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Neil Strauss Strips the Sheen Off the Celebrity Interview Print-ready version

by Sheila Marikar
ABC News
March 21, 2011

The celebrity profile: often, it's a fluffy piece of journalism, a rose-colored portrait intended to show the star in the best light, lunching at the Ivy, sipping tea at the Plaza Hotel, or playing with their Pomeranians in their penthouse.

But what about the times that the star in question is doing drugs, drinking heavily, and/or getting cuffed by the cops?

In his new book, "Everyone Loves You When You're Dead," Neil Strauss chronicles some of the most candid moments from the more than 1,000 celebrity interviews he's conducted over two decades of writing for outlets like Rolling Stone, Esquire and The New York Times. Beyond the usual backstage Q&As and hotel room suite sit-downs, Strauss details drinks with Paris Hilton, motorcycle lessons with Tom Cruise, and apartment shut-ins with Courtney Love.

"I went back through all the interviews and all the crazy adventures with these celebrities and found the moments of truth where you really saw somebody's soul," Strauss told, "whether it was a moment of insecurity or them getting arrested."

He spent two years culling through recorded transcripts and notes; the stuff that made the cut fills more than 500 pages. That includes Madonna talking about drugs (she's good on morphine, bad on Vicodin), Cruise teaching Strauss principles of Scientology (Strauss called it "a fascinating peek behind the curtain"), and Lady Gaga crying ("She said, 'Some of the things I've been through are so horrific that I have 13-year-olds and 11-year-olds listening to my music and reading about me, and I don't want to put these images in their heads.'")

Strauss has training in making tough subjects open up: he wrote the modern-day Bible on wooing women, "The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists," which taught him how to steer conversations to extract information he wants.

"When I did the Britney Spears interview, it was going so horribly, and she was just giving me one-word answers, so I did some of the 'Game' stuff, taught her about herself, the mind-reading stuff, and it just blew her away. She started jumping around the room saying, 'Oh my God, this is the best interview ever!'" Strauss said. "She made me stop the tape recorder and gushed about all this stuff and at the end of it, we exchanged phone numbers. My friends were all like, 'You've got to call Britney!'"

(Strauss claimed he never called -- journalistic standards and all that.) Below, check out 10 of the most revealing celebrity tidbits from's interview with Strauss and his book.

Madonna on the drugs she took after falling off a horse: "I'm a lot of fun on morphine. At least, I think I am. But I'm not fun on Vicodin. I only tried Vicodin once. I was in a lot of pain, and nothing killed the pain. Not even morphine, to tell you the truth. ... Drugs have a weird effect on me. They do the opposite with me. I just chewed the entire inside of my mouth. I b***hed at everybody. And I was in more pain. It was terrible: the worst experience of my life." (A representative for Madonna told that any drugs the star may have taken "would definitely not have been for recreational purposes.")

Strauss on the meanest star he's ever interviewed: "Joni Mitchell: she's so bitter. She doesn't feel like she's gotten enough credit for her work. She's an icon in music but if you don't compare her to Picasso and Mozart -- that's how she wants it, Picasso, Mozart, Joni Mitchell -- she's not happy. And you see her in the '60s and she just seems like a daffodil."

An 18-year-old Paris Hilton on breast implants and posing for Playboy: "I had a breast job when I was 14, but my mother made me take them out. ... I'm thinking about posting for Playboy. They love famous people's kids. ... And the only reason I'd do it is because when my dad finds out, he'll pay me double the money not to do it."

(A representative for Hilton told, "The claims are totally false. Paris Hilton has never had breast implants." In his introduction to Hilton's quotes, Strauss writes, "Maybe she said what follows for provocation and shock value. Maybe she didn't. You decide.")

A 19-year-old Christina Aguilera on her guardian angel: "I used to see my guardian angel when I was very young. My mom and I were playing hide-and-go-seek one time. I ran up the stairs and my mom was saying, 'I'm going to get you, I'm going to get you.' And all of a sudden, I looked up and stopped dead in my tracks. There was this guy and he was in an all white outfit, just kinda glowing. He was looking down at me. He had a white beard."

Strauss on watching Motley Crue get arrested: "The first time I met Motley Crue, I went back to meet them as the police were getting backstage and I tried to run backstage and beat the police and say, 'Hey guys, you're getting arrested ... Evidently, it happens to them so often that as Tommy Lee and Nikki Sixx were arrested, the singer Vince Neil was still blow drying his hair the whole time like it was nothing."

Hugh Hefner on Viagra: "I think they're underselling Viagra, because it's more than an impotence drug. It's a recreational drug. It eliminates the boundaries between expectation and reality. It permits a level of pleasure that is otherwise just something you hope for. I think it's as important, in its own way, as the birth control pill."

Cher on Hollywood: "Boy, you know, I gotta tell you something, if this business doesn't f**king kill you, then you can just come back and hopefully be the best person you're ever going to be, because it's the only business that eats its young."

Marilyn Manson on how people perceive him: "I have people come up to me and ask if they can cut me while I cut them or if I can put out a cigarette on their face. I can understand that people are trying to make a first impression, but I think that a lot of people think that because in the past I've cut myself, that I'm into sadomasochism and I like to do that to other people. They don't understand it was just an expression of what I was doing onstage. It was a piece of time. They can't comprehend that it's not what Marilyn Manson is about (pauses, reflects). It has to be the right circumstance."

Neil Young on modern musicians: "The pessimistic outlook that bands have today and the angst, this is part of what we created for our children. They're reflecting it back at us, and now we have to live with it. And they have a right to be pessimistic. It's not as easy to grow up now as it was in the '60s. The world is much more dangerous place. There are a lot less dreams being realized."

Nine Inch Nails front man Trent Reznor on longevity, long before winning an Oscar: "When you think about the rock world, there's a window of time where what you do has pertinence and meaning. I hope ten years from now I'm making soundtracks or producing something. I don't want to be putting mud all over myself at the f**king Sands lounge in Las Vegas."

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Added to Library on May 27, 2011. (3734)


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jamesredmond on

What an ornery fluff-wagon, and where one begins with Mr. Strauss, one should end, respectfully. Tape recorders should take out a restraining order on him. He only seems intent on pushing the envelope of his own narcissistic prowess, a whirlpool of consumption, never planting for real sustenance. It's regrettable that he would be able to sustain himself upon heralding tactics by which others may debase their own sense of ethics in order to hope to drag down the condition of others, speaking to the fall of his own integrity and his finding opportunity in the lowered guard for such in others. His choice to peddle tips for crass manipulation for sexual gratification is revealing and sad enough, and he appears only immune to the inherent cost of trust and loss of respect incurred within the larger community, let alone within the individual. He strips away at the foundation of that mutual respect upon which any building of greater harmony between any people would depend, and casually exploits people's reactionary impulses with books like this, skinning personal notoriety off the inherently patchy hand of fame and showing zero compassion for the causes before him. To call him an interviewer of integrity, would be to call Charles Kuralt a wandering hobo. He has obviously willfully blinded himself from the call of his beacon of conscience shining within, and solely for profit and notoriety. I'll lay odds the interview with Mrs. Mitchell was the one of the fairer ones in the book, somewhat safely discerned from solely the above quote, where she found him challenged to speak intelligently of a Picasso or a Mozart, and where he only admits himself unfit to speak, to any scope, overt, nor nuanced, in Mrs. Mitchell's work, thus propelling his twisted looking glass argument, defensive of a pushy ignorance.   [ed.]

scwewyeds on

OK then Britney Spears = Picasso, Courtney Love = Mozart, Paris Hilton = Beethoven, Tom Cruise = Michelangelo.
I get it.