Lawrence Confronts Troubled Past

ByBuck Wolf

Aug. 1, 2002 -- Remember back in 1996 when Martin Lawrence was picked up at a busy Los Angels intersection, screaming obscenities at motorists, with a loaded pistol in his pocket? Lawrence sure does.

Having been turned into a tabloid oddity, Lawrence lashes back in a soul-baring concert documentary film, recorded in January and opening Friday, Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat.

Of course, the former host of TV's Def Comedy Jam is still doing raunchy routines, the sort that drew enormous success — not to mention an NC-17 rating — for his last concert film, 1994's You So Crazy.

But Lawrence also is out to set the record straight and blast the media, which he says exaggerated his drug use and made up facts just to sell papers and boost ratings.

"They're the scum of the earth to me," he says.

Of course, Lawrence isn't so fed up with the press that he won't sit down with reporters to plug his movie.

Should I be scared? I ask him, considering that he uses nearly every dirty word in the book to describe journalists.

"You should be," he says, with an amused grin, "if you are one of the f----d up media!

"Not that I'm going to do anything to you," he reassures me.

With a $20 Million Payday, Why Take Risks?

At 37, Lawrence still has an edge. In 1994, he was temporarily banned from NBC for remarks on Saturday Night Live that sent network executives through the roof.

Still, he went on to prove himself as the star of his own hit sitcom, Martin. He's had mixed success at the box office. But studios may allow for stinkers like Black Knight after a $100 million surprise blockbuster on the order of Big Momma's House.

Things are going pretty well. He's earning a cool $20 million for his next film, National Security. So why dredge up events that faded from the tabloids years ago?

Perhaps Richard Pryor has something to do with it. Pryor brought confessional comedy to new extremes. If Lawrence's hero could joke about how he nearly died freebasing cocaine, finding life-affirming humor in a mistake that nearly claimed his life, Lawrence could do likewise.

"I've got to tell my story," he says. "I can't let E! True Hollywood Story tell my story."

‘God Laid Me Down and Woke Me Up’

Lawrence now doesn't deny that drugs played a part in some past transgressions. And it did seem that in the late 1990s, his life was spiraling out of control. But he says a lot of the stories were distorted, or just plain fabricated — like the reports that he suffered from a bipolar disorder.

"They made a lot of things up to sell a better story," he says. "You don't know what that's like until you've been through it."

But even without the gossip-page speculation and nameless sources, Lawrence undeniably had some troubles.

In May of 1996, when Los Angeles police found him wandering and disoriented in a crowded area on Ventura Boulevard with a loaded pistol in his pocket, he was hospitalized. A spokesman said hat he was exhausted and dehydrated.

Two months later, Lawrence was stopped again at Burbank Airport, carrying a loaded pistol. He later served two months' probation for the offense.

He was arrested again in March of 1997, for punching a nightclub patron, and later ordered to perform community service.

Then came the event Lawrence says changed his life. He lapsed into a three-day coma after collapsing from heat exhaustion while jogging in hot weather with a nylon jogging suit and a wool cap.

"I felt like, in the coma, God laid me down and woke me up to be able to see a lot more clearer, and it's humbled me a great deal, you know?" he said. ‘We Fall Down, But We Get Back Up’

Always an unapologetic potty-mouth on-stage, now he jokes about the weeks after coming out of the coma, when he was incontinent and wore a diaper, needing physical therapy to regain the ability to walk.

"Obviously, when those things are going on, you don't ever really get the opportunity to say what you want to say right then and there," he says.

"Through laughs, I can honestly talk about the things I see and believe and feel," Lawrence says. "One thing I truly learned. We fall down, but we get back up again."

While he was struggling, Magic Johnson, M.C. Hammer and other celebrity friends offered advice. What did they say? "I don't know," Lawrence laughs. "I was high."

Now, he says, he no longer smokes pot and takes better care of himself. He feels his life experiences add dimension to his humor.

"I don't think it's affected my sense of humor at all. The film obviously shows you that. I just think I've grown a lot more and matured and I know a lot more about what I'm talking about as opposed to just being a young comic with a mic in his hand."

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