Rather than admit himself into a normal rehab program, where the initial withdraw from drug dependency is immediately followed by counseling and a maintenance program on the facility’s grounds, Mewes had opted to check into a detox program – a ten day, one-shot affair in which the patient is weaned off his or her particular poison while being medicated with an alternative painkiller meant to relieve the physical trial of kicking, and then released back into the wild. The detox program Mewes entered was located in Cedars-Sinai Hospital. After four days, we were allowed to visit the boy.
While not quite a psychiatric ward, Mewes found himself sharing space with a crew of offbeat, broken and botched individuals that called to mind the cast of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”.
“I am Jesus,” moaned the man to Mewes’ right, on the sun porch where patients and visitors were permitted to smoke. “I am Buddha. I am Satan and Elijah.”
Dressed in a hospital gown and a cowboy hat, the man barely opened his eyes. He was talking to no one; at least, no one we could see.
Jen, Malcolm Ingram, Jamie and I eyeballed the clearly troubled contemporary of Mewes, as Jason himself sat in front of us, heavily medicated and barely awake. The Cowboy continued.
“Jesus was not born on December 25th, as most Christians believe, but was instead born on October 31st, also known as All Hollow’s Eve.”
“He says that all day long,” Jason sleepily sputtered.
“At least you’re learning something while you’re in here,” I shrugged.
Mewes cracked a half smile. “Is it check out time already, because I’d like to go home now.”
“You’ve got six more days, bro. Then you’re out.”
Jason nodded, as if doing so took every ounce of energy he could muster. “This really sucks.”
“How’re you feeling about Oxys now?”
“To be honest?” Mewes began. “If I had a warehouse full of Oxys somewhere, one that would never go empty? I’d never get off drugs.”
It was a troubling sentiment, and one I took with me when we eventually left the boy there, surrounded by those with questionable sanity. Clearly, this program wasn’t going to “take”. This latest round of sobriety was merely a means to an end: getting clean for “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back”. I could already tell that, once shooting was over, the boy would either meander or rush back to drugs.
The day Jason was released, Malcolm was hired to babysit him while I attended to the duties of pre-production. His job, like mine for so many years, was to police the boy and keep him preoccupied, his mind off drugs. The first three days saw an ultra-cranky Jason complaining of body aches and demanding a small dosage of Oxycontin that wasn’t forthcoming. He became so belligerent, Malcolm ushered Mewes out of the Toluca Lake rental house and up to the Universal Hilton, where they spent three days in their hotel room, eating room service and watching in-room movies, until Jay’s demeanor softened.
When Mewes moved back into the Toluca House, his whining never stopped. Rather than focusing on the task at hand – preparing for the flick – everyone spent the days trying to come up with activities that’d keep Jason busy. After a week of this, one month out from our production start date, my patience had worn dangerously thin.
We were driving to the CBS Radford Lot, home base for the “Strike Back” production, where I was going to spend the day rehearsing with the boy. The car was loaded with Malcolm, Gail, Jamie, Jen, Mewes and me.
“So what’re we gonna do tonight?” Jen enthused, trying to come up with a keep-Jason-busy agenda. “How about bowling?”
“I’d totally bowl,” offered Malcolm.
“Sure. Why not?” I said.
The sullen Mewes said nothing.
“Jay? You up for some bowling?”
“I’m up for getting some of my pills, because I’m in pain,” came his reply.
“Well that’s out,” I countered. “So how about bowling?”
“How am I supposed to lift a fucking bowling ball feeling like I do? Fuck that.”
“You got something else you’d rather do?”
“Aside from that?”
“I don’t wanna do shit.”
“That’s not the right kinda attitude, man.”
“That’s the way I feel.”
“Y’know, it’s all about the mind-set. If you’re thinking about the pain and the drugs, it’s just gonna bring you down.”
“I’m thinking about the drugs BECAUSE of the pain. You don’t know what this shit feels like. It fucking sucks. And I don’t wanna do any fucking bowling, or go to a movie or any other shit you guys keep talking about. I just want my pills.”
We were a mere two blocks from the studio when I finally lost it.
“FUCK YOU, YOU JUNKIE-JERKOFF!” Yes – I was so fed up with him that I busted an alliterative. “YOU JUST SIT AROUND AND CRY ABOUT YOUR FUCKING PILLS WHEN EVERYONE’S JUST TRYING TO KEEP YOUR DUMB ASS ALIVE! BE A FUCKING MAN AND GROW UP ALREADY!”
