Episode 25: Greg Cheever Part 2/2
Greg’s story continues with more heroin-fueled mishaps that affect strangers, Robert Redford, Mary Poppins and others. His life on the edge takes him to the brink of death.
Welcome to Episode 25 with my guest Greg Cheever. This is part two of a two part interview with him. I'm Paul Gilmartin. This is the Mental Illness Happy Hour, an hour of honesty about all of the battles in our heads, from medically diagnosed conditions to everyday compulsive negative thinking, feelings of dissatisfaction, disconnection, inadequacy and yes, that vague, sinking feeling that the world is passing us by. You give us an hour, we’ll give you a hot ladle of awkward and icky. But first, a few notes.
The website for this podcast is mentalpod.com. That's also the Twitter name you can follow me out. If you'd like to support the show financially, there's a PayPal button on the website. You could also take a survey there that helps me get to know who you are, and if you want to support the show non-financially, please go to iTunes and give us a good rating. That boosts our ranking and that helps get more people to the show, which of course we love. Some people I want to thank that help put this show together: I want to thank my wife Carla, who always gives me such great feedback. Those of you who listen that give me feedback, I want to thank you. Stig Greve, who does the website, you can visit Stig's website, it's chromadile.com. He's a web designer and does quite a tremendous job. And I want to thank Martin Willis for helping me put some of the guest blogs together. We're in the process of doing that right now. I also want to mention that I'm gonna be performing my satirical character, Republican representative Richard Martin, at Zoe's in Ventura Monday September 12th. I think the show is probably around eight or so, and a bunch of great people on the booth. Greg Delisle, Janet Varney, Jimmy Dore, Eddie Pepitone and a couple of other comedians.
I'd like to read a letter I got from a guy named Eli. He writes "Hi, big fan of the show. Just recently started listening and I'm really enjoying it. I think it probably helps a lot of people get through some tough issues and is a great public service. However, I have one bone to pick. It seems like in every interview, you eventually get around to saying how the problems that anyone faces in life had to be that way to arrive at where you are now. Or, that the universe has a plan that includes meaningful hardship and that it all works out in the end with the person concerned being a better human being, etc. Now I understand from a personal, subjective point of view that this kind of new age reasoning can be comforting and can help individuals with personal problems, but in a larger way, it is intellectually shallow and even offensive." And then he lists a bunch of examples of horrible events from history. Um, I don't know why kids get cancer. I don't know why there are Hitlers and why there's other kinds of shit that happens. What I do know is that there's an energy in the universe that brings me comfort when I go through painful things. And sometimes I think the universe feeds us and sometimes I think the universe needs us to feed it and make sacrifices. And that's kind of the model that I have in my head that helps me. I have no idea if I'm anywhere near the mark. What I do know is it helps me get out of bed, it helps me smile more, and it helps me be of more service to my fellow man and my immediate family. So, I keep doing that. I respect the fact that you disagree with that, and I would just ask you to extend the same respect to me. And I'm not a big fan of organized religion, I've probably - in fact, I know I've put it down before on this show. And I apologize to anybody that I've offended for doing that. I'm a fan of spirituality. I'm not a fan of organized religion. But I don't begrudge anybody that uses organized religion and who finds comfort from it. And some of you may be saying 'what is the difference between organized religion and spirituality? Aren't they one and the same thing?' And I heard somebody say one time that organized religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell and spirituality is for people who have been there.
P: So just to quickly recap part one with Greg, he was a heroin addict who got caught trying to sell heroin, went on the lam as- he didn't who up for his court appearance, went on the lam under the name Harry Bring for a while, was eventually caught, thrown in jail, did his time, came out still with a mean heroin habit, managed to get rehired by Fox Studios as a projectionist, and was on his third marriage, right?
G: Yes, I was on my third wife. Wife number two went off into oblivion who unfortunately later died of this disease in the streets. And wife three was a fabulous lady, the best of my four marriages, as far as coming close to real love. She was a great lady. We really loved each other, had a great passion for each other but we were both addicts and she was right alongside me. And her father was the head DA of Van Nuys.
P: Boy, you really can pick 'em. You really can pick 'em.
G: And her mom was a famous big court stenographer for big cases like Mansons,...
P: Oh really?
G: Yeah, she did all the big cases. So anyways, I'm also now getting used to being with a parole officer and...
P: And she's female.
G: She's female. I started to work at the studios and I'm thinking in the back of my head, 'cause I'm not asking too many questions or trying to raise any feathers, because I'm trying to think of how I can use because I'm not used to this parole thing. 'Cause I'm going crazy.
P: Yeah. In particular heroin? Because that's your drug of choice?
G: Yeah absolutely so. So I'm starting to drink for the first time, right? I started with Tanqueray, and Schwepps and limes. I remember I started drinking- let's see, I was barely 30 then and I really hadn't drank before. I was a pure drug addict. So I started drinking these gin and tonics and I thought 'wow, that’s pretty good- I kind of like that.' Not my choice but it was working.
P: It'll do in a pinch.
G: It was working. I started noticing I was having to buy a quart like every other night, and I had just started. Right? I have a very monster tolerance, very high tolerance. To everything. Anyway, so it gets to be a regular thing till I feel, this parole thing. And then I get a call one day, I work at this studio. I get a call ‘you gotta come in.’ I say to my parole lady, ‘I can’t just leave my job here- I’ll lose my job.’ She said ‘what are you doing again?’ I said ‘I’m a projectionist at this studio.’ I happened, at the time, to be working on Rocky. And I started working on this film. She was gonna send me back to jail. And I said ‘but I can get you a pass to come to the studio and get on the stage and I’ll do my urine test for you here.’ And she goes ‘you can?’ And as I found out, she was a complete movie junkie. You’re talking about a seven year testing parole. Unless you do two years completely clean every time. And she told me she’d never ever had anybody do it. And, when I did it on everybody else’s pee but mine- because she would come into the projection booth, into the studio, and I’d take her down on the mixing stage and say ‘you can sit back here and watch them mix.’ That’s the director, and that’s the composer over there, these are the sound mixers.’ ‘Oh my God!’ [she’d say]. She’d give me the bottle and I’d run upstairs and get some clean pee.
