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Anchoring a lifeline

May 11, 2003|Ann Conway | Times Staff Writer

In what was one of the more candid acceptance speeches heard yet in L.A. social circles, Jamie Lee Curtis challenged the organization that presented her with its Humanitarian Award: "I'm not sure why a group that is teen-related would honor a 44-year-old white chick who is a drug addict and an alcoholic -- recovering, by the way," she told the hundreds of supporters gathered at a benefit for Teen Line, a counseling hotline at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

But the actress and children's book author went on to say that she'd thought carefully about how to "connect the dots" between her recovery and the hoped-for recovery of troubled teens who use the center's anonymous telephone service. And she came to understand that her success was a direct result of being able to talk one on one with a peer.

"The nameless program that saved my life is based on a very simple nugget, which is one alcoholic talking to another, and in that connection finding acceptance and understanding," Curtis said during the alfresco luncheon April 30 at the Bel Age Hotel. "And that's the basis of Teen Line, one teen relating to another."

As serious as the occasion was, Curtis opened her remarks with an ebullient "Hee-haw!" then shot a half-kidding "Mother, sit down!" to her mom, actress Janet Leigh ("Psycho"), who stood to honor her daughter. "No, I won't!" Leigh mouthed in return.

Guests, who included Teen Line volunteers, mingled with Curtis before dining on chicken salad. Lindsay Lohan, Curtis' 17-year-old co-star in the coming Disney film "Freaky Friday," presented the award.

"We wanted to honor Jamie Lee because she is a supporter of our program, and outspoken and comfortable with her own recovery," clinical social worker and Teen Line co-founder Elaine Leader said. "And she has done a lot for children with her delightful books."

The toll-free California hotline targets troubled kids between the ages of 13 and 19. Each year, more than 10,000 young people take advantage of the program, whose goal is to provide "a safe haven to youth where they can spill their guts to an understanding, nonjudgmental ear," Leader said.

In Curtis' concluding remarks, she spoke to teens about the dangers of watching party movies in which the consequence-free use of alcohol is portrayed: "Has anybody seen 'The Real Cancun' ?" she asked. "I've seen the ads where they're ripping each other's clothes off and pouring booze on each other, and it looks like a lot of fun. But are there any of the recriminations of alcohol shown in the movie, like alcohol poisoning?"

And then, to the adults, she said: "With media bombardments and all of our expectations of teens, they can be overwhelmed. The fact that there is an organization that allows them to pick up the phone and talk about what they are really feeling is the miracle that helped bring about the miracle of recovery for me."

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