There’s a good chance Leif Garrett‘s poster hung on your bedroom wall (or your daughter’s) in the ’70s or ’80s. “And I’ve kept every photo or letter that a young lady sent, telling me about being on their walls and kissing me good night before they went to bed,” Leif, 58, exclusively reveals to Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “It’s very surreal and a bit embarrassing, but how flattering! I can’t thank [my fans] enough, because I’m still able to do something I enjoy and get paid for it.”
But the teen idol’s fame — propelled by hits such as the Top 10 smash “I Was Made for Dancin’” and roles on shows like Family — was overshadowed by ongoing substance abuse, a car accident that left his best friend a paraplegic and, ultimately, jail time. As Leif unveils his new memoir, Idol Truth, he opens up to Closer about how he’s survived it all. “Writing about the secrets I’ve held on to has taken some weight off my shoulders and heart,” he shares. “It’s been very cathartic for me.”
Scroll down for our interview with Leif Garrett!
How did you get your start at age 5?
My mom, sister and I all signed with an agent at the same time. My dad, who recently passed away, was a wannabe actor too. That affected me and my sister because we got involved. I probably would have done something besides being an actor and a singer. I gravitated more toward sports and making art.
After your first commercial at 5, you made your film debut as Dyan Cannon’s son in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice at 7.
It was so much fun — we were just playing, eating birthday cake and swimming! I was like, “Oh my God, this is acting? Yes I want to do it!” I had a crush on Dyan, and I still have her autographed photo.
Do you feel you were too young to act?
No, not at all. I never felt any sort of negativity, except one time an assistant director played a bad joke on me. They said I had to be naked for a scene. I started crying, wouldn’t go out on the set and I got fired. That was the only thing.
You said Jodie Foster was your first crush.
Jodie and I would hang out at each other’s houses. She was friends with me and my sister, and my mom and hers were friends.
Your parents separated when you were 5, and your mom dated Burt Reynolds a few years later. What was that like?
He was a cool guy. He’d just bought George Harrison’s house in Beverly Hills, and I got a phone call to come over for lunch. He had a hyperbaric chamber! My mom and him stayed friends after they [split in ’73].
How did you transition to music?
Mike Lloyd, who worked at Scotti Brothers [Records], saw that I was selling magazines by being on the cover of Tiger Beat. Because of the sheer numbers, a light went off in their heads that was like, “Money! Let’s sell records!”
Was the music a reflection of your taste?
They were just songs I was given. I was a surfer-skater, so that’s the genius of the Scotti Brothers: “Let’s do ‘Surfin’ USA’!” I’m being facetious, but it worked. I only wish I had been trained better — it was just, throw me in the studio. I’ve become a decent vocalist, but I wasn’t a natural-born singer. It was all trial by fire.
You’ve dated some famous women, like Nicollette Sheridan. What was that like?
The first time I saw her, it was like time stopped. I thought, She’s the one; that’s the person I want to live with the rest of my life, have children with, the whole thing!” We had a very tumultuous relationship — both stubborn Scorpios.
What fueled the turmoil?
We were both getting so much attention, and I was immature and very jealous then. I didn’t understand that you can’t stop everyone from looking at your girl. She was outgoing, funny, fun, athletic — everything I wanted. When we got along, it was perfect; but when we didn’t, we cleared rooms. It was that crazy — there was no in-between. The passion was insane.
How about dating Tatum O’Neal?
Tatum was a very brief thing. She wasn’t sure about herself. As you know, she has come out as [bisexual]. I don’t even know that she is, honestly. I just think her dad really screwed her head up. All his kids — Ryan was a very, very tough dad. We stayed friends. I still see her occasionally.
Your time with Justine Bateman seemed calm…
It was good until she went off the deep end, needing confirmation of stuff she wanted from her dad too. It’s very weird when you have a father who wants to be an actor, but then your kids are successful. You should just be happy for your kid. He was, but at the same time he was like, “Why am I not doing that?” So with Justine it was like I was her best friend, psychiatrist, lover, father, you know?
How were things with you and your dad?
Dad split when I was 5, and I didn’t see him except maybe for a half hour when I was 16. Then I tried to get to know him when I was in my 40s and that didn’t work out. We were both standoffish. It wasn’t until my 50s that we were able to see eye to eye.
In your 1979 car accident, you were 17, you’d been intoxicated and your friend was paralyzed. Was that a wake-up call?
Unfortunately it wasn’t. I wish I had been punished more for screwing up that badly. I regret that I didn’t have more discipline.
You partied with John Belushi just before he died in 1982. Did that slow you down?
I was hanging out with him and the Blues Brothers a few nights before he passed. That made me think, “Man, I better keep some limits.” It’s odd — I was also friends with Chris Farley, hanging out with him a week before he hosted SNL [in 1997], and he died right after that. I was amazed someone was doing more than I was.
You got arrested for possessing cocaine in 2004 and heroin in 2006 and 2010. How did you finally quit drugs?
I had a 90-day sentence in county jail. I was in court-ordered rehab before that, and then my mom visited and told me she had stage IV lung cancer. I said, “I’m leaving to take care of her — nobody lives with her.” So dealing with that, I started using again. So it was like, “Cuff him, bring him in,” and I did the 90 days and that was it.
It’s been a decade since your last screen role. What are you up to?
I’m writing a script, I’ve got a follow-up book in the works, and I’m concentrating on getting television and film work. I was a caretaker for my dad in the last couple years of his life, and now I’ve moved my mom into the house and I’m taking care of her. She’s now on her way…. [Pauses] Tell everyone around you what they mean to you and how much you love them before it’s too late.
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