P: She wasn’t supposed to watch you pee?
G: I have no idea. But whatever...you know, all I know is that I did that for two years and she was like so proud of me. And I was gowed the whole time.
P: Gaued meaning high on heroin?
G: Yeah, both me and Georgia, my wife number three, yes she was right there in there with me. So I was working in Hollywood. There’s this famous mixer in Hollywood on the stage with me. Everybody wants to bring their big films to him. He’s booked for two years solid. All the big films came to this guy. And he loved me. And he was a normal guy, married into this suburban family, but brilliant- a brilliant, brilliant man. Brilliant historian, brilliant, unbelievable mind, and he’s just kind of getting interested in.
P: What was the guy’s name?
G: Richard Portman. He won the Oscar for The Deer Hunter. So anyways, he was kind of interested in my life and what’s going on. I had this big, spacious booth - about the size of the room we’re in here. It was fabulous, with a big bay window, ice box, recliners in it.
P: This was his office or you yours?
G: This was my booth, what I worked in everyday. And it was the most technically advanced stage in Hollywood. It was first high speed stage. Anywhere in the business, actually. It was like a prototype stage.
P: And your job basically was to get the film that had been rough edited from the editors or the director and put it up so the studio and the director could sit in the same room and look at a rough cut, correct?
G: It was many different jobs of a projectionist because there was many different ways the films and its application are used until it was put into a composite form. So if you’re doing like a historian session back then, ‘cause the movie doesn’t have music going out through it, they called out what’s called big loops. And you put certain loops out. it would be like CM12, which would be cue music 12, right? And that’s - she’s down there, and you put it in a hot hole, and you’d run this big loop over and over and over. Through a 35 mm, through the projector.
P: And they do pass after pass after pass of the music until the...
G: Yeah, and the streams to go across the street, that’s when the downbeat’s supposed to start. These are all prepared by an editor, then are handed to you and then they tell you over the mike ‘cue 13, cue 14’ whatever ‘m12 or whatever. And you just put the right stuff up or whatever. Now, dubbing they do a reel at a time. And they put them on high speed projectors. And that’s interlocked and synced to the soundtracks that they’re mixing to. And then the sound recorders are mixed to that, are locked to that. It’s all interlocked right to the perf.
P: The perf is the holes in film itself.
G: Yeah, there’s four perfs per frame. So, actually there’s eight perfs per frame really. It’s a trick question on the projectionist.
P: Four on each side.
G: Yeah, and then there’s picture on track like you were talking about, the track is separate from the dailies. And then there’s composite, then there’s 70mm, there’s 35mm, there’s tentaton, there’s probably 14 or 15 different types of applications and different types of projectors. And that, as a projectionist, a major lot. Depending on where the film is in its post production journey. And I was good, I was very good at it. I have a very mechanical mind, I can build cars, it came to me really easy, really fast and once you got it down I could do it really loaded. Completely out of it, completely.
P: I think I saw your movie “Cheever Fully Loaded.”
G: Anyway, so I’m working with this guy and he had has this plan that he had been working on the side that nobody knew about, that Robert Altman was going to build him his own stage and his own facility off Bundy in West Hollywood. It was about ready to come into fruition. So he leaves and I continue on, and another mixer comes in and does his job. I get a call about two weeks later and he says ,’hey, do you want to come to work for me?’ And I say ‘what?’ So, that’s when I went over and then he says look ‘I don’t know if I can pay you what you’re making now. All I can pay you is like $650 a week, which was a lot of money back then. You’re talking 35 years ago, right?
P: Which would be what ‘76, something like that?
G: Yeah, and so anyway, what happens is we go to Lion’s Gate, and it’s Robert Altman’s studio, it’s all financed by Fox, you know creator of Mash.
P: The movie.
G: Mash the movie and he sold the rights to the TV thing for $10,000.
G: Yeah, nobody knows that. But his son worked there. Anyways, Lions Gate became this incredible, unbelievable private, unionized studio and Dick brought all of his big clients with him. Made it, at the time, as high tech as it could be. Robert Altman was the big- he sent us weed down for me to roll every day. And he didn’t care what you did there as long as you got your work done, right? And it was...yeah, it was really, really on there. So crazy. This guy comes to me and says ‘my cousin works at Pfizer. He’s like one of the top chemists over at Pfizer and I think I can get a bunch of drugs from him. What kind would you like?’ I said ‘yeah sure.’ I kind of blew him off. He came back and said ‘really, do you want anything? Just give me a list.’ So I gave him of list of dialaudins, tuenals, on and on and on. Some of the strongest narcotics ever. And he comes in with bottles of 200 and 500 of these things one day. He says he wants $1,000 for this. It was about $15,000 worth.
P: That’s a drug addict Christmas. You’re not going to see that airing on WGN but that is a Drug Addict Christmas.
G: And he proceeded to get the whole place strung out. Everybody was doing hard narcotics, and so now I’m married to Georgia (#3) and she’s pregnant. I’m now living in Van Nuys, things are really out of control, I’m really, really getting hooked on booze. And heroin. But the booze is really killing me. Really, because for me, the alcohol was harder than any narcotic and I crossed a lot more moral boundaries on alcohol. Because it physically tears you up so much and I never went into blackouts on narcotics and I was starting to do that on booze.
P: And alcohol give you an aggressive edge that narcotics, I think, probably don’t. You don’t see many heroin addicts getting in fist fights, do you?
G: No, you don’t. It’s a very passive drug, very laid back. But alcohol never did that to me either. A lot of people it can do that to. I have been really crazy on it and whatever, and now my wife has had our first child. And we’re living in Van Nuys. I’m really in bad shape, really really bad. But I managed ..to keep me standing up because I was really getting towards the bottom and she was really getting worried and I just remember Georgia starting to completely disconnect from me because when she had that baby, that’s when she had her spiritual experience you might say. Because she was just as hooked as me and she disconnected completely from that. She had decided that...
P: She needed to get her priorities in shape.
