I’ll say one thing for alcoholics: we know how to roll with things. So when the MC of the 7th Annual Experience, Strength and Hope Awards (produced every year by Reel Recovery Film Festival creator and AfterParty pod guest Leonard Buschel) couldn’t make it, several people pitched in to bridge the gap.
The award show, which takes place every year at the Skirball and always honors one person who exemplifies the spirit of recovery, is somewhere between the Oscars of the recovery world and a marathon meeting. This means that while it wouldn’t be surprising if Robert Downey, Jr. showed up (which he did, two years ago), it’s equally unsurprising when the presenters start talking about some old-timer AA guy who was a regular at meetings in the Valley (which they did, this year).
So here’s what happened on Tuesday night: Ed Begley Jr. was supposed to be running the show but apparently he got asked to speak at Glenn Frey’s memorial and while he was supposed to be able to do both, LA traffic superseded and so “recovering stand-up comedian” Mike Schaub (the current director of Social Model treatment) started things off. It was a rocky beginning—Schaub talked about how confused he was and tried to introduce a musician but really he was meant to introduce actor (and previous podcast guest) Tony Denison. Things improved here—sponsors were introduced, jokes were made—but then Duran Duran’s John Taylor took the stage and all was smooth sailing.
Okay, fine. This is being written by a childhood (and, er, adulthood) Duran-y. But is there anyone more charming than John Taylor? (Possibly Mackenzie Phillips. More on that in a second.) Taylor talked about having been honored at the show two years earlier, saying that he had some other awards (er, 97,000 Grammys, if I was the one doling out awards) and how he’d sometimes look at them and think that he hadn’t directed the video or had much to do with the writing of the song but when he looks at his Experience, Strength and Hope Award, he thinks, “You’ve really fucking earned this one.”
Taylor gave a moving introduction to this year’s honoree Mackenzie Phillips, known by everyone who’s come into contact with her (and many who haven’t) as Mack. When I talked to Mack before the show (that’s me with her and My 12 Step Store owner RJ Holguin in the photo), she talked about how much it meant to her to get the “esh” award. We also made plans for her to come back on the podcast (her episode is, next to Maron/Moby, the one I get asked about most frequently) and shared our mutual love for the previous female honoree, Carrie White (also, of course, a previous podcast guest). Mack’s new book, which is coming out this September from Atria is a recovery handbook (title still TBD).
Mack’s acceptance speech was arguably the most heartfelt, raw and moving one I’ve ever heard. We had just watched numerous clips of her performances, starting with her singing “Junk Food Junkie” with the Jackson 5 through American Graffiti, One Day at a Time and different talk shows. Some showed her promoting her bestselling book High on Arrival, in which she writes about the consensual affair she had with her father, Papa John Phillips (we also get into this on the pod, btw).
“I was really the walking wounded,” she said after the clip reel, which showed oh so many shots of her cherub face and sassy gait. “I could be this cheerful little monkey while still broken inside.”
There were a few more speeches, including one by Buschel, who called the event “Burning Man without the dust” and showed slides from his own journey to recovery. And then everyone went home, with a little more experience, strength and hope—and a full memory of all that had happened.
Photo courtesy of RJ Holguin; see a similar photo from the event on Radar magazine here