Artie Lange's Near Suicide Reveals Dark Side of Funny

Howard Stern sidekick Artie Lange's suicide attempt exposes comedy's dark side.

January 7, 2010, 9:26 PM

Jan. 8, 2010— -- When standup comedian and Howard Stern sidekick Artie Lange attempted suicide last week, it was no laughing matter.

Lange, who often joked about his battles with weight and drug addiction and recently published a revealing memoir about his tumultuous childhood, was found by his mother in his Hoboken, N.J., apartment with nine self-inflicted stab wounds, according to the New York Post. The newspaper said surgeons were able to save the comedian despite massive bleeding.

Lange's representative did not respond to requests for comment.

"Artie doesn't hold anything back," Anthony Bozza, co-author of Lange's 2008 memoir, "Too Fat to Fish," told "He's incredibly honest. I've never met anyone who is able to do that and is still so obviously in the throes of it."

Lange's suicide attempt has once again exposed the dark side of comedy. Too often, the people who make us laugh are the ones who struggle most with painful personal lives.

"I think most people have painful lives," Dick Cavett, the venerable comedian and talk show host told "It's always surprising when the comedians who make us laugh do. The contrast is so dramatic. They seems so bright and animated on stage."

"There's been a thing for a long time that comedy comes from pain," longtime comedy writer Jeffrey Gurian told "So many comedians are not happy when they're off stage. Their happiness comes from performing. Once the applause ends, they have to go back to their regular lives, which are not so fulfilling."

Gurian, who has known Lange for a long time, said the troubled comedian is beloved in the comedy community.

"He has a lot of support, so many people who care about him, a lot of people who look out for him," Gurian said.

One of those people is Howard Stern, who hired Lange in 2001.

"I know everybody has their demons, including myself, but he's wrestling with some serious stuff," Stern said Thursday on his radio show.

"I haven't spoken to Artie. I'm just freaked out," Stern added. "I only wish him well, and I don't know what's going to be. But it was pretty upsetting when I heard the news."

Robin Quivers, Stern's longtime sidekick, said on the show that she had spoken to Lange.

"He's doing well physically," she said.

"My heart goes out to him," said Bozza, who was working with Lange on a follow-up book to his bestselling memoir. A spokeswoman for the publisher told the book is on hold.

"He has a lot of demons," Bozza added. "I just want him to come to terms with his demons. He's in my thoughts and prayers. I love the guy very much. I hope that everyone puts good thoughts out there for him and his family."

Gurian said Lange was at the top of his game. At a recent performance in New York, Lange got a standing ovation before he even took the stage.

"You can't ask for more adulation," Gurian said. "But sometimes great people don't feel that great inside."

A funny kid, Lange got his first laughs from his father, Artie Sr., who first encouraged him to be a comedian. Then tragedy struck and Lange's father, an antenna installer, was paralyzed after a fall from a ladder and died four years later. That's when, Lange wrote in his book, his troubles with alcohol, drugs, gambling and the law began.

By the time he joined the first cast of "Madtv" at the age of 27, he had developed a cocaine addiction. He wrote about the infamous "pig story" in which, dressed in full makeup and costume as a pig for a "Madtv" skit, he chased down his coke dealer and snorted so much cocaine that he nearly ruined the day's shoot.

Not long after, he wrote, he made his first serious attempt at suicide. Following a weekend coke binge, he wrote a final note to his mother and sister and swallowed 30 prescription sleeping pills and a pint of Jack Daniels. Crew members showed up at his apartment and rushed him to the hospital.

In and out of rehab and jail, Lange still managed to rack up the successes: getting standup gigs at all the major New York comedy clubs, playing opposite Norm McDonald in the 1998 big-screen comedy "Dirty Work," and landing a job with Stern.

Along the way, Lange began taking painkillers -- sometimes as many as 50 Vicodin a day -- until he graduated to heroin.

Lange's struggles with heroin continued even after he finished his 2008 memoir. At the end of the paperback edition released last April, he claimed to be clean for a few months.

"But hey, who knows how long that will last," he wrote. "I'm a rough case of addiction."

There's a long list of comedians who have struggled with drug addiction. Those who died young include Sam Kinison, John Belushi and Chris Farley.

Other comedians, including Cavett, Jim Carrey and Joan Rivers, have been open about their struggles with depression.

"I can remember faking it," Cavett told "There I was on the monitor singing and laughing and thinking if they only knew how I feel I'd be amazed."

Cavett said with the help of a "modest amount of a couple of meds" he hasn't had a problem in a long time.

Then there are the difficult childhoods that helped hone the humor of other famous comedians.

Carrey opened up about having to get a job as a janitor at age 16 when his father lost his job and the family "hit the skids." He told "60 Minutes'" Steve Kroft in 2004 that his anger at the world during that time fueled his comic dreams.

"People need motivation to do anything. I don't think human beings learn anything without desperation," Carrey told Kroft. "Desperation is a necessary ingredient to learning anything, or creating anything. Period. If you ain't desperate at some point, you ain't interesting."

At 17, he was working comedy clubs in his native Canada and by 21 he had made his first appearance on "The Tonight Show."

Stephen Colbert lost his father and two brothers at the age of 10 when they died in a plane crash.

"I think I did my best to cheer my mom up," Colbert told Morley Safer on "60 Minutes."

The tragedy also sowed the seeds of the successful political satirist he would become as host of "The Stephen Colbert Show."

"I know that after they died, nothing -- I was 10, you know? I was still in school; it was in elementary school -- but nothing seemed that important to me," he told Safer. "I had immediately had sort of a, I won't say a cynical detachment from the world. But I would certainly say I was detached from what was normal behavior of children around me. It didn't make much sense. None of it seemed very important. And I think that, you know, feeds into a sense that acceptance, or blind acceptance of authority, is not easy for me."

Not every comedian appears to have a dark side. There are some notable exceptions.

"Jerry Seinfeld seems to be very healthy individual," said Gurian, who interviewed him for his upcoming book and documentary on the Comic Strip's 35th anniversary. "He couldn't have been friendlier, more gracious. He has the things that people consider 'real' -- a strong relationship and children. I think it makes a big difference."

"Chris Rock is the same, married with kids and very happy, and mentally stable," Gurian added.

"It's a strange business," said Gurian. "No matter what's going on in your own life you still have to go on stage and make people laugh. They're hysterical and you're crying inside. You're not really allowed to deal with your feelings. You have to hide them. A comedian in a bad mood is not a good comedian."

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