G: I’ve never seen anything like it to this day. And she got to a point with me to where we finally lost the house in Venice, we ended up at Silver Lake, living in a back bedroom of her grandparents.’ And she put me in the car one day and drove me down to the middle of Hollywood and said ‘I can’t watch you kill yourself anymore.’ Gave me this key, stopped on the street off of Gauer. She said ‘Down that driveway there’s a room in there, I love you dearly and I just can’t watch you kill yourself anymore.’ It was one of those snapshot memories up here. Because when I was standing in that street and the car pulled away, and my daughter in the back seat, her eyes kind of looking at me as she rolled away.
G: I was really, really bad. Really bad and so I went and proceeded to try to basically just drink myself to death in this place. And I ended up losing that place, ended up out on the streets. And then a high school friend of mine.
P: Were you working at this time or no?
G: I was working very little. By this time, I had run my gamut through all the studios. I knew enough not to take a call if I couldn’t make it to the next day. I had no car, no nothing. That’s why she gave me a place in the middle of Hollywood. And I was alcohol poisoned most of that time. But what happened from there was very close to where I hit my bottom but I ended up out on the street from there. I didn’t know where my daughter or her were. And I was on blackouts most of the time. And I was still trying to get as much heroin and cocaine or anything else I could in myself but I didn’t really have any money. And they used to run into the markets and fill up the cart and before they used to put the locks on the big bottles in the...whatever, I’d get to the end of the reel and I’d drink out of it. I’d drink almost a quart inside the market at like 3 or 4 in the morning.
P: So you wouldn’t have to pay for it?
G: I’d just act like I was shopping, you know? Fill the cart up with all the most expensive stuff, and then at the turn at the end of the aisle, past the mirrors, I’d just stop there and down just as much as I could.
P: You’re not the first person I’ve heard talk about that.
G: I did that for a long time. But anyways...
P: We have a mutual friend Time who, what forced him to finally get sober, was he was in a Ralph’s chugging as much of a thing of vodka as he could while the security guard was chasing him around the store. And he had a chicken, a roast chicken down his pants. And this Mexican guard is chasing him around screaming “alcoholico, alcoholico!” And he was living on a porch swing in Venice and he called a friend of ours up named Kenny Bob and was telling him what was going on, and living on the porch swing and Kenny Bob said to him ‘you know, if you keep drinking you could lose that porch swing.’
G: Yeah, that’s great, yeah...
G: That is so cool. I’ve heard that story and I know who you’re talking about. That is so funny.
P: Yeah, he’s a great guy.
G: Fabulous guy.
P: Turned his life around. Big time.
G: Big time. Like I said, I ended up on the streets but before I got to that point, before things got so horrible after I left Lions Gate, I went back out on the daily circuit and now I’m very intoxicated, having blackouts all the time, passing out and coming to, I’m cursed by the end. I’m pretty sure I’ll crash and burn down. I’m 33 years old, 33 and a half years old, I had to drink. I had to drink to survive these days. And I never knew when a blackout was gonna happen. Sometimes it could be just 6 ounces and sometimes it could be 16 ounces and sometimes it wouldn’t happen. And that’s what blackouts are for most drunks who are doing this. But when I would do these crazy things in blackouts, so I’m on a pretty good roll, working at Warner Hollywood, been there about a month and a half, they like me, I’m doing ok, I’m staying out of everybody’s face. I’m got a job where I can drink and do my deal and go home. And they put me on this night shift there running this movie, a big preview deal, right? And they always were very trusting of my talent. I was always very good at what I did. And that’s one thing that I think allowed me to survive so long on the circuit out there, is I was very qualified. And so I’m running this back in the day, when they had previews at actual studios before they would take them to like the Grommens, like they do now. They’d actually do their own previews on the lights with the spotlights, and they’d call the local press in and they’d do their little audio recordings, much like we’re doing, for the stars and stuff. And they’d have the spotlights going, they’d make a big hoohah, ...the directors, casting crew. The regular deal. And I can’t remember which film it was, but it was a pretty big film and I’m in the main theater in Hollywood and everything’s going along fine, they start, they get like in the second or third reel, it’s a very warm night, there’s no air conditioning in the booth, arc lights- the lights for the projectors, which are very hot. And I’ve got my shirt off. And I’ve got my vodka bottle on the electrical gutter right next to the projector, a nice big cord and probably shock or something. And I’m slugging away at it and whatever. And I’m checking the screen and making sure everything’s going. And I’m changing between the A projector and the B projector, and everything’s going fine. And then we get to this scene in the outside and I look at the port and I notice this hair caught in the aperture. In this sky scene you could really see it impair it. It was very irritating, you know moving really, wiggling all over the screen. It’s covering half the screen, right? And so...to get it out of there, I would run over there, compress the air, shoot it into the aperture, it wouldn’t move. I flicked the aperture with my hand, it doesn’t move. I spit on the edge of the film, it doesn’t move. Now, we have another trick we do - we loosen the backlight of the thing and throw some air in behind there. The film goes out of focus just a little bit, but that’s the last escape, right? Then you tighten it back up. I could not get that hair off the screen. That’s kind of like the last thing I remember- using every trick I knew in the book to try and do this. Now the next thing I remember is being woken up by a janitor in a utility closet, one building over, with my wife and my six month old daughter in her arms, with this janitor standing next to them, both looking at me with their jaws dropped. And as I come out of this blackout, everything kind of goes back in reverse in my head like winding a tape back. Like, oh my God! I knew where I was when I came out of it because I used to shoot heroin in that closet, right? And everything went back and as everything went back I’m rising up off the ground. And as I’m rising up off the ground, I realize I have no clothes on. [both laugh] So they don’t know what to say, my wife and this janitor, right? And all I know is that she had my pants in her hand. I threw the pants on because I knew I had to get back to that screening before that reel ran out. Because usually in a motion picture there’s eight different reels. You guys never see it when you see them, it’s not that way anymore, but back then there used to be two projectors and you had to make sure each one is approximately about 20 minutes. And if you weren’t there when that runs out, it goes to white on the screen and no sound. It’s just white light going out through the lens. And not only will it burn a lens to pieces, but the takeup reels in the bottom have such torque on them that it will shred the film. So as I’m tearing back to this one building, down these stairs, I come out and there are all these people milling around, it was an upstairs theater. They’re all kind of milling around the parking lot, and they’re all kind of looking up at the projection booth, and they just kind of looked aimless, right? And I come tearing around the corner, I come up the stairs, I come up and as I’m approaching the stairway to come into the booth, I notice little chunks of film flying out. And then as I’m coming out that back door and I see all the people around, I know I’m already really...something’s really drastically wrong. But I’m already in motion, I just kind of go for it. And so now here’s kind of really the cruncher of the whole thing, ok? So, I shut the film down, I close everything up, I go home, right? Georgia’s like ‘I don’t know what the hell happened back there, but I don’t think it was good, Greg.’ And I’m like ‘oh, whatever, ok, yeah, I know, I’m gonna get help tomorrow’ or whatever. So I come in for my call the next day and it was an eight o’clock call in the morning on the dub stage. And it’s like the second hand hit eight and the phone rings and it’s the head of the department on there and he goes, ‘Goddammit Cheever! Oh, I wish I could have been there! Why wasn’t I there? Oh my God, that’s unbelievable! I wish I....oh I am so pissed off I couldn’t be there. Well, of course you’re fired, but why couldn’t have I been there?’ And I go ‘why...I know I screwed up.’ And so here’s what happened: somewhere, when I blacked out trying to get that hair out of the aperture, and I don’t remember ...the next thing I remember is waking up in the utility closet.
