He was the baby-faced heartthrob who shot to stardom as a member of the famous Brat Pack in the 1980s, but behind the scenes, Andrew McCarthy’s battle with substance abuse almost undid him in Hollywood.
The actor turned travel writer opens up on his struggle with drug use and alcoholism during the peak of his career, in new memoir, Brat: An 80s Story, published on May 11.
The internalized stress he felt when finally on the big screen made him drink to drunkenness every night, left him with vicious hangovers, trembling hands and forgetting his lines, McCarthy writes.
When Liza Minnelli drove him home after an invite up to Sammy Davis’s place, he almost vomited on her Rolls Royce.
Andrew McCarthy (pictured in New York City in 1986) rose to stardom as a member of the Brat Pack, star in seminal coming-of-age movies in the 1980s
The 58-year-old actor shot to stardom with roles in seminal coming-of-age films, including, Pretty in Pink and St. Elmo’s Fire. Pictured: McCarthy and co-stars Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, and Rob Lowe
He was aware of how catastrophic that would have been but it didn’t slow down his drinking to excess until he went into detox years later and confessed, ‘Acting saved my life’.
McCarthy grew up in Westfield, New Jersey, 16 miles from Manhattan, but a typical suburban childhood with the freedom of bike riding and driveway basketball games.
With a baby face and immature voice, he had no fix on his future and didn’t get good enough grades to get into a decent college.
In his first up close and one time sexual encounter with a girl in high school he ‘just couldn’t find it’ and didn’t know he could use his hands to help direct where ‘it’ should go.
At 15, he was the smallest kid in his class and was cut from the basketball team.
His nurturing mother suggested he try out for the spring musical and the big light went off that this was his calling.
His master plan was to stay in college a couple of years and then try to become a professional actor.
McCarthy lifts the lid on his struggles with substance abuse in the early days of his career in Brat: An 80s story, released May 11
College became NYU in lower Manhattan during the summer and acting programs he learned about through a pot smoking buddy.
In the late 70s, New York City was ‘graffiti scarred, smelly and exhilarating,’ McCarthy writes.
He fell in love with walking the streets, smoking pot daily.
He was propositioned by his first hooker and taken for his weekly allowance in a three-card monte scam – all while commuting to the different NYU affiliated acting schools around the city.
He was lazy and never read a play while in these classes, instead hiding in the back of the class.
It wasn’t until one teacher, Terry Hayden, piqued his interested by inspiring him to do sensory work to elicit an emotional reaction – close your eyes and think about a personal object – a teddy bear from childhood, your first dog – to draw out your emotions.
In the city, a girl told him, ‘Your c**k is nice but you don’t have much body hair and Asian men don’t have much body hair so I thought maybe you were Japanese or Chinese.’
McCarthy started spending time at revival movie houses in the city learning about film and watching Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Marlon Brando, James Dean, Jimmy Stewart and his favorite, Al Pacino.
When he answered an ad for SAG and non-SAG actors in 1983 to try out for the role of an 18-year old prep school student, he got his first film role in Class, starring alongside the ‘impossibly handsome young actor’ Rob Lowe.
The first day on the set he was given a G-String to wear under his panties to smooth out graphic bumps in a story prank executed by Rob Lowe’s character that everyone had to wear women’s panties and parade around the quad on the first day of school.
McCarthy was so nervous, he had a difficult time breathing and the sound department joked that they’d have to use ‘the rectal mike’ to record his voice.
In the film, McCarthy’s character has an affair with a beautiful older woman, played by English actress and sex icon Jacqueline Bisset
After the film wrapped, McCarthy revealed he was invited to Bissett’s Hollywood Hills home where the two shared a passionate kiss
Jacqueline Bisset, international British film star and sex icon, invited McCarthy to stay with her and her Russian defector ballet star boyfriend, Alexander Goudunov in their Spanish bungalow in the Hollywood Hills after the film wrapped in Chicago.
She suggested her place on learning he was going to be in LA to find an agent – Better than the Chateau Marmont, an old notorious celebrity hideaway that McCarthy viewed as ‘musty and slightly sinister.’
Lounging on the carpet in her den, she came in and asked what he was doing.
He confessed he was looking at a large photo of her that suddenly inspired her to get down on her knees and kiss him deeply.
‘Just the once,’ she told him.
With the big box office wave of teen sex romps, McCarthy landed a role in 1985 film St. Elmo’s Fire and teamed up with Rob Lowe again.
