Leif Garrett Interview: Former Teen Idol's Memoir Details Roller-Coaster Life of Fame
Image attributed to Leif Garrett
Leif Garrett burst onto the scene in 1966 at the early age of five debuting as an actor in the film Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. He appeared in over sixty hit television shows including The Waltons, Family, Wonder Woman, Cannon, Family Affair and The Odd Couple. Garrett also took on the music industry and became a multi-gold and platinum recording artist and one of the biggest teen idols of all time, gracing magazine covers all over the world in 1977. His biggest hit was “I Was Made For Dancing.”
Garrett’s memoir, Idol Truth, released in November 2019, is a no-holds barred look at the former teen idol’s life crammed with untold personal stories, wild celebrity anecdotes and many rare photos from his private collection.
"I’ve taken acid with Timothy Leary. But that’s not something you get fully addicted to and take every day, whereas heroin becomes your everything because it does take over your body chemistry, your mental state, all of it."
Smashing Interviews Magazine: About this book coming out, you have said finally your truth can be told. What is your truth?
Leif Garrett: The truth is that I held on to some pretty mean things for over 40 years, and these were things that did not sit comfortably with me, but I had to play along because the Scotti Brothers set it up like that. My truth is that it was festering. It’s been a long time, and I just wanted to wait until it felt right. Maybe it was a calculated maneuver of mine to do this when my career is just about six feet under. I don’t know (laughs). You read about what Tony Scotti said, right?
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Yes. He said you were getting out of control and that he made you.
Leif Garrett: Yeah, saying I didn’t generate what? Come on. That’s being slippery and sly and just being guilty of trying to rip me off.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You seemed to become famous for being famous, and that was very difficult to do in a pre-internet, pre-social media time. To do that, you have to have more than looks. What was it that you had that made you so different that you made the teenage girls scream and swoon?
Leif Garrett: You know, I think that I was pretty. It was weird. I think I was not scary; you know what I’m saying? So young ladies could fantasize or whatever. I think I did have talent because I was a successful actor before music. I was selling magazines, Tiger Beat and 16 and stuff like that, so obviously part of it was because of the look, but if you can’t back it up with some talent, which is why you’d still be out in the public eye, then you can’t be there for just the way you look.
I had to learn trial by fire. I was not a born singer. I believe that I had ability to perform on stage, but everything had to be learned in the music area instead of just coming naturally like acting did.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You talk about when you were 11, and a friend named Peter smoked a joint. You wanted to try it because he said it was okay, but your mom told you drugs were bad.
Leif Garrett: Yeah. That was my cousin Peter who was like 12 or 13. I saw him and his friends smoke a joint, and I actually cried. I was like, “Oh my God! My mom always told me drugs are bad! Why Peter? Why are you doing it?” Then later on, when I was involved with having to be an adult in an adult world at 15 or 16, when I was going on tour and doing promotion, I didn’t have any parental guidance.
My mom was very trusting, which was to a fault. I think, in many ways, I really wish I had more discipline in my life in that area, and I probably wouldn’t have gone so much into self-medication. I was a rather shy child, but the self-medicating came from my pain over not having any control, once I got into the music, over my own life.
I finally realized, too, that I really was a hurt little boy still because dad left when I was five, and I was in big denial of that for a long time. A very long time. I ended up actually becoming his caretaker, and he just passed away a few months ago. Now I’m taking care of my mom. But you don’t realize sometimes the finality of things, but you have to look at the reasons the drugs came into play. I was trying to mask the pain that I had, and I would be in denial of the pain, but I think that was probably normal for anybody of that age when you don’t have someone like a psychologist or parent to sit and talk with to say, “Wait. Why am I feeling like this?”
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Was that because you felt that you couldn’t talk to your mom, or you didn’t realize just how serious the drug usage was getting?