P: The one thing you had told me when you told me this story before was you used the phrase you liked to do when you’d get loaded... with your clothes...
G: Oh, ’nude up.’ Yeah, that was a natural,, and so I guess this is what happened in the blackout. You’re right. Every time I would go home when I was loaded I would just take off all my clothes. I’ve been doing that for years, right? And I still have this naked thing going.
P: So you’d ‘nude up’...
P: So you’re in the booth ‘nuded up’ apparently.
G: No...yeah, I had no idea this happened until I came in the next morning, right? What he’s making such the statement like ‘oh my God’ and he’s doing it with enthusiasm, like’ ‘this has gotta be one of the best, this is going to be legendary in the business’ So in my blackout, somewhere in my twisted thinking in that blackout, I figured that that hair was out on the screen. And I better take off all my clothes to go see if it is. [Paul laughs]. So I take off all my clothes, I walk out of the booth, I walk down the hallway, I walk up to the emergency doors that are right by the screen, they’re exit doors actually.
P: And there are how many people watching this screening?
G: Oh, it was completely full theater of like 250, maybe 300.
G: Yes, VIP’s. Head of the studio there. And director...
P: And you can’t remember what movie it was?
G: No, I can’t. Everything was overpowered. I probably could if I really thought about it. I’ll find out. Anyways, the story kind of followed me for a long time. And I have this compressed air can in my hand. So this exit door near the screen, everybody’s watching the film, running fine, there’s a hair up there, though.
P: In your mind.
G: Yeah. Well there was a hair but - I know that, I know that for a fact before I blacked out.
P: But it wasn’t on the screen and in your drunken state you thought the hair was on the screen, not in the camera. ‘Cause you couldn’t get it out of the camera.
G: Well that’s the whole insanity of the story, right? Because here’s what happened: when I opened up that door and walked out across the screen naked, and this is a lower screen, you could probably see my kiweelie hanging out, right? I mean, it was full...it was full aperture type picture. The picture was almost on the floor and I walk out in front of it and I take this compressed air can and I point it up towards this hair and I start spraying it, you know? And when everybody, first of all when they saw me they freaked out, but when they say that? That’s when they knew something was really twisted. And according to my boss, they started exiting out the rear doors. They just started leaving right then, they didn’t even wait for the film to run out. They just started...and I wander off in this blackout and passed out in this utility closet. So that’s one of my bosses I’m trying to figure out. He’s like ‘God, I wish I could have been there!” And he’s so enthusiastic and like ‘Oh my God!’
P: Oh, I wish I could have been there.
G: He’s like ‘oh my God!’ And just the kind of undertone ‘oh by the way you’re fired.’
P: So that was one of the four studios.
G: That was one of the four studios. And the Ordinary People one for Columbia. It was on the Warner Brothers’ lot but it was Columbia films. Robert Redford’s debut as a director.
P: And it was a great movie, it won a bunch of Oscars.
G: Yeah, fabulous movie. And it had just been shown. It was the first rough cut. It was really long, it was over three hours. It was in picture/track format, which means the track, the actual audio track, is separate on 35mm. But separate magnetic track from the picture. And they both have to be synced up. And ...like that, a three hour picture with ...you know, picture and track, would be approximately 34 separate reels of film.
P: So a lot of work.
G: So anyways, I’m running this, I get to where this film has just been running in New York at Magno for some other people, for the Warner Brothers people over there and it was late coming back and there were a lot of very high powered people waiting to see this film, from Warner Brothers and Columbia, including Robert Redford. And the film hadn’t shown up yet. The flight was delayed. The teams bringing the film finally. I’m waiting, the auditorium is waiting, usually they prepare that film (the editors do) before they even bring ...they bring it in a day early and check it all. So I’m loaded out of my mind up there, I’m drinking, I’m hot, I’ve got my wife beater on.
P: Are we ‘nuded up’? Oh I guess not if you’ve got the wife beater on.
G: No, I’ve got my wife beater on, Levi’s, whatever. So the film finally comes in, I open it up and it’s a mess. There’s film all over the place, the tape’s all come undone so it’s kind of unspooled everywhere. I find the first couple of reels, I get them up on the projectors, I take off . These are short reels, only eight minutes a piece or whatever. But I get everything turned around, I’m good, I can do it. But that was my mistake, right?
P: This was before you had realized the power of asking for help. You were still in your ego of ‘I can do this all on my own.’
G: Yes, absolutely.
P: Because you were handed, basically, a tub of shit, technically, but you had to be Superman.
G: And it also goes back to being on the edge. Like all my stuff as a young boy, the throwing of the rocks, the dealing, the dope, goes right back to there too. It’s like ‘I can pull this off.’ ‘I can get so close.’ But if you don’t, you’re really...