With the car still in motion, Mewes opened the back door.
“Kevin!” yelled Jen.
“Mewes, shut the fucking door!” Malcolm tossed in.
“I WANNA GET OUTA THE FUCKING CAR!”
“FINE!” I yelled, yanking the steering wheel to the right and slamming on the breaks.
Mewes stormed out of the car and headed in the opposite direction. I watched him in the rearview until Malcolm asked “Should I follow him?”
“I don’t give a shit at this point. Fuck that asshole.”
“Follow him, Malcolm,” Jen intervened.
Malcolm went after Mewes and I drove the rest of the way to the lot in silence, thinking. When I got to the “Strike Back” production bungalow, I pulled Scott into my office and closed the door.
“We’ve gotta pull the plug on the flick.”
“I don’t think it’s gonna work out with Mewes. He’s impossible to deal with now and all he talks about is getting his hands on Oxys. I’m terrified we’re gonna get two weeks into production, and he’s gonna fall off the wagon and we’re gonna be really fucking stuck. So while we’re not that deep into this thing, maybe we should just call it quits.”
“We’re already almost a million in at this point,” Scott pointed out.
“Better to kill it now than get four or five million in and have him flip the fuck out on us. The guy’s a hardcore junkie, man. There’s no avoiding it anymore.”
Just then, Malcolm knocked on the door and said “Mewes is here. He wants to talk to you.”
Scott and Malcolm left me alone with the tear-stained Mewes.
“You can do all the fucking dope you want now, because we’re stopping the movie. I’m not risking millions of dollars of someone else’s money on you when you’re like this.”
“I’m sorry,” he swallowed. “It’s just hard. It’s harder than you think. And you keep saying ‘Be a man’ and shit, and it’s not that easy. I can’t stay clean.”
“Well I can’t make this movie if you’re on drugs. I just can’t. You’re the fucking lead. The title has your name in it. You work every day.”
“I was thinking maybe I could just drink instead.”
“At least if I was drinking, like at night, when we’re done shooting, I could make it, I think.”
I sized him up for a beat, then repeated “Just drinking.”
“Just drinking. I swear.”
“You can’t drink during the day, when we’re shooting.”
“And if you’re going out and drinking at night, you’ve still gotta show up every morning, on time, to get your work done.”
“I can do that.”
“Because if you show up drunk, we’re shutting down for that day, and it’s gonna cost the production, which will come out of your salary.”
I mulled it over for a bit. Drinking was better than drugging, I figured. And it’d mean everyone on the show could keep their jobs.
“Fine,” I relented, shaking hands with the devil for the third time in my life. We hugged and put what would forever be known as the “Junkie Jerk-Off” incident behind us, spending the rest of the day rehearsing.
From then on, Mewes was relatively well-behaved. Every morning, we’d get up early and take a mile and change-long walk together to the nearest Jamba Juice, talking about the flick, going over his feelings about drugs that day, and making fun of Malcolm.
The latter was Mewes’ favorite “Strike Back” pastime. Mewes would go out at night with Mitch, who kept track of his every move. The morning after, Jason would detail their adventures from the night before, as well as Malcolm’s mundane daily activities which Mewes was always able to put a humorous spin on.
For example: Malcolm made the mistake of ordering a large kielbasa for lunch one afternoon, and Mewes never let him live the phallic food choice down, insisting it was a sure sign of love of cock. A night or two later, while clubbing, Mewes and a few friends wound up getting into a verbal fight with some west coast actors, that resulted in a near brawl-for-all outside the club. It was Leonardo DiCaprio’s crew, which included the recently-cast-as-Spider-Man Tobey Maguire, and in a white-boy equivalent of an east coast/west coast rapper showdown, the two sides postured and posed about kicking ass. The cops came to break it up before it got physical, and the next morning, Mewes gave me the play-by-play.
“Where was Malcolm?” I asked.
“He was there. But all he said afterwards was that Tobey Maguire would’ve kicked my ass.”
“How’s he figure?”
“Because the dude got all buff for playing Spider-Man or something. And Malcolm kept saying ‘He’s huge now. He’d have kicked your ass.’ He was obsessed with Maguire being Spider-Man buff.”