Leif Garrett: That’s interesting you say that. How do you come home from the road at 15 years old having just been with the adults, having a Gold American Express, having gone into bars and drinking because that’s what they were doing, having them offering drugs, and say, “Mom, this is what’s going on,” without exposing the part you do like by exposing the part that is not cool?
As far as being able to talk to my mom, she had her own issues. We’re all victims of victims really, and it’s up to us to either be smarter than the other and not emulate the mistakes our parents made and to try and figure out a better way.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: It wasn’t just the exposure to alcohol and drugs. You spoke in the book about being a contestant on The Dating Game at the age of nine. That’s totally incomprehensible.
Leif Garrett: It was. And for someone like an adult on that show to say, “Hey, I bet she’d look hot in a bikini!” If you were to say that today, every attorney within earshot would be on top of that like a cheap suit. You just can’t do that. It was very traumatizing because honestly, at that age, I wasn’t even thinking about young ladies in bikinis yet.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Was it music or acting you really loved?
Leif Garrett: I would’ve stuck with acting. I was asked if I wanted to make a record, not if you make this record with us, that’s all you’re going to be doing for the next five years and not really doing anything in the acting genre. What I went through was very unique. Anybody who’s ever had the opportunity to be a teen idol would probably say the same thing. It’s a rare experience for something like that. It’s a weird phenomenon of this changing in people’s hormones, if you will.
It’s like the average life span of a teen idol is really no longer than five years unless they grow into an adult performer and artist. They stimulate something in people’s hormones or imagination or whatnot that is exciting so that people start thinking about sex. But the moment they have sex, they go on to Led Zeppelin or Aerosmith and not listening to “I Was Made For Dancing” any longer. So unless the teen idol grows and becomes an adult artist, they’re done.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Roland Winkler passed away a couple of years ago at the age of 57 apparently due to continued physical problems he suffered as a result of the automobile accident when he was riding with you in 1979. Were you able to put all of the demons and guilt you had to rest before he died?
Leif Garrett: Yes. It really was that Behind the Music show in 1999 when they set up the meeting between us without telling me. That was as raw and real as it gets. I had no idea that I was going to be seeing Roland and that he would tell me that he did not hold me responsible, even though I held myself responsible bigtime for that and deservingly so. But it was a weight lifted off my shoulders. It was still difficult to think of it in different terms, but it was very enlightening because he got it before a lot of people did when he said that it could’ve been me or him and that it was just the luck of the draw.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Would you say that Nicollette Sheridan is the love of your life?
Leif Garrett: Yes. Yes. She absolutely was. Elaine (Bilstad) was my best friend who I was simply in love with as a friend and became romantically, biblically, if you will, involved. But it started out as best friends as opposed to Nicollette and I just having that raw, crazy mutual attraction. She and I would be incredibly synchronized or we cleared rooms. There was no in between.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Your sister, Dawn Lyn, was heavy into acting in the 1970s. Did she ever get into drugs?
Leif Garrett: Not at all, and I’m proud of her for that. Although, I must say I don’t advocate the use of drugs, but I think that if there’s a curiosity, everything can be an addiction. Literally everything. As far as narcotics go, more people die from prescription drugs than street drugs. But that doesn’t make it right. It’s when the ritual becomes habitual that it’s a problem. But certain things can open doors, and it’s not a joke. I’ve taken acid with Timothy Leary. But that’s not something you get fully addicted to and take every day, whereas heroin becomes your everything because it does take over your body chemistry, your mental state, all of it.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You were last arrested in 2010 for possession of heroin?
Leif Garrett: I guess. I don’t even know the years and dates. It’s such a blur. But I do remember the worst thing I ever went though which was 90 days in county jail. That alone was enough of a deterrent for me. Even if I didn’t deal with the issues that made me start it to being with, that’s enough to make you say, “Okay. I’m done. I’ve had my fun. See ya.”
Smashing Interviews Magazine: So have you completely dealt with those issues that made you start using drugs?