P: You’re going to crash and burn.
G: Yeah. And so I get about five or six reels in and the picture breaks. And, like I say it’s picture and track and it’s interlocked together. So I had to stop and turn on the house lights and the editor comes back up and says ‘what happened?’ And I just give the guy a look like ‘are you kidding me? What do you mean what happened?’ I said ‘one of your splices came apart, one of your million splices you have in here.’ And so I said ‘don’t worry, I can sync it up without taking it back to the edge. It will be back in a few minutes.’ He says ok and goes back down. Start rolling, get another half hour, 45 minutes into the film. Another one breaks. And this is really nothing about my operation at all, everything was in sync, everything was in focus, everything was...changeovers were happening. I had film all over the place. But I was getting it on the screen and, as far as they’re concerned it was a good screening if it didn’t keep breaking. But the final time, the third time, at kind of a key part of the picture, almost a turning point in the whole film, the picture breaks and I know most people have probably seen this, but it broke in the aperture and the hothole of the picture, and did one of those...
G: Yeah, it did a ‘pwwt!’ little hole..and then it burns all the way across the screen. Melted all the way across the screen, right? And I turn everything on, I stopped the projectors, this time I’ve really got to do some work on it. I put a piece of plug in it and make sure it’s in sync. I’m thrashed, man, I’m thrashed by now. And I get that bottle down in the gutter and I’m hitting that vodka hard. And this time I’m down by the lower magazine projectors, between the two projectors, trying to sync up this film. You’ve got a splicing block down there, trying to slug this hole that’s in the picture. And Robert Redford comes up and he’s got both of his hands- one on one, one on the other- he’s got his feet spread apart. And he says ‘what the fuck is going on here?’ And I’m not this type of guy, but something happened that day. I snapped. I didn’t say anything but I turned my head like razor fast and I looked up at him and he knew as soon as I looked at him that something was wrong. And he put his hands up and backed up. And I stood up and I just started walking towards him. He’s backpedaling now, out of the booth and I said ‘get the fuck out of here.’ [Paul laughs] And he said ‘what?’ I said ‘get the fuck out of my booth- get out of here!’ Now he’s going back down the stairs, walking backwards down the stairs and he’s like ‘do you know who I am?’ And I said ‘I don’t give a fuck who you are.’ I chased him down the hall, outside of the theater, and he’s going up to this little hallway that goes into the doors of the theater. And I chase him up there, and he’s still kind of walking backwards, forwards, backwards, forwards...yelling and talking at me. And I catch the door as it’s starting to close and I said ‘stay the fuck in there!’ And nobody- I went up and finished the film- nobody came up to the booth after that. But the next day I got that call. I got that call and it was from New York. And they said ‘I just want you to know this is a call from Warner Brothers in New York, and did you run a film for Robert Redford last night?’ And I said ‘yes I did.’ And they said ‘can you tell us exactly what happened?’
P: And they also told you that the phone call was being recorded, right?
G: Oh yes, they said ‘this is being recorded.’ So I told them exactly what happened. I was truthful with them and told them that I got upset and chased Mr. Redford out of the booth and down the hallway, and back into the theater. So that was that. That’s another one where they put one of those...
P: Do not let this...
G: Do not let this guy...[laughs]. So, there’s another one where I was doing a big screening, a 70 mm 6 track screening of Mary Poppins.
P: The original? When it first came out?
G: Yeah. At MGM. It was one of my first ones. This is when I first start smoking dust.
P: While showing Mary Poppins is high on angel dust...[laughs]
G: [laughs] 6 tracks 70 mm, the highest technology of its time. 70 mm was just recently created, 6 tracks magnetic on the...Anyways, we’d been doing print checks all day between that and Grand Prix, another 70 mm 6 track Frankenheimer film. So this is a big, big screening- Mary Poppins. This is in the MGM Grand theater, one of the biggest theaters in Hollywood on a major lot. 700 seats. And everything’s going along fine except when we were doing all of the print checks somehow a reel of Grand Prix got put into the garret. Mary Poppins’ mix, right? Oh God [both laugh]. They all looked the same, you’ve gotta understand. They’re all on the same type of reels, the same type of film. It’s just a name. One says Grand Prix, the other one says Mary Poppins. They can both be reel 6’s and they were. But one was Grand Prix. It’s just this really touching, singing song Mary Poppins and I change right over into this probably 120 dp of a camera on the back of a Grand Prix car [both laugh].
P: Jolted people out of their seats.
G: And you monitor everything from the booth and it was like ‘the wave.’ When it happened, I saw the whole audience kind of go....they just kind of leaned forward like a wave going simultaneously. And then I saw people start getting up in the aisle. Start running- cause I’ve gotta stop the film, I’ve gotta change reels. They’re gonna be up there screaming at me. So, the first thing I did is I run over and lock the door.
P: Because you don’t want help?
G: No I don’t want help. I want to get the film back on the screen as fast as I can. While I’m doing this, my conniving mind is thinking of a way out. So I get the right reel back, I start it and what I do because all those prints -MGM had their own lab at the time. I go over and I cut the two. I splice the front leader. I switch the two things.
P: To cover your ass.
G: Right. They come flying at the door. I said ‘man, I’m sorry, I just wanted to get the right thing up here, you know?’ The last thing I need is you guys lying at me.
P: Somebody else’s fuck up.
G: So they go ‘what?’ And I said ‘not me, man. Take a look at this, man.’ I show them the leader, I pull it down, I put it up to the light. I show them the picture. And there it is- Mary Poppins leader with a Grand Prix race car. And somebody got hung out big time in the lab for that. But I got out of it.
P: Wow. Wow, the wreckage that you caused.
G: Oh, I could go on and on. It goes on and on and on. Then one day, everything’s gone in my life. I’m really, really sick- physically sick.
P: And this is how many years ago?
