|Photo courtesy of David Khinda
In 2006, two-time Emmy-winning actress Kristen Johnston appeared to have the life of every aspiring entertainer’s dreams. Renowned for her breakout role at age 29 as Sally Solomon on the hit NBC comedy 3rd Rock from the Sun, appearances on ER and Sex and the City, and a successful film and stage career, Johnston seemed on the verge of conquering Hollywood.
But all that changed the night of December 4, 2006, when Johnston was rushed to a London hospital after collapsing in her bathroom. Doctors were horrified to discover an ulcer in Johnston’s stomach had ruptured open, tearing her intestines – a near-fatal condition brought on by years of rampant drug and alcohol abuse Johnston had hidden from the public, her co-stars and even her friends and family.
On Wednesday, September 26, the famous comedienne – now 45, sober and starring on the hit TV Land comedy The Exes – will appear at the City Opera House in Traverse City to perform selected readings from her new memoir Guts: The Endless Follies and Tiny Triumphs of a Giant Disaster, an event sponsored by Traverse City’s Addiction Treatment Services (ATS). Johnston’s memoir describes in brutally honest but heartfelt detail the actress’ struggle with addiction and eventual road to recovery.
“I know what you’re thinking: ‘Oh great, another memoir about a pill-popping actress who went to rehab,” Johnston joked in a recent phone interview with The Ticker. “But I kept hoping this book would find its way into the hands of anyone who’s struggled with their self-esteem, or with addiction, and help them.”
The actress, who lived a life of secrecy for years while attempting to hide her addictions, says transparency is now her motivating force.
“I have nothing but respect for people who choose to be anonymous about their addiction – that’s a personal decision,” says Johnston. “But for me and so many others, staying anonymous keeps us hidden away in church basements. It keeps us shameful. I didn’t want to hide anymore.”
Johnston – who is currently in the process of helping found New York’s first sober high school, called SLAM (Sobriety, Learning And Motivation) – is now a passionate advocate on behalf of the recovery community. That role is one Christopher Hindbaugh, executive director of ATS, believes will be the most important of the actress’ career.
“At a recent summit of local non-profit leaders, substance abuse was identified as one of the number one issues facing Traverse City,” Hindbaugh says. “We proposed this event to Kristen as a way to raise awareness, both locally and nationally, of the need for a public health policy addressing addiction and treatment. She loved the idea.”
Both Johnston and ATS are already succeeding in their quest to take their campaign national. Filmmaker Greg Williams, who is working on a feature-length documentary about addiction called The Anonymous People, will be flying in to Traverse City specially to cover the event and interview Johnston for the film.
Local filmmaker Aaron Dennis, who most recently worked on The People & the Olive, will also be producing a short film based on Johnston’s appearance for her to use in promoting similar events around the country.
As for the actress herself, Johnston will open up about her experience in rehab on a special edition of 20/20 this Friday, September 21 at 10 p.m. on ABC called 20/20: Intoxication Nation. From there, Johnston will make her way to Traverse City for the Wednesday Opera House event, where she will read from her memoir, sign books and participate in an audience Q&A.
“Just give me a microphone and stand back,” the actress laughs. “I’m ready to tell my story.”
Tickets for Guts: An Evening with Kristen Johnston are on sale now at the City Opera House Box office, by phone at 231-941-8082 or online at www.cityoperahouse.org. Tickets range from $15-$50, with the highest tier including a VIP meet-and-greet reception with Johnston. All proceeds benefit Addiction Treatment Services. For more information, visit www.addictiontreatmentservices.org.