a roof while installing an antenna and became a quadriplegic for the rest of his life."
"October 18, 1985 was the day of my dad's accident and my very last day at Seton Hall. From that moment until his death, I dealt with my guilt [for not being there to help his father] by engaging in every piece of shitty, self-destructive, self-pitying Wah! Wah! Wah! type of behavior there is. . . .Drinking, drugging, gambling, and bar fights that led to arrests became my everyday routine."
"(At his father's death): I wasn't going to open my eyes until I remembered him the way he was when I first got to know him. . . .if it ever gets really bad, I've got a pretty simple, always reliable solution. If I want to stop crying and start laughing, all I need to do is recall October 18, 1977."
Was Lange's attachment to his father healthy? Why did it pervade his existence through his forties? Was that healthy? How might he overcome this emotional memory, which carries with it feelings of incalculable loss and misery, guilt and failure, of never being able to be happy again, which Lange then guarantees through his behavior?
My approach: To detach Lange emotionally from this experience by allowing him to savor his time with his father, but to engage in his present value as a human being. Easy to say, tough to do - I know.
Here is what I wouldn't do: Convince Lange he has an inbred disease. Indeed, Lange has himself come to an experiential understanding of his plight that is light years beyond the primitive disease-infestation approach. It is only possible for him to emerge from this experience by accepting, building on, and exceeding its reality.
Also not helpful: Lange's Website, which pictures him in his most unnattractive moments, and Howard Stern's introduction to Too Fat to Fish. I admire Stern and find him a talented and caring man. But after he describes his love and admiration for Artie, he then wholesales pictures of Lange at his most unattractive, addicted, and self-loathing. Which is why the show is probably not good for him, even though I believe in occupational therapy.