G: This was in 1982. So 29 ½ years ago. And one day - this had been coming to pass for years, Paul- one day I come to in that bedroom. And it was sky blue. The bedroom was painted sky blue. And I come to and I don’t know where it came from, but I just said ‘God, either help me or take me.’ And I remember the sunlight coming in the Levelor blinds in the morning, about 10:00 I guess. And the next thing I remember is sitting in the same place, like it was edited together- was the sun setting and coming in the opposite side of the Levelor’s, on the other side of the room. But on the other side, as I came out of that other side, it wasn’t a white light experience. It wasn’t a time traveling thing. It was just an absence of time. But one half of the disease that almost killed me and many other people, and pushed me to do such horrible things, where I couldn’t get the key off. The mental part was gone, completely gone. I was still physically hooked, I had a habit. But the mental obsession gone, ‘I gotta drink, I gotta use, I gotta get something in me, I have to, I can’t survive life without it, I can’t stop-’ was completely gone. And my friend came home that night and he looked at me and I’ll never forget what he said. He said ‘the pain’s gone from your face.’
G: I said ‘I didn’t drink today.’ I remember I started crying...The most important day of my life, beyond my kids being born, beyond anything. That day, right there, that moment...
P: So something changed, deep inside you.
G: Yeah, that day was one of those days where I didn’t understand, really, what happened. But I knew something had changed in me. And I remember I was liberated, I was free, and I knew it but I couldn’t explain it. And I was afraid to even say anything about it because I was so liberated with this possibility of this actually staying with me. Because here I was in the bondage of chemicals for a long, long time. And when I realized there was a way out a few years prior to that, I had surrendered to the fact that I was going to die an alcoholic in my early 40’s.
G: Yeah, I had totally surrendered to that. I had accepted it. And I remember in my head writing this whole scenario down that would say ‘Greg, you really had it going on. You were an athlete, people loved you in high school, you a were good looking, successful guy in the studios, you had it all right there.’
P: You scared Robert Redford.
G: I terrorized a lot of people, and...
P: You nuded it up at a premiere.
G: I had a lot of fun doing it, and so I was kind of just in this still zone. In the now, completely in the now for like the first time. Maybe ever, that I’d really experienced that on a psychic level, without chemicals. Now I’m still going to have to do the shake and bake because I’m physically hooked, but the obsession of the mind part was completely removed. Gone. And I did, I shake and baked for about 2-3 days and I ended up going where I needed to go to get some help, which was a place for me that was very special. And I started this journey of a sober life. And I was bankrupt, the friend’s whose house I was staying out let me stay there for nor rent. I eventually, within two or three months, got pretty healthy and it was like I was hatched out of a cocoon again. And it was like this new Greg came back. I have a very good, strong, incredibly strong DNA and healthy body, which it’s good now that I’m among the living, on the clean side. But when I was out there it allowed me to take it to levels that even some of my sickest friends were like ‘I can’t believe you, you’re like unbelievable.’ In fact, there were a lot of people who wouldn’t let me fix in their house because they couldn’t believe how much I put in the spoon. They were like ‘no way.’ We’re not having him overdose here.
P: Really? I’ve never done heroin so I’m not familiar with what like is a small or a large amount. I suppose it depends on the potency.
G: It depends on what was on the streets at the time, and whether you’re shooting ½ gram or ¾ gram or shooting a couple of tabs or a tab. What type of drug was on the street then. At that time it was called ‘salt and pepper heroin,’ which was raw, Mexican heroin cut with lactose.
P: So you’d shit yourself a little bit later?
G: No, that’s kind of a fallacy because well, for one thing, any opiate is extremely constipating. I’m serious- there would be times I wouldn’t...
P: I was on Vicodin a while after a surgery, you don’t have to tell me.
G: Yes, and that resulted many years later in a full hemorrhoid surgery which was a brotherhood of its own. [both laugh] That one. So I started on this journey and I’m living at my buddy’s house and I had no wheels, and I’m taking buses around, and about four months in I go back to number three, who has my daughter now 2 ½, and she see’s there’s unbelievably, different Greg.
P: This is the wife who pulled away and left you at the motel and you watched your little girl wave to you in the back window, look at you.
G: Yeah, and there was this deep connection between us because, like I said, maybe this is a woman I was really in love with and she was in love with me. But it was hard to describe that and identify it because it was so layered down in addiction.
P: One of the hallmarks, to me, of addiction is the inability to describe your feelings. I think this is one of the reasons why we run to drugs and alcohol, is because it’s just a feeling in our gut that we need to avoid. And we’re so bad at articulating what it is that we’re feeling. And to me, there’s two steps in recovering from drugs and alcohol. The first one is beginning to know what it is that you’re feeling, and that you’re trying to run from. And the second phase is being able to express that to other human beings so you can have healthy relationships. But in the beginning you don’t even know. You just know ‘I want to punch a wall’, ‘I don’t want to punch a wall.’ ‘I want to get fucked up, I don’t want to get fucked up.’ ‘I want to kill myself, I want to live.’
G: Yes, absolutely. And for me, being a passive, non-violent person I would contain every emotion within me and that came from the pomp, power, prestige thing I was brought up on. I really think that was sprungboard out of my motherboard so to speak, or the way I was raised by environment and people at the time which were my parents and the society that's around it. So here I am this guy that can't act out in any kind of violent way because it's just not a part of me. At the same time I had these great gifts of forgiveness that I got from my Dad and understanding. The emotional part that you're talking about to mentally try and put that out was way too much fear. That I wouldn't do it right or that I would look weak or that I would look like I needed help.
P: Let's stop there for a second. The fear of looking weak, I think that kills more people than anything and yet it is — Once you're unafraid to look weak there is such freedom on the other side of that. Life becomes so much easier if you can just accept it. You know what some people might think that I'm weak. Some people might think that I'm this or that but if you can accept that and not care about that, man, that is the door, the doorway to such incredible freedom but for most people and men especially and if you were raised with a Dad who was stoic and macho that —
G: How scared I was when I knew my father was close to passing and could I find the emotion to feel, to dedicate, to let out when he passed.
P: And how long had you been sober when he passed?
