Scott Weiland: The Saddest Interview of My Life
He said he’d vanquished his demons … but they’d rise again.
In my many years as a journalist specializing in music, I’ve interviewed a number of performers who, sadly, are no longer with us: Barry White, George Jones, Robert Palmer, Tammy Wynette, and David Bowie.
One late ex-interviewee, Material Issue singer Jim Ellison, committed suicide in 1996 at age 32. Coming four years after I profiled his band for Musician magazine, his truly untimely death was as shocking as it was devastating. His band’s sprightly power pop didn’t offer as much as a clue to how tortured he must have been. I haven’t been able to listen to it since his passing for fear that I might notice the chilling specter of doom, despair, and agony that I spent years missing entirely.
But since the passing of Tammy Wynette in 1998, the death of no other ex-interviewee has affected me quite as deeply as that of Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland, who died in his sleep of cardiac arrest in 2015. The fourth anniversary of his passing is less than two weeks away, on December 3.
It’s been more than 19 years since I interviewed him for the October 2000 issue of Teen People (an issue date that happened to coincide with his 33rd birthday on October 27 of that year), but after I read about his death, memories I hadn’t recalled in years came rushing back. Now they’re rarely far from the front of my mind.
Both the interview and photo shoot took place in a rehearsal space in Burbank. While I have no recollection of what I wore that day, I can see Scott as clearly as if he were standing in front of me right now in all of his post-grunge rock-star glory.
He was thin, but ripped, and barefoot, wearing jeans and a light blue shirt completely unbuttoned to reveal his smooth, toned upper torso. As he talked, my eyes kept darting down to the treasure trail between his hips and his belly button. I hoped he wouldn’t notice me sneaking furtive peeks.
Ten months sober at the time, his longest period of sobriety since being introduced to heroin six years earlier, Scott spent hours detailing his battle back from the brink — the drug binges, the arrests, the overdoses. His story sounded like a Less Than Zero reboot, but with a happier ending than the one Robert Downey Jr.’s character had.
Scott spent hours detailing his battle back from the brink — the drug binges, the arrests, the overdoses. His story sounded like a Less Than Zero reboot, but with a happier ending than the one Robert Downey Jr.’s character had.
Scott was still there, alive, kicking, and excited about the future. He insisted he had, at last, vanquished his demons and was ready to soar again — a natural high, of course. STP was about to go on tour with Red Hot Chili Peppers, and he talked about bringing a counselor on the road to help keep him on the right path.
He’d just gotten married, and there was a baby on the way. Yes, Scott had been to hell and back, but from where I was sitting, with such a clear view of the grunge god I’d adored from afar since the mid-’90s, it didn’t seem too bad to be him.
Devil in the bottle
As I listened to him talk about his past, I wondered about his future. I’d dated addicts. One ex-boyfriend used to go to sleep after a night of drinking with a glass filled with vodka by the bed. (I made the mistake of taking a big sip once, thinking it was water.) He never got messy, never even appeared drunk, which I now realize was a sign of the depth of his alcoholism.
I broke up with him weeks before my 26th birthday, after he got arrested for trying to buy marijuana from an undercover cop in New York City’s Washington Square Park. He ended up in rehab after we split, but I wasn’t deluded by his newfound sobriety afterwards: Addiction is not a fight that anyone ever truly wins. You just have to learn to live with it.
Scott talked about how he gave up one addiction for another, and I left with the cigarette stench to prove it. But better nicotine than heroin, I figured. I didn’t mind smelling like an ashtray if it meant Scott got to live.
And for one and a half decades, he did. I kind of lost track of Scott in the years before his death, but I knew his life since our interview hadn’t always been easy. When a rocker dies under 50, your mind immediately thinks the worst, especially when the rock star has waged a well-documented war with substance abuse.
Here’s what I knew for sure: Scott died in his sleep of cardiac arrest. Some sources claimed he’d relapsed in recent weeks, but his widow insisted he was clean and sober at the time of his death. (Scott had divorced Mary Forsberg, his wife at the time of our interview, and married his third wife, Jamie Wachtel, in 2013.)
Relapse or delayed expiration?
If he was indeed clean and sober (and Mary’s post-mortem Rolling Stone essay suggested that definitely was not the case), maybe his body belatedly reached its breaking point, having been previously abused for so many years. If Scott at 48 thought anything like how he thought when I interviewed him at going-on-33, he didn’t want to go.
“Any person with a desire to be validated and loved by millions of people doesn’t really feel comfortable in his own skin. I definitely fall into that category. I searched for validation through a lot of other ways, latching onto anything — pot, alcohol, women — trying to fill that void, and all it seemed to do was breed a lot of loneliness.”
Toward the end of our chat, I offered my theory that creative people are driven by a profound sadness, and he nodded in agreement.
“I think that early insecurity led to my pursuit of fame,” he said. “Any person with a desire to be validated and loved by millions of people doesn’t really feel comfortable in his own skin. I definitely fall into that category. I searched for validation through a lot of other ways, latching onto anything — pot, alcohol, women — trying to fill that void, and all it seemed to do was breed a lot of loneliness.”
He ended our chat with what might have been his most telling and revealing words of the entire interview.
“I think a lot of successful artists had feelings similar to mine while growing up. when they came across a seemingly cure-all chemical, they latched onto it just as I did. A lot of those people were ultimately destroyed. Look at Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison. For whatever reason, God wants me here for some purpose. Living is really an amazing experience. I feel pretty lucky.”