“Maybe you and Malcolm can start your own Sinister Six,” I joked, referencing the comic book villains who banded together to defeat Spider-Man.
Mewes started cracking up. It was that amazing display of a hardcore, physically-debilitating laughing jag that Mewes could only manage when his system was clear of junk. In tears, his temple vein pulsing to the point of breaking, Mewes sputtered “Fucking Malcolm could be Doc Ock, but instead…” He tried to compose himself to get his thought across. “Instead of metal arms, he’s got…” Unable to continue, Mewes leaned against a tree, cackling.
“He’s got what?”
“He’s got a bunch of fucking kielbasas strung together, sticking out of his back!!!”
Mewes sank to the ground, rolling from side-to-side. I, too, was in tears; the good kind, for a change.
“And he… he… he can’t fucking fight with the sausage arms, because whenever he goes to hit Spider-Man, he takes a bite out of the fucking arms instead!”
At this point, neither of us could breathe.
“And I’m like ‘Malcolm Get my back!’ But he can’t help me because he’s too busy sticking his kielbasa claws up his ass!!!”
The portrait was complete when Malcolm, whose longstanding catchphrase had always been “Baw!”, was renamed “Doc Baw”.
And so it went, all the way up to production. Mewes performed like a champ in the film, knocking it out of the park every day. And as soon as we wrapped, the boy would go out clubbing with Malcolm, as well as Dre and Dave, the caterers on the show. He spent most of his salary on club clothes, adorning himself in furry coats and pimp hats. Every morning, we’d drive to the set or location together, the boy fully ready to work.
His relationship with Jamie didn’t fare as well. The pair fought constantly, usually due to Jay’s post-shooting inebriated condition. One night, Jamie couldn’t take it anymore and she sought sanctuary in my and Jen’s room. Mewes called up to our balcony, demanding she return to their back house.
“She doesn’t want to be around you when you’re like this, dude,” I called down to him.
“You tell her she’s got three choices: one, she comes down here. Two…” He thought for a moment, then said “We go out driiinkin’…” No third option was ever given. Mewes passed out shortly thereafter, and Jamie headed back to Jersey, their engagement ended.
Toward the end of the show, Jason’s Mom took a turn for the worse, and some room was made in the shooting schedule for the boy to go back to Jersey and visit her. While there, he had the first dose of Oxys he’d had in months. When he returned to L.A., he denied taking the drug, but I knew.
The show wrapped in Leonardo, in front of the Quick Stop that kicked off our careers. After the last Jay and Silent Bob footage was shot, Mewes retired to his trailer. An hour later, the Middletown police officers who’d been keeping the streets closed for our shoot asked if they could take a picture with Jay and I in costume. I went to Jason’s trailer to retrieve him, but when he opened the door, it was too late: he’d already snorted two hundred milligrams of crushed Oxys. The difference in his appearance and physical demeanor was startling.
That night, we held a small wrap party in a bar in Red Bank. Mewes popped in to drop off a CD to Taylor, the hair department head, as a thank you. He’d completely reverted to Mr. Hyde, as if the previous three months had never happened.
The next morning, I dragged the boy out of his room and took him for a ride.
“You can’t do this,” I pleaded, in tears – this time, the bad kind. “You’ve come so far, man. You can’t go back to doing drugs again.”
“I know. I just slipped yesterday. It was just to celebrate the end of the flick. I’m not gonna do it again. I promise.”
I left a day later to head back to Los Angeles. Due to the number of effects shots in the film, Scott had decided that an L.A.-based post production made more sense than cutting in Jersey and approving CG via Fed-Ex. By late June, we’d locked picture, with just the sound mix left to do. I’d been in touch with Jason via the phone, but I hadn’t seen him in two months, during which time, his Mother finally succumbed to AIDS. I wrestled with the decision of whether or not to fly back home for the funeral, but couldn’t bring myself to do it. His Mother had long been a sore subject with me, as she had not only introduced Jason to Oxycontin, but had also supplied him over the years. I sent my condolences and remained in L.A., hopeful that, with her passing, Mewes might finally seize the opportunity to get his demons behind him.
In mid-June, I flew back to Jersey to shoot a pair of music videos from songs featured on the “Strike Back” soundtrack. I’d arranged to pick Jason up at his Mom’s house where he was still living with his sister. When I pulled up, his sister was sitting on the front steps. She said she’d go inside to get Jason. After a minute or two, an emaciated skeleton of a man with skin pulled tight over bones emerged from the house. He bore a striking resemblance to my friend.