McCarthy had moved into the upscale and wild boozing rock ‘n’ roll hotel in West Hollywood, the Sunset Marquis.
After getting drunk with Bob Seger, he moved to an apartment on Havenhurst that put him next door to aging film star, Bette Davis.
Now he began drinking alone.
An improvised bongo scene in St. Elmo’s fire made his career, he writes, but he still suffered ongoing anxiety that he’d never work again, yet the roles kept coming and he was now no longer invisible to the opposite sex.
Actor James Spader introduced him to the Body Shoppe on Sunset Boulevard and the star stripper, Glitter.
McCarthy became a regular and with the help of large quantities of vodka, fell into a short-lived affair with the sparkling stripper.
Glitter was picked up by the camera on his face during filming the next day, killing that affair.
Hollywood’s Brat Pack was born one night in June 1985, when Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson and Rob Lowe went out to drink and be interviewed by a writer for New York Magazine.
With the big box office wave of teen sex romps, McCarthy landed a role in 1985 film St. Elmo’s Fire, alongside Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, Demi Moore, Rob Lowe and Mare Winningham
McCarthy reveals how he nearly suffered a cocaine-induced heart attack when his chest constricted during an underwater scene for 1987 film, Less Than Zero (pictured)
All but McCarthy went.
The three drank, acted with outrageous entitlement, flirted recklessly and trash talked about other actors including McCarthy saying they didn’t think he’d make it – all reported in the magazine.
The Brat Pack label stuck and McCarthy was a card-carrying charter member from the films St. Elmo’s Fire and Pretty in Pink.
McCarthy was hanging in New York, drinking to excess daily and now famous from this wave of teen sex romp films.
He’d swear off vicious hangovers but be drinking again at night.
Success brought strangers who wanted sex and gave him presents.
He got a call from Warren Beatty’s people: ‘Be at the bar of the Polo Club on 57th at 7pm tonight. Warren wants to talk to you about a project.’
He met with Warren and never heard from him again.
He turned down an invite with Andy Warhol.
He accepted an invited to the Playboy Mansion in LA and mingled with actor James Caan who was always mingling with Hefner’s bunnies.
His manager, agent and friends advised him to move West so he could go to parties, premiers, show his face and get work.
McCarthy, now 57, has gone on to endure a successful writing career while acting, publishing a New York Times best seller, Just Fly (pictured) in 2017
Being in LA stirred up resentments and jealousies just looking at billboards on Sunset advertising new movies.
He felt ‘exposed and vulnerable on the deserted streets.’
McCarthy was growing increasingly self-conscious of his screen appearances and unflattering screen angles.
Drugs proliferated on the movie sets and cocaine was added to his daily consumption.
‘Smiling drug dealers popped by the set like FedEx deliverymen’ and ‘a hairdresser nodded off from too much morning heroin,’ he writes.
Cocaine almost gave him a heart attack when his chest constricted on diving into an unheated pool and trying to swim toward the camera underwater in a scene for 1987 film, Less Than Zero.
His brief tenure as a Hollywood heartthrob had to come an end if he was to survive his addictions.
‘Alcohol had gone from an adolescent amusement, an under-examined idea of manhood, an imitation of my cinematic heroes to the dominant force in my life influencing all of my actions,’ McCarthy writes.
When asked by Robert Redford to do a film on which Redford was a producer, McCarthy was hesitant to commit and never heard from Redford again.
McCarthy has been married to second wife Dolores Rice since 2011. The couple share three children
French New Wave film director, Claude Chabrol, invited McCarthy to Paris in the late 80s to play the lead in a Henry Miller book he was adapting.
He got along famously with the auteur director but started drinking again – for the next three years.
He finally gave it up when he returned to New York and convulsed on the floor sobbing at the disorder and chaos in his life.
He hospitalized himself for medical detox, convulsed in terror and shame under the bed covers before confessing that he was also addicted to Xanax.
‘Without my true emotions smothered beneath alcohol, I found it impossible to embrace what I had grown to understand was required of me for movieland success,’ McCarthy writes.
In the mid 90s, McCarthy walked for 500 miles across Spain on the ancient pilgrimage trail, the Camino de Santiago.
This led to a new career writing about travel and eventually directing television but no longer in front of the camera.
‘Acting remained a shadow hovering over me and informing who I was – even as it does now’, McCarthy concludes.