By Art Harris, (c), www.artharris.com, all rights reserved
LOS ANGELES, Ca.–Any other night, the boulevards of Beverly Hills near the A list, celebrity fundraiser might be almost as dangerous as the streets of Baghdad. No snipers or IEDs, just the next star DUI waiting to be caught, Hollywood’s young and restless with a buzz on, feeling bullet-proof behind Maseratis, Vipers, Mercedes, Bentleys, or some pricey exotica aimed down mountain curves off Mullholland Drive.
But the streets were safer on a recent Saturday night in LA, designated Sober Night, 2008, by Los Angeles attorney Robert Shapiro, and his wife, Linell, who three years ago cranked up a drug awareness foundation in memory of their son, Brent, dead at 24 from an accidental overdose…among some 250,000 victims a year taken out by the ruthless sniper of pop culture, addiction.
Now, with American troops remembered on Memorial Day, many overtaxed emotionally after two and three tours in Iraq, how many will join the casualties back home? While the VA is rallying its troops, there are civilians on patrol, too, parents like the Shapiros, who mourn losses on the homefront, and channel their grief in an attempt to save others.
At the Brent Shapiro Drug Awareness Foundation dinner, no alcohol was served, just designer water and energy drinks. But old friends Brent grew up with turned out, like Paris Hilton, and reality star Kim Kardashian, and his rehab sponsor, comedian and host Tom Arnold. They sashayed down a red carpet beneath the full moon at the $35 million estate of billionaire Jeff Greene, who loaned out his mansion overlooking the twinkling lights of the city of Angels.
Nearby, a ferris wheel beckoned the hip and bejeweled, and 500 guests grazed six buffet tables groaning under platters of tenderloin, chicken and pasta.
There was the ever tanned George Hamilton…Kris (Jenner) Kardashian, feminist attorney Gloria Allred and Court TV anchor daughter Lisa Bloom…and one table over, I spied Nicky and Paris with escort, Benji Madden, Paris eating salad badly…chomping with her mouth open, but, God Bless her, Not Drinking.
Ok, so maybe they yearned for a glass of Verve Cliquot, but no champagne corks were popped in memory of a friend on the mend, who partied too hard and crashed too young.
To hear his parents tell it, Brent struggled with drugs and alcohol for years, had been sober 18 months, got engaged to be married. He was putting life back on track at UCLA and aiming for law school to follow a father who once headed O.J.’s “Dream Team,”Â then dreamed up the online service, Legal Zoom. But two beers and half an ecstacy pill ended Brent’s dreams, a relapse that lead to a coma, then death, a tragic but familiar tale for thousands of families and future tragedies the Shapiro’s hope to prevent via education programs to de-stigmatize addiction.. Â
His parents say friends either didn’t recognize Brent’s distress or feared parental backlash, but whatever happened, “he was turning blue,” recalled his mother, when an ambulance finally raced their son to Cedars Sinai ER.
“I didn’t want to leave him,” she said, “but the doctors said his brain had died, and they were going to turn off the (life support) machine.”
The Shapiros stood atop sweeping steps at a Versailles-like mansion to tell of the loss of a child, with another son, Grant, and urged guests to scoop up and pass out cards detailing overdose symptoms that often go unnoticed until it’s too late.
His mother told of a son “born with absolutely everything,” including a disease called addiction they aim to bring out of the closet, and make as acceptable to talk about as heart disease and cancer, two killers that barely rank ahead of drugs and alcohol as killers.Â
“He was so beautiful and smart and funny, charismatic, sensitive, loving, and everybody who knew Brent knows what a huge heart he had,” she said, choking back tears. “He had this kind of magic that just attracted people. They were drawn to him. He touched people and made a a difference in their lives.”
Via tough love and rehab, the Shapiros and friends like comedian Tom Arnold thought they had a made a difference in Brent’s.
Only Arnold, a recovering addict and alcoholic, told the crowd how he hadn’t heard from Brent in several months, a red flag that the alcoholic may be returning to their cave of isolation.
That was going through his mind hours before he got the call that Brent was in the ER, he said.
Paris ate her salad smiling, but somber, then quietly left. I got to catch up with Gloria Allred and Lisa Bloom, rocking out with Mom and her boyfriend, marketing man