“Goddamn,” I said to myself. “Mewes is hanging out with crack-heads that look like him now.” When that crack-head climbed into my car, I started crying.
Jason had spent the last two months smoking crack, he informed me. He’d lost thirty pounds. When I lose thirty pounds, people say “You look like you’ve lost some weight.” When Jason loses thirty pounds, photos of concentration camp survivors come to mind. It was the most unhealthy I’d ever seen him appear.
Immediately, I made plans to bring Jay back to L.A. with me where I’d put him back on the home-kick program. The timing couldn’t have been worse, as the junket for “Strike Back” was planned for that week. Dimension put all of us up in the W Hotel in Westwood, where we were to spend two days doing round table and one-on-one interviews in support of the flick. Jason, the star of the film, sat in on a few of the interviews, during which most of the journalists commented on how thin he looked.
On the morning of the second day, I was pulled from an interview and shown into the junket office, where the Dimension publicist Gina, Scott, and Malcolm were waiting for me.
“Mewes had his sister Fed-Ex heroin to the hotel,” Scott said. “Malcolm found it.”
“Worse,” Gina added. “The hotel knows about it, and they’re saying if we don’t get him off the premises, they’re calling the police.”
We asked Jon Gordon, our Miramax/Dimension exec, to find a rehab we could deliver Jason to that night. He phoned Chris Moore, who hipped us to Promises, a rehab-to-the-stars in Malibu.
Jason was brought up to the room, and I confronted him, pissed beyond words, about the heroin delivery. Once again, he was given the choice of jail or help. He opted for the latter. I didn’t even say goodbye. I was too furious.
I didn’t see the boy for almost a month after that, during which time we continued post on “Strike Back”. The first time I’d lay eyes on him would be at the San Diego ComiCon, where, after a month of good behavior, Promises had given him a day pass out of their facility to attend, providing he be accompanied by a sober-living companion – someone essentially paid to do what I’d done for all those years: babysit the boy. Jason looked great, and even better, he had his wits about him again. After the afternoon panel, we sat around the room with Malcolm, Jen and the sober-living companion, telling Malcolm-related stories and laughing it up. When the day was over, I hugged Jason, told him I loved him, and sent him back to Promises.
The week of the premiere, Mewes told me a story of coming back to the rehab after another day-pass outing and being pulled into the main office.
“I didn’t do any drugs, I swear,” he’d said. “You can give me a urine, man. I’m clean!”
“This isn’t about that,” he was told by Jim, the program director who I’d grown to know quite well over the phone, when I’d call in three times weekly to check up on Jason’s progress. “There’s someone here who you know.”
“I don’t know anybody who needs rehab except me,” Mewes scoffed. “And even if I did, I don’t know anybody who could afford this place.”
“You know this person, and he’s very interested in keeping his stay here private. He doesn’t want you to tell anyone he’s here.”
Mewes says that the door to the room adjoining the office was opened to reveal our friend Ben Affleck sitting there, looking at him. Quoting “Chasing Amy”, Mewes said “Well look at this morose motherfucker right here…”
Ben’s stint in rehab made all the tabloids, and in most of the long-lense photos of him in Promises, Mewes could be spied in the background. One article misconstrued Jason’s presence as Mewes visiting Ben. For a few weeks, Ben’s stay was major news.
Until September 11th.
“Strike Back” had been out for three weeks when Al Qaeda struck, and suddenly, it was a different world. I was still in Los Angeles at that point, and Mewes was just about to be released from Promises, his on-site program finished. The next step in his recovery was a halfway house on the ocean, where Jen and I visited him. The gorgeous locale prompted Schwalbach to utter “I’M an addict. Check ME in.”
By mid-October, I was ready to head back to Jersey with the family. With Jason’s help, we loaded out of the Toluca Lake rental. Mewes had decided to stay in Los Angeles, where he was planning to move in with some sober-living friends he’d met while at Promises. His life on track, I felt like I could leave the boy in the City of Angels, secure in the knowledge that he was on finally on the straight and narrow. Ben was beating his demons, and now too, so was Mewes.
By Thanksgiving, only Ben would remain sober.
For a look at a three-years-sober Jason, peep the “Clerks II” exclusive online trailer.