G: Five years. And I was the one that pulled the plug on him. There wasn't really a do not resuscitate sign right, a DNR. So basically at that time, and this was in 87, if I was to say — you couldn't at that time, you had to just let the process takes its — and I knew that's the last thing that he wanted. But now he's in a coma. He can't tell anybody 'please take me off life support'. So I would sit there next to him. And I remember I would just sit there next to him and I would just sit and just kinda hold his hand and just look and just say — I remember thinking this all the time. You know, 'how did I deserve such a great father' and because see now all those layers, those layers of numbness are starting to come off and now I'm starting to feel, really feel, right, and I'm starting to realize some of the stuff that he input into me mainly by example, mainly just by — half a dozen little things that stood out in my mind as a kid that he passed onto me. And they were experiences that we had together. If it was going to a market and walk out of a market and one day he says 'Oh come on back with me. Walk back to the market with me.' And he hands the cashier ten dollars and he says 'You gave me too much money'. That's it. We get in the car and drive home and he says 'Son, you know why I did that?'. I said, 'No why would you do that Dad?' You know and he says 'Because you will be repaid tenfold somewhere along your life and it may not be in money.' And I remember those things you know? And so I'm sitting there with him one day and I notice that his head shifts and I see his eyes kind of flutter and I stand up and I get down close to him and you know. Another shot from wherever this great creator of this universe or whatever you want to call it. He whispers "I want to meet my maker". And yeah, I was like it — it was beyond a chill that went through me you now and I stood up and it was instant, instantaneous. I knew from that moment on what I was going to do. I went to get a registered nurse, an ambulance service, I told them to come in there. I went straight in there and started unhooking him. And they came in and said 'What are you doing? You can't do this. The Ventura DA can file on you know.' 'Go ahead and file.' I took him home and he died in the front room with the family around him looking out on the golf course two days later. So those gifts and the alignment of that synchronicity in my life as at that time I was forty years old.
P: By the way you're not the first friend of mine that did that. And I can't imagine, unless it's clear in your mind that that's what you should do I can't image how tough that's got to be for somebody but what a gift to have that be very clear in your mind that that's what you need to do and that's wonderful. So let's fast forward —
G: I get my daughter back. She was two and a half at the time. I start to work back in the studios, working the daily board. I'm working a lot of different studios. People see a different Greg physically. I give a 110%. The years move on. I had my daughter through these years. I didn't miss one weekend from Friday night to Sunday evening for 12 years straight. So she kinda grew up you know, around the new Greg, around the new process, around all the friends that were involved in my new life and it's like I entered a new world because that old life and those old people just were no longer a part. Now I had people that I had known forever. I was kind of a pack leader amongst our group of guys that were all — Some of em, a lot of em dead. Some of em in jail and some of em living the good life, you know, clean and sober. So I would go by their house like every week for years. And eventually they start showing up at my door. You know they hit their bottom. I guess it's about three of em, three of em have over 25 years now. I'm going to one of his weddings on Friday actually. Great stuff, that's all wonderful. Me and my daughter built this incredible kind of special relationship. So she's at the age of ten and she's asked in school to write a paper that she would have to share in front of the class about who is her hero. She knows everything about the past, she knows everything. So she writes this paper on 'My hero is Harry Bring'. And she does this whole story about Harry Bring about what he did and what he was like and then what happened. It's just unbelievable. That I got the sheet and I laminated it and put it in a case and it's on my mantle, right?. And it's just heartbreaking, right?. But such a great, great piece because Harry Bring turns into her father, right?. You know as you get sober you realize that it's really the inside stuff that runs your life and makes you happy and content and emotionally content. And that energy from the inside is what really runs your life on the outside. But as the outside stuff starts coming into you, those all take responsibilities, those big houses, those nice cars, those school, those ballet — all that stuff, right?
P: And your ego ever so slowly begins to get its little badger claws into that and before you know it they're in so deep.
G: Absolutely. And the worst thing as you know for us is we have the disease of more so we can never ever fulfill that shiny, important, good looking image stuff. We'll never ever get to a place there where we are happy because that won't make us happy.
P: It won't but the hit, the initial hit is so intoxicating it makes you want more of it. There are a million different drugs that we can be addicted to. We can be addicted to compliments. We can be addicted to a fast car. We can be addicted to the internet, to video games. I mean, yeah, we don't do 5. We do 0 or 10.
G: Absolutely right. See I think what happens here is the unconscious self-deception of me and I think a lot of addicts and alcoholics is buried so deep and is layered so camouflaged so intricately that really there's no way we can see it unless we're in the process of, you know writing — and somebody that's been there that can really pull that out of you.
P: And being honest with people everyday who are just like you and talking to them and talking about your feeling because sometimes we don't know what's going on until we start talking about it.
P: And if we sit in a chair and try to figure it out ourselves, you know, you are going to the enemy to try to find out how to defeat the enemy. Well of course your broken brain is going to give you the worst advice imaginable. It's going to say, 'You just need to sit here and get away from everybody and figure this out on your own.'
G: That's right
P: 'Cause it's nice and safe here on the La-Z-Boy. Nobody is going to bore you. Nobody is going to criticize you.'
G: You know the whole surrender to win, die to live, do you want to be right or happy? All that stuff is camouflaged so deeply because I don't want you to tell me I have to change them. I don't want to change.
P: Change is one of the most frightening things to people to begin with but if you have an addictive personality and you seek comfort, there is comfort in the familiar. And I believe that most addicts and alcoholics prefer to nauseating familiar to the promise of the beautiful unknown because it's just the unknown is so frightening to me and to most people I know. It takes trust and if you don't have trust it's one of the most difficult things to generate. And that's why I think it's so important to connect to people and to take those little risks of saying, 'Hi' or getting out of yourself because that fear of being rejected, of, 'I'm going to look like a dufus. I'm gonna make a mistake'. And that's kind of the first bricks of the prison that we build for ourselves is that judging how we think the future's going to unfold.
G: Yeah and it all comes back to, you know, that fear of you seeing really me. And the lengths we go to, to cover that up, to camouflage our real core sense, even in recovery is devastating. And it's much like a lot of people say. It's like taking the layers off an onion until you get down to that core. And often when you do that on an onion, you get down to a core and, you know, it's that bronze kinda dirty looking color, you know? So it's a long process and it's exciting when you're in the process and doing that.