Leif Garrett: I have, yes, bigtime. As I said, a lot of it was about a hurt little boy and the fact that mom wasn’t a good watchdog, if you will. She never questioned where all the money was. Why was she trusting people that we just met? She thought they were treating me like a son. Well, on my first trip to Japan, my manager took me to a bordello. If that’s how you treat your kid, well, come on.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Did you keep searching for a father figure?
Leif Garrett: I think there was absolutely a lot of that. I admired my uncle, my mom’s older brother (Peter’s father) very much, and we got along really great. Anytime I was with him and their sons, it was like brothers in a family. But at the end of the day, you bed in a different location. So that’s kind of fleeting. But I never looked at those guys in management as father figures. They were just the authority.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: When you were finally reunited with your dad, did you resolve some issues before he died?
Leif Garrett: I wished we did. Unfortunately, he was incapable of doing that. I took care of him for three years. A lot of things got thrown out there and were thrown under the rug right away. There was a lot of blame, and it runs in my family kind of deep. It’s a shame because when you point fingers, it’s three fingers pointing back at you. Everyone’s guilty of something. We’re not perfect and that’s okay. But it’s important for people to own it. It doesn’t have to be a negative. Turn it into a positive by not making the same mistakes.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: How old is your mom?
Leif Garrett: She just turned 85 on November 6, and my birthday is the 8th. The way she tells it is that she missed by two days because I was born a month early.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Have you two had discussions about the past?
Leif Garrett: Yeah. Like I said, I’m caretaking her now, and I’ve moved her into my house. It’s interesting when people get older. If you don’t deal with it, you sort of rewrite history. A lot of people are in denial. Mom is that way with some issues, but we’ve spoken quite extensively on other issues and dealt with them.
I love my mom dearly, and that’ll never change, but sometimes I don’t like the person that she thinks she should be. The people I like are the people who are just themselves. Be honest. I’m all about the truth. I really try and practice nothing but the truth. I’m very honest, but I’d like to think I’m very diplomatic as well because the truth can be painful sometimes to people especially if they don’t really face it on a regular basis.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Are you still a Scientologist?
Leif Garrett: I never was a Scientologist. I did do that record The Road to Freedom, but my manager was a Scientologist. If I’m going to talk about something, I want to know about it. So I’ve taken courses in Judaism, Kabbalah, Scientology. I’ve read the Koran and the Bible. I like having conversations about things like that. So if I’m going to talk about it, I want to do my homework. There’s a lot of great things about Scientology. L. Ron Hubbard was a very smart man because he took a lot of great things from different religions. The smartest thing he ever did was to get tax exempt (laughs). They own literally every building on Hollywood Boulevard between Highland and Gower, and it’s incredible. It’s insane. I would recommend the communication course to anybody.
But I’m not religious at all. I’m into spirituality. If I had to categorize, I would say I’m Hindu or Buddhist. I like to practice love, truth and kindness. Do unto others like you want done to yourselves. There are things that we know innately to be right, and there are things that we know innately to be wrong. If you think money makes your life easy and all perfect, bullshit.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What are you doing these days, Leif?
Leif Garrett: Right now I’m promoting the book. I’m remodeling my house. I’m looking for love in all the wrong places (singing). I’d love to meet somebody to grow old with. I don’t want to die alone. Of course, I have my animals, but I need somebody who would be there for me, and I could be there for them. But you can’t force the issue. You can’t be like, “Okay, I’m looking. I’m going to single bars and dating sites.” No. I don’t believe in that stuff. If it happens, it happens, and if it’s not meant to be, it’s not meant to be. But you better be prepared to be happy with yourself.
I’m at the point where I am happy with who I am. I never want to stop learning, first of all. The moment we stop trying to investigate and try new things, we stagnate and die. I just turned 58. There are physical aches and pains, but mentally I still feel 18. And of course, I’m still horny. I love that (laughs).
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