Tatum O'Neal to People Mag: I Made a Horrible Mistake

The former child star speaks out after her drug arrest earlier this month.

June 13, 2008 -- Oscar-winning actress Tatum O'Neal has spoken out about her recent cocaine arrest, revealing in this week's People magazine the sequence of events that she says drove her to the brink.

"I was trying to relapse," O'Neal, 44, told People. "I made a giant, horrible mistake and feel really ashamed and embarrassed."

By her own account, things were going well in her life. O'Neal was sober and the relationship with her ex-husband, John McEnroe, had finally healed. The former couple even attended the college graduation of their son, Kevin, along with McEnroe's new wife, rock star Patty Smith.

O'Neal said she was depressed earlier this month after the death of her beloved dog, Lena. Stressed about tension with her boyfriend, she said she didn't want to feel anything anymore.

"I decided to walk a block and ask a guy if he could help me buy cocaine," O'Neal told the magazine. "I wanted to just not feel what I was feeling at that particular moment."

But a police officer saw the exchange and O'Neal spent a night in jail after she was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of possessing a controlled substance. She was released on her own recognizance and will return to court on July 28.

"I take full responsibility," O'Neal said, adding that the most difficult moment came after she was released and her cell phone rang.

Her 17-year-old daughter, Emily, was calling, worried about her mother.

O'Neal said she "couldn't tell her. It was too horrible."

She waited to tell her daughter in person, and when the two saw each other, O'Neal said they hugged and cried.

Her daughter said, "I love you, Mommy. I'm glad you didn't use," O'Neal told the magazine, "My kids understand that it's a disease."

"I'm not a bad person," O'Neal said. "I'm a sick person trying to get well. I'm a nightmare to myself."

Long Battle With Drugs

O'Neal has battled addiction for decades, losing control of her life and, eventually, custody of her children in 1995.

She was the youngest actor ever to win an Oscar, for a starring role at age 10 alongside her famous father, Ryan O'Neal, in the 1973 film "Paper Moon."

Her early success did not lead to lasting career stardom. At 15, O'Neal started using cocaine, and she was a full-blown addict by age 20.

Over the years, O'Neal's drug battle and stormy marriage became public struggles. In 2002, she told ABC's Barbara Walters her children never saw her inject drugs.

"But my daughter found a syringe in my apartment at one point," O'Neal said. She said she told her daughter, "Mommy has a problem, and I've got to go away."

"Obviously, you'd like it to be like a Hollywood movie, where you solve all your problems and move on in Act Three," said J.D. Heyman, senior editor at People. "But real life's not like that.

"I think [O'Neal] has acknowledged that, but she's working hard to keep herself well and be there for her kids," Heyman told "Good Morning America."

O'Neal said the arrest is the best thing that could have happened to her and that she is committed to staying sober.

She has been appearing on the FX Show "Rescue Me," and the network is standing behind her and says she will appear in the upcoming season.