P: That's another thing that I want to point out is: how difficult it is to keep your perception of something when everybody around you has a warped perception, you know? That's why I think it's so difficult to get sobriety or to have any kind of spiritual centered life in show business or I would imagine politics or in anything else where people have this just warped — Like I have a relative who is trying to stay sober and he works in the fashion industry and I can't imagine, you know, an industry with more fucked up priorities than the fashion industry. It's all about the outside and the image. So you had better have a lot of people that are grounded that you are connected to on a daily basis if you are hoping to keep your priorities straight when your 40 or 80 hour a week job you are surrounded with people with fucked up priorities.
G: Absolutely. No, no, that's very true and great people, fun, I mean, I'd stop some times and say, 'My God! You never — You have high school diploma and that's it and look at this', you know? So, yeah, there is a lot of excuses for you to keep going on whatever. And then of course everybody I know that's in the studios gets to a point where they live outside their means and then you have to work and you have to get that overtime and you have to, you know? So you trap yourself in. So anyway —
P: For time purposes I had to condense this interview. Greg basically went on to say he was sober for 18 years but his job became more and more important to him and he was eventually working 80 hours a week and was not doing any of the spiritual practices that had gotten him sober in the first place and he eventually started drinking again and that began to get out of control and he told himself that that was ok as long as he didn't do heroin and we pick up the story probably would have been about 4 or 5 years ago and he was watching a TV show.
G: They were doing a show on a heroin addict, right? And they had this high def shot of this heroin addict would had been sick trying to score and finally did, OK? Now if you're a heroin addict that's the trap right there because you go from having like a raging flu to a matter of a second or two putting that plunger down to nirvana. So going from like a raging flu to feeling just beyond, like nothing —
P: Yes, and that choice is being given to someone who is constitutionally impatient to being with.
G: Yes, yes. And they have this high def shot, they're watching this whole thing. Him sick in the chair, getting the balloon open, putting it in the spoon. All full screen, you know? I'm watching it on my 54" plasma, right? and I'm like, 'Ok', and I'm watching and I'm going, 'this is a little graphic. right?' And they do the whole thing, tying off, drawing up the blood, putting it down, and then they pan up to his face and you watch his transition, right? And I go, 'Oh' and I thought immediately about my friend who runs that show, 'I wonder if she has any editorial rights. That's a little too much.' The next day I go in for this check for my skin for dermatology or something. I'm at the doctor. They do the weigh in and they said the doctor will be right in and I'm sitting on the — in the office with the door closed. Supply nurse comes in and lays down a package of syringes, right? Now my connections for black tar is mentally in my head. It's erased in my phone, but it's in my head, right? I see those syringes. I think about that show last night. I steal one of the syringes. I leave that hospital. I call the connection up and there started my year and a half shooting speedballing. And eventually what happened was things got really dicey and shaky from there and my crew got really, really scared and worried about me. I was starting to have opiate blackouts and disappearing at nights and looking really bad and my crew would get together and have talks about me. I knew it, you know? My crew loved me and they were scared to death about me, right? And so what happened was I needed a fix, I had dope on me and my head engineer was diabetic and I knew always carried insulin syringes with him and so he went off to do a job on the lot and I went into his briefcase and stole one of his syringes, right? I mean he had like 6 or 7 in there, I didn't think he'd miss em. Which he didn't at first but it kinda became, once I did it once, it's like anything with an addict. 'Oh I can do that again.' You know I'd have to rush back to the studio doing something and I'd go, 'God I need a syringe or whatever'. And I was so out of tune with the whole thing like that I didn't know you can buy me drug stores now. You know? You can just go in and buy me. But I was like 'Ah, I don't know where to get me anymore'. So the last time it happened I went into his briefcase and there were only three and I took one and I thought, 'Oh this is —
G: Pretty obvious, you know? Because he had to inject at least twice a day, right? And that was it. And so I'm over at the boss's house, the big boss's house, at Peter Chernin's home in the middle of the day doing some work on his screening room and I get this call from one of the guys and they're going to H and R. The whole crew got together and said they've made a decision. Instead of you killing yourself overdosing they're going to turn you in. And I was like, 'No, No, please. I'll go back and do treatment. I will. I'll go right back.' And they said, 'No, it's done. I think they're already up on the hill.' So that's what happened. And you know the funny thing it wasn't the narcotics that got me fired. It was the stealing of the syringe. That's what got me fired.
P: And even until that moment there — you still lacked the perspective. The truth was that you couldn't handle this job.
G: That's right. That's right. I could not stay sober at that job. I couldn't do it. So I got fired from a 35 year career, you know?
P: But that break allowed you to regain your perspective and to —
G: Well I still didn't get sober for like — well you know because I went home there was the wife that had already started drinking in 98, right? I mean she was still drinking her wine and doing whatever she wanted to do but she's not anything like me. She could probably do it for the rest of her — She never had any DUIs or in jail so she could probably do it her whole life. But anyways all that pressure at home was just not working so, I ran with it for a while and finally, you know, finally ended up hitting that spot where I was done and kicked old school. Just kicked on my 98, 88 year old mother's couch. Kicked heroine and been sober ever since.
P: Well buddy, I want to thank you for coming and opening up and thank you for being my friend.
G: Thanks or having me Paul. It's funny to go through this again and try to put it all together because, you know? Continuity's tough because there's so many different parts of my life but thank you for allowing me to share it with you. You're a good friend and I love you dearly.
P: Love you too buddy, thanks.
P: Many thanks to Greg Cheever for that great interview. Thanks to you guys for listening and supporting the show. Hopefully we make each other feel less alone and less fucked up. I would like to send you out with something my parents used to tell me. They'd say, "Paul"— and this is honest to God. They'd say, "Paul, do something that you love for a living because if you love it you'll have passion about it. You'll probably do it well and the money will take care of itself." And then they would add, "But please don't go into advertising." If you're out there and you have a product, give me a call. Maybe we'll advertise it on the show. Sorry Mom and Dad.