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Don’t blame that twit Dr. Drew or Celebrity Rehab for cast deaths

Five cast members of VH1’s Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew have died in the last two years, three of whom appeared on the very same season, including Mindy McCready, who killed herself yesterday. That means one third of a cable reality show’s cast is now dead. One third.

That is, of course, awful and tragic, and a horrific track record for a show that was supposed to help people. And Dr. Drew Pinsky is, of course, a self-aggrandizing, opportunistic ass.

But neither are to blame. In fact, Celebrity Rehab should be considered a success–yes, a success–for illustrating how fucking awful addiction is, both as part of its episodes and even now, when its cast members succumb to addiction or other tragedy.

Let’s start with Dr. Drew, who I can barely stand, especially when cable news gives him time and attention so he can diagnose people he’s never met. Just look at Dr. Drew’s statement to Buzzfeed about Mindy’s death, which–surprise!–is all about himself:

“I am deeply saddened by this awful news. My heart goes out to Mindy’s family and children. She is a lovely woman who will be missed by many. Although I have not treated her for few years, I had reached out to her recently upon hearing about the apparent suicide of her boyfriend and father of her younger children. She was devastated. Although she was fearful of stigma and ridicule she agreed with me that she needed to make her health and safety a priority. Unfortunately it seems that Mindy did not sustain her treatment.

Mental health issues can be life threatening and need to be treated with the same intensity and resources as any other dangerous potentially life threatening medical condition. Treatment is effective. If someone you know is suffering please be sure he or she gets help and maintains treatment.”

It’s maddeningly how Dr. Drew has made his statement about Mindy McCready’s death about himself, even starting it with the word “I.” He makes sure we know how he tried to help Mindy–and also betrays the confidence she placed in him at the same time (“she was fearful of stigma and ridicule…”). Fucking asshole.

But Dr. Drew is absolutely right in his second paragraph, at least its first sentence. And both he and Celebrity Rehab did a good job of reminding us of that.

It’s worth noting that Bob Forrest, the former addict and counselor who was a fixture on Celebrity Rehab, which he created, has publicly disavowed the show. Alas, he was only specific in criticizing its editing, and I’d like to know more about why he regrets its creation. Meanwhile, as Kate Aurthur notes, “the 43 cast members over five seasons features a number of people who continue to appear in TMZ-headlines for drug-related messes.”

Like Hoarders, another series that features mentally ill people as its cast members, Celebrity Rehab faced accusations that it was exploiting its cast members. That’s fair criticism. For sure, some people watch these shows for the same reasons they watch Real Housewives: to feel superior. And if you need to mock obviously sick people to feel better about yourself, I feel extraordinarily sorry for you.

But to me, while there can be moments of humor and shock in these series, they are ultimately the best kind of reality TV: vivid, visceral, documentary-style illustrations of the power and pain of addiction and mental illness.

Is it really that bad to use fame and a paycheck as a carrot to draw an addict into a treatment program they desperately need? Or to offer resources to help someone in crisis and then offer them aftercare to deal with the issues that led them to that place of crisis, as Hoarders does? I think the ends can justify the means.

The devastating reality is that treatment is only effective for people who want it to be effective, and that the end result is always the responsibility of the person who is offered help. The deaths of Celebrity Rehab cast members have made that painfully, terribly clear.

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  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means. Learn more about Andy.

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