Ever wonder what it's like to party with a celebrity? Chris Gardner knows all too well. As a gossip columnist, it was his job to spend six nights a week living it up with the likes of Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Ritchie, Britney Spears and more.
But seven years of fast Hollywood living eventually took its toll.
"This town chewed me up and spit me out," he said.
Gardner's story begins far away from the glitz and glamour of Tinseltown. He was born and raised in Iowa. Gardner first saw Los Angeles as a child.
"Around the time that I was in the cornfields, I first came to Los Angeles on a family vacation. And I knew then that this is where I wanted to be," he said. "I think I knew, even then, that what LA represented is that you could really make something out of yourself."
He returned to Los Angeles as an adult, one month after graduating college, and took an entry-level job with The Hollywood Reporter. He ended up spending much of his time hanging out in and around Hollywood's legendary Sunset Boulevard.
"It was so big and it was so flashy, and it was so sexy," he said. "Even when just driving down it, you're bombarded with just how sexy it is. From the billboards to the people walking down the street... I mean, it's just everywhere."
Gardner's job was to infiltrate that sexy world by making the rounds of different night clubs to get close to celebrities and write about them. To the delight of his bosses, he succeeded.
"I still can't believe it...I mean met Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor and wrote a story about them," Gardner remembered. "I did have to stop and think, 'I'm just a kid from Iowa and I'm standing here with Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor with a tape recorder in my hand.'" Like how did this happen?"
Gardner soon moved from The Hollywood Reporter to a high-profile job covering celebrity gossip at People Magazine.
"My job was not only to socialize with the people that I was covering, but to get exclusive news before anyone else. And it's a really competitive game," he said. "My first week on the job, my editor said, 'I want you to become friends with Paris and Nikki, and Nicole Richie and Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears.'"
But as his career soared, Gardner found himself on a dangerous path. He began hanging out at The Chateau Marmont, the grand dame of Sunset Boulevard hotels. It's known as the haunts of screen legends like James Dean, but the hotel has its shadows too: In 1982, a speedball -- a heroin and cocaine concoction -- killed John Belushi in Chateau Marmont's Bungalow No. 3.
Chris Gardner was no John Belushi, but he did find himself ensconced in the drug-infused lifestyle found in the seedy underbelly of the celebrity social scene.
By his own admission, he was "doing a ton of drugs," including cocaine.
But Gardner wasn't just doing drugs -- he was getting them for stars and, as a result, currying their favor.
"Chris would be the guy who would leave the nightclub. He'd go downstairs and wait a half an hour while the dealer pulls up. He deals with them, he gets the coke. And then he goes back in, 'cause the celebrities, God forbid, you know, they go out and get their own stuff," explained Christine Pelisek, an LA crime reporter for The Daily Beast.
Gardner said Lindsay Lohan and Naomi Campbell were among the celebs he did drugs with. Lohan and Campbell have declined to comment on Gardner's allegations.
Gardner said the drugs and the influence of his byline gave him great access to celebrities. If his editor wanted a story, for instance, on Lindsay Lohan, Gardner said he could just text her directly for a tip.
But when it came to drugs, the cons began to outweigh the pros. Gardner was becoming an addict -- and that caused him to miss one of the biggest gossip stories of 2005: the break-up of Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt.
At the time, he said, "I was at a house above Sunset Boulevard, Sunset Plaza, stowed away doing drugs for two days straight."
Gardner unraveled: He wasn't paying bills and he was skipping work. Partying, friends said, had taken over his life.
It finally caught up to him as he headed to an important assignment: covering an Emmy Awards party. Police pulled him over and threw him in jail for unpaid parking tickets.
He missed the party and the Emmy Awards ceremony ... and then lost his job.
"I got out of jail on Monday and my editor called me into her office immediately and she was just like, 'This was really bad. You're the insider gossip columnist, and you missed our Emmy party. How could you do this?'"
But if you think that was when Gardner hit rock bottom, you'd be wrong.
His talent and celebrity access kept landing him jobs, including a position as a film reporter at Daily Variety. An assignment for the publication landed him at a Mariah Carey music video shoot at midnight.
Then things got hazy.
"I think I had done a lot of coke in the car before I went inside to watch this video shoot and then I came home at 5 in the morning and there was a party still going on in my apartment for afterhours and so I just joined right in," Gardner remembered.
During that afterhours party, Gardner said, he blacked out.
His twin brother, who shared the apartment with him, woke him up the next morning.
"He said, 'You were outside smoking a cigarette on the patio and you fell through the glass doors. The glass broke and you started having a seizure. And you overdosed," Gardner said.
A few weeks later, Gardner headed back home to Iowa.
"I thought, 'I don't really want to be here anymore'...I just kind of had given up,'" he said. "I went home with my tail between my legs."
But Gardner wasn't done with Hollywood and Sunset Boulevard for good.