“That’s the thing about fame. It’s a dangerous game, because fame, the drug, can sneak up on you in increments. You don’t notice the increments, that you’re increasing the dosage until you’re so far away from ever making eye contact with another human being and being ‘real,’ that you don’t even know you’re not ‘real’ anymore.”
I decided to check out Rosie O’Donnell’s memoir Celebrity Detox, first published in 2007, from the library after reading and thoroughly enjoying Ladies Who Punch, a book looking at the history and inside stories from the set of the long-running daytime talk show The View. I decided I wanted to read Rosie’s memoir that came out a few months after the end of her infamously controversial one-season run as the moderator on The View not only because Celebrity Detox was mentioned and quoted several times in Ladies Who Punch, but it led me to realize that I actually didn’t know all that much about Rosie O’Donnell, other than what everybody knows about Rosie O’Donnell. And I have to say, I enjoyed reading Celebrity Detox much more than I expected to.
The ratings for Celebrity Detox are fairly low on Goodreads, with most reviews only coming in around 3 stars. Celebrity memoirs like these tend to have low ratings for one of two reasons: a) It’s actually just plain bad because not all celebrities have a flair for writing, no matter how popular they are, or b) It’s actually not that bad of a book at all, but people are snobs and only rate it 2 or 3 stars because they saw reading it as a “guilty pleasure” and “just cannot bring themselves to rate it any higher than that.” Celebrity Detox is most definitely a case of the latter. It might be very stylistically messy and jump all over the place in terms of narrative and how exactly the stories she tells pertain to the overall theme of fame being a drug she was addicted to, but it was still an insightful and eye-opening reading experience. I never really watched The Rosie O’Donnell Show when it was on TV, and I didn’t really watch The View when she was on it either (other than the episode everybody has seen, where she and Elisabeth Hasselbeck aired out all of the dirty laundry in their friendship from behind the scenes in front of a national television audience in May 2007). But I do remember Rosie being a bankable household name in the late ’90s and early ’00s, and then she suddenly disappeared from the limelight. I was recently watching an episode of Will & Grace from 2002 with my parents where Rosie guest stars and my dad looked up and said, “Whatever happened to her?” Clearly a lot happened to Rosie O’Donnell, and we just weren’t paying attention.
In Celebrity Detox, O’Donnell writes of how she grew up thinking that becoming famous one day would automatically solve all of her problems: a perception and a dream that a lot of different celebrities have admitted to having. But Rosie soon found that being famous was not only incredibly overwhelming, but she was losing herself and who she was by continuing to be the Rose O’Donnell that the world came to love. She was losing contact with her family and her children, and from what she writes, this was the primary factor in her decision to say enough and end her syndicated daytime talk show after six seasons in 2002. But she also paints a picture of fame as a drug, one that she became heavily addicted to without even realizing it. She had initially written a different version of Celebrity Detox that she had intended to publish sometime after ending her talk show, but decided against it because she felt the time wasn’t right. As a result, she includes passages from the original draft of the book as well as different blog posts, all of which read as incomplete fragments, from her time out of the spotlight between 2002 and 2006. She also writes about how, when Barbara Walters asked her to join The View as the new moderator for their tenth season, she was willing to do anything Walters asked her to do because she viewed her as a mother figure whom she wanted to please, bringing up unresolved issues from her relationship with her own mother who died when she was a child. She agreed to join The View despite not knowing if she would be able to return to the spotlight and fame after “detoxing” from it for four years prior. What she ended up realizing what she couldn’t handle was merely being a part of something without being in the driver’s seat or in control. When she did The Rosie O’Donnell Show, it was syndicated and she thus did not have to meet the demands of any specific network. On The View, however, she had to fit the mold of what ABC wanted, and Rosie is very unapologetic when it comes to not fitting in to a specific mold.
It’s fascinating to think that, looking back, Rosie O’Donnell was not the right fit for The View at all, especially regarding the numerous controversies that ensued while she was there the first time. But at the same time, The View would not be what it is today if it weren’t for Rosie. She is frequently credited with making the show more news-oriented and less strictly centered on “women’s topics,” as well as making political debates a mainstay in the Hot Topics segment. As difficult as it was for her to last in the environment that was The View, and as difficult as I’m sure she was to work with, she helped breathe new life into a show that has now been on the air for nearly 22 years. Not to mention the fact that, despite how much she was demonized in the media for what she said about Donald Trump on The View back in 2006, everything she said about the future president was true; she was just the only one with the balls to say it. Similarly, when Rosie returned to The View for a brief five-month run between 2014 and 2015, everything she said about Bill Cosby was true. But in the pre-Me Too and Time’s Up era of 2014, all of her fellow co-hosts wanted to see more “proof” before they could conclude Cosby was a predator and that his accusers were telling the truth. Is Rosie O’Donnell actually a fortune teller? I’d believe it.
Overall, I enjoyed reading Celebrity Detox and it helped me relate to a celebrity and pop culture figure who I hadn’t previously taken much time to get to know. I related to Rosie’s plight of being a control freak by nature and trying her hardest to just go with the flow on The View, but that’s so damn hard when you know something can be better and how will you let yourself sleep at night if you don’t put your version of your all into something? Sometimes, it’s not worth it. But how else will you know if you don’t try? If you’re a fan of The View who has also checked out Ladies Who Punch, I would definitely recommend reading Celebrity Detox if you already haven’t. 4/5 stars.