Hot damn. Allen Salkin — the Seymour Hersh of the Sunday Styles section — hit the nail on the head this time. Salkin reviewed/profiled the DJ AM docu-show about addiction, and got some quotes. It's a teary, compelling affair.
We know the story: a talented, well-regarded guy by plenty of people in Hollywood, DJ AM (ne Adam Goldstein), died of a drug overdose after a life spent fighting addiction. Compounded by the physical and emotional stress of a plane crash he was in with his touring partner Travis Barker, AM started to buckle while filming a reality show for MTV, and was found a few weeks later having died of an overdose. I'm actually pretty impressed that the New York Times is even willing to make this suggestion. It's a meta take, but an obvious one: a star with pop culture appeal is approached to do a show about addiction, a compelling subject and one he's been in close proximity to. He goes through with the show, and dies a few weeks later. At this point, it's pretty obvious that it's not a question of "Did the show contribute to his death?" so much as "What did the show contribute to his death?"
It sounded like a stunt jump. There's the anecdote about AM having to hold the crack pipe in his hands, getting sweaty over it, and having to hand it over. It sounded like a disingenuous rumor on the first read. Well, I read it wrong:
In one episode, Mr. Goldstein picks up a crack pipe. Ms. Hickman [an intervention expert] said it was clear he was wrestling with the tug of his own addictions. "As soon as the cameras stopped, he put it down," she said. "He had a moment holding that crack pipe, and he had to talk about it. He spoke to his sponsor. He made program calls."
Salkin notes that the clip of that scene on MTV's website was removed, and a reference to it scrubbed from one of the pages. As it turns out, MTV's currently "looking into revising its policies about vetting" according to MTV exec Tony DiSanto. Given the Ryan Jenkins murder-suicide and, well, this thing we're reading about today, yeah: it might be wise for MTV to start re-evaluating their safety checks as they move forward in making TV shows about people who drink themselves braindead in hot tubs filled with gonorrhea. To start. As for DJ AM, who knows: he was having a bad go of it for a while. Putting him in contact with addicts and drugs obviously wasn't healthy for the guy. And this doesn't look good, either:
MTV included a dedication to Mr. Goldstein at the start of the show and an "In Memory of" title at the end, but it did nothing to inform viewers that the host had died of a drug overdose.
We can just say it: MTV should've been more aware of this. On the other side of it, who sees some of these things coming? Nobody.
But—and a very important "but"—Salkin finishes with a nice payoff that complicates the issue further. I'll let you read it, but it's the kind of thing that mangles this story into too many different pieces to put any kind of score on. Can Reality TV actually be good for people? As Intervention's proven, there's an audience for watching people recover from drugs (it's agonizing for me to watch), and it can sometimes work. It's just hard to be sure putting a famous former drug addict at the center of a show about addiction was the smartest idea anybody's had.