Jackass left a wake of pain, arrests and addiction
TEN men took MTV by storm in 2000 with three simple words: "Welcome to Jackass".
The series showcased wild stunts in a world before iPhones, social media and YouTube, airing for two years and eventually morphing into nine films and four spin-offs. But once the cameras stopped rolling, several of the show's stars were left severely injured and suffering from substance abuse problems - and truly discovered just how dark fame can be.
Johnny Knoxville, born Philip John Clapp Jr., conceptualised Jackass in 1998 when he pitched a story to several publications in which the then-27-year-old would test several different self-defence tactics on himself.
Jeff Tremaine, then a 32-year-old Big Brother magazine editor, greenlit Knoxville's idea and asked him to film the process. (Knoxville, now 46, declined to be interviewed for this piece, and Tremaine, now 51, couldn't be reached.)
A year later, a 19-year-old Bam Margera released Landspeed: CKY with Brandon DiCamillo. In the movie, Margera performed stunts in his hometown of West Chester, Pennsylvania, alongside the CKY (Camp Kill Yourself) crew, which included Ryan Dunn, Rake Yohn and Chris Raab. Landspeed began gaining traction in their skateboarding community, and in 2000, they released a second film, CKY2K.
"That was the video that put us on the map," Raab told the New York Post's Page Six of CKY2K.
"That's what led to the connection with Jeff Tremaine, Johnny Knoxville and Spike Jonze with Bam, myself, Rake Yohn, Brandon and Ryan. So when we got connected with them, we went out [to California] to film a couple of things with a few guys with the Big Brother skateboarding magazine."
"Jeff Tremaine was the mastermind who put everyone together. He got us together, basically got some footage and he took that footage to MTV and to Comedy Central - and really Spike Jonze was our guy … he had the connects at MTV and Comedy Central to bring us there with the footage from the CKY video and the Big Brother skateboard video. That's what became Jackass."
MTV picked up the show, and Ehren "Danger Ehren" McGhehey, Stephen "Steve-O" Glover, Jason "Wee Man" Acuña and Preston Lacy were added to the cast. Tremaine became the director and they found themselves going full speed ahead.
"It was years in the making, but then it was an overnight success," Raab said. "It was more or less a lifestyle we lived for a bunch of years prior and we did it just to do it and make each other laugh. I don't think any one of us could say that was a path for a job or career … it was a surprise that it became as successful as it did."
Margera's mother, April, saw how the show's seemingly instant success changed the dynamic for her son and his friends.
"When that show came to town, it pushed everything we already knew about CKY and filming in the house to a whole new level," April said. "We just took it one day at a time. Same thing with Viva La Bam [a future spin-off focusing on Bam and their family]. It just seemed to keep getting bigger and bigger."
The instant fame propelled the Jackass crew to push the envelope even further, trying out more shocking stunts as the show progressed.
"We were all kind of competing for that time [on TV]," McGhehey said. "There were some things that I obviously didn't want to do - like I don't know any human being that would want to be chased by bulls or be blindfolded - that sucks - or drink [their] own pee. Those things are what people remember and it makes people laugh and that was the whole point of it. And I've had many, many injuries from it - 25 surgeries including nine knee surgeries and three broken backs."
"The pain is real [from the surgeries]," he added. "That's the other thing, with the way that we live as humans now with sports and stuff we do, it's almost like people live like it's a video game. I'm here to tell you it's not. You only get one body. Take care of it."
But with injuries came exposure to painkillers and soon, addiction.
"If you got hurt, you were like, 'Oh, I can just take a pill for that,'" Raab said. "And you justify it's a painkiller, I'm in pain. I broke my ankle. I need this. And then you justify it to yourself if you broke your arm, you'd need [another painkiller] too. And before you know it, you're just so caught up in it. Then what happens is people are like, 'Raab, you have a drinking problem, you're doing too many drugs' and you're like, 'I'm not as bad as this person and this person' and you're surrounded by a bunch of drug addicts and alcoholics and you're just pointing the fingers at each other."
Eventually, Raab realised that playing the role of his "maniac" Jackass persona, "Raab Himself," made his addictions obvious.
"I did a lot of cocaine and I drank my ass off pretty much seven days a week. [Jackass] was a perfect time for my addiction to manifest … it's an obsessive lifestyle. I didn't realise how much I became a slave to drugs and alcohol," he said.
Raab realised that he would have to leave the Jackass lifestyle behind if he wanted to survive.
"I had to pull out of Jackass stuff. I didn't do the second and third movie. I got paranoid about friends … and I got darker into drugs and drinking and wanting to be alone. I'd end up alone in my condo just doing drugs and drinking and just not wanting to be around anybody."
His drug and alcohol use eventually led him to contemplate suicide.
Raab, now 37, is eight-and-a-half years sober, and admits he had a hard time "getting back into regular life" after Jackass began to fade.
"I had to get a job - I didn't get rich like some of the guys, but I got decent money as a young kid but I blew it like an idiot. [We'd say] 'Let's go to the airport and go to an island!'
"I went and got a job at a restaurant [as a waiter] and that was embarrassing for me because people would be like, 'Raab, what the f**k are you doing here?' This young kid was like 16 and said, 'I thought the Jackass guys were dumb, but now I know they're really dumb' - and like dude, I'll tell you what, if you ever thought you wanted to kill yourself - there's a kid saying that s**t and I want to punch him in the face but I can't and I just have to take this and I have to hear it."
Bam, now 38, struggled with the spotlight as well, and addressed his alcoholism on reality TV in 2016 during an episode of VH1's Family Therapy with Dr. Jenn.
"My first drink, I was 21 and I never drank before that," he said on the show. "When I really started drinking, I was probably 24, 25 … It just slowly became waking up and sipping on a drink as soon as I got up … one is too many but a thousand is never enough."
April recalled how during a drunken episode, Bam told her he "wanted to die" because he "hated" his life. In January, the skateboarder was arrested for DUI. He is currently undergoing treatment at an LA-based rehab facility.
"I haven't spoken to Bam [since his arrest]," McGhehey said. "I was actually in LA that night. I was doing a Doors music video that day and I was super-low-key and just wanted to get in and out, but I found out the next day that [the Jackass guys] all hung out. I'm thinking and praying for him because whether it's an addiction or an addiction of living a certain lifestyle, it's real."
Raab hasn't "talked directly" to Bam since he checked into rehab but remains in touch with his brother, Jess.
"He's got a long road to recovery and I hope that things happen. I check in, of course. I care for him. [Addiction] destroys people and it's a shame because he was a young guy in shape and a great skateboarder and drugs robbed him of that. It did the same thing to me and it's hard to watch one of your best friends getting destroyed by it. He has to get sober and take this seriously or he'll be dead."
Bam welcomed a baby boy, Phoenix Wolf, with his wife, Nicole Boyd, in December.
"I think for anybody who has any issues with substance abuse or alcohol, it affects an entire family, and of course we're no exception for that," April told us.
"It's a family dynamic that you have to try to work through. You never know what you're going to get. It's in epidemic proportions these days. Many families are going through it - not knowing what to do, when to help. There's hope maybe it'll fix itself. It ends badly sometimes. Every family doesn't want it to happen to them."
Bam's DUI arrest hits close to home for many of the Jackass stars. Ryan Dunn, a fixture on the show, was killed in 2011 when he crashed his Porsche in a drunken-driving accident. Dunn had been drinking at a local bar hours before the accident, and his blood-alcohol content was later determined to be 0.196 - more than twice the legal limit to drive. His passenger, Zachary Hartwell, also was killed.
"We were friends since we were 12 years old," Raab said. "He was like my brother. He was one of my best friends. It completely destroyed me when he died."
"[Ryan's death] affected us profoundly," April said. "He was like a member of our family. When he moved here in the ninth grade from Ohio, he immediately ended up in our house and really felt like - I know his mother said - he finally found a place where he needed to be. He found a home with the boys and who they were filming with. He found something purposeful in his life … it's still hard to believe he's gone. He was the sweetest man ever."
"It affected me pretty hard," Acuña said. "I think of him every day. And I get pissed at people who I know are drinking and about to drive - like hell no. If Ryan could take that day back, I think he would."
Other cast members found themselves in trouble with the law as well.
In 2008, Knoxville was arrested after security at LAX found a grenade in his carry-on luggage. He was detained and cited for carrying a prohibited item into the airport but was released when officials concluded it was only a prop that his assistant had packed in his bag for him.
Steve-O pleaded guilty to cocaine possession in 2008 and sought help at a treatment centre in lieu of jail time, and spent time in and out of rehab for years. He was arrested in Canada in 2011 after he was accused of assault with a weapon and officers found an arrest warrant from eight years prior. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail and 36 months of probation in 2015 after he climbed a construction crane in Los Angeles to protest against SeaWorld.
Lacy was arrested in 2010 for marijuana possession and drug paraphernalia and was charged with two misdemeanours.
Now that their heyday is over, much of the cast is focusing on life away from the limelight.
"I've always redone furniture and I've done hair for a long time," April said. "I have a business not far from my home - Rosehip Barn. It's a periodic furniture barn … it's great for me to keep doing furniture even though I'm in my 60s. It's harder to move things around but it's fun for me."
Acuña is now a partner in Chronic Tacos, which is preparing to go international.
McGhehey is working as an on-tour photographer with Eagles of Death Metal & Queens of the Stone Age. He's also developing a project with the 18 years' worth of behind-the-scenes photos he has of his Jackass days.
Raab is working behind the scenes on different films. He started a non-profit with his wife to promote community outreach in Haiti after working on a documentary in the country.
"I think there's always mini-reunions that we have but that's about it," Acuña said, noting that another movie is "definitely not happening."
But McGhehey insists that there's still more to come for fans.
"As long as we're kicking, there'll be some balls!"
This story originally appeared on the New York Post and is republished with permission.