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THE LIFE OF HOLLYWOOD

What makes Sammy run wild

Obsessed with success, they find themselves in frenzies when the industry's harsh reality clashes with their desires. Now, their condition has a name: Hollywood NOS.

February 14, 2010|By Rachel Abramowitz
  • Doug Rosen was a rising producer and addict; now he helps others.
Doug Rosen was a rising producer and addict; now he helps others. (Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles…)

"Heroin is a preservative," said Doug Rosen, explaining, tongue in cheek, why he looks almost exactly as he did seven years ago when he was a rising Hollywood producer with a healthy six-figure salary, a spanking new Audi A4, a $3,000-a-month, one bedroom apartment and, oh yes, an $80,000-a-year drug habit.

Wiry in a black T-shirt, cargo pants and a green cap, the 32-year-old Rosen, now a family therapist trainee at Beit T'Shuvah, a no-frills residential drug rehab clinic on Venice Boulevard, confessed that he never was particularly interested in making movies or television. He just wanted to be somebody -- the guy with the girls, the cars, the expense account and the trappings that accrue to a entertainment industry power broker.

"If you're an incomplete, vacant person, this is an industry that can seduce you," said Rosen. "I got seduced. Nobody wronged me."

For therapists, psychiatrists and spiritual counselors with Hollywood clientele, Rosen is a familiar type, a walking casualty of the entertainment business, where the narcissistic fantasy of stardom as an actor, director, producer or writer -- often seen as more important than the actual work of acting, directing, producing or writing -- collides with the rejection, failure or limited success that is the reality for the vast majority in the industry. Patients suffer from the mistaken assumption that that showbiz glory will somehow insulate them from emptiness or the mundane hardships of day-to-day life.

It's a condition as old as the talkies, but, according to many practitioners interviewed for this report, it's growing more prevalent in the age of reality TV and "American Idol," when stardom appears more accessible than ever and a sense of entitlement seems rampant among younger generations.

The diagnosis

Dr. Todd Zorick, a psychiatrist and professor at UCLA's Semel Institute, calls the condition "Hollywood Not Otherwise Specified," or Hollywood NOS. The unofficial term is a wry reference to the "NOS" designation in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the bible of psychiatric ailments, which refers to a condition that impairs a patient but doesn't fit with any specified, recognized disorder. Hollywood NOS describes a negative pattern of behavior for the sole purpose of achieving validation. The patients usually display a combination of symptoms: impulsiveness, anxiety, poor self-esteem and some personality disorder traits.

Zorick coined the phrase, with colleague Daniel Goldin (this reporter's brother-in-law), while working at a rehab clinic on Hollywood Boulevard, where he saw a constant stream of flailing Hollywood types, like the girl who was always starting her band between bouts of suicidal depression, or the screenwriter who'd sold a screenplay for a lot of money but sabotaged his career with drugs. Most had migrated to Hollywood specifically to become a star.

"One of the central things was a lack of connection to a more permanent reality and an orientation to an internal fantasy life," said Zorick, who continues to see patients at UCLA. Clinically, they suffered from a "mix of different categories of illnesses and they were never very severe," he added. "They'd have discrete periods of mania or hypomania," but it wouldn't last long enough to merit a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. "Our patient would have an afternoon of doing crazy stuff."

Other mental health professionals don't use the exact term Hollywood NOS, but they all recognize the patterns.

Sufferers, they say, often exhibit personality traits that are endemic to the industry: an overall fixation on their hierarchal status in the Hollywood system, a very rich fantasy life about what other people are thinking of them, and an opportunistic analysis of relationships, where every connection is evaluated on its usefulness in getting a job, a deal, or simply another leg up the Hollywood mountain.

Highly addictive business

"It's my opinion that Hollywood attracts these people," says Zorick. "Who's crazy enough to think they're going to out-compete everyone, beat out thousands of people to become the next big screenwriter or actor?"

"The idea of making it in Hollywood is like a drug," says Rabbi Mark Borovitz, the spiritual leader of the Beit T'Shuvah congregation, which runs the rehab facility. "People are looking for outside validation to make them OK. And the emptiness will never be solved, really solved, by just psychiatric help or therapy because the emptiness is an emptiness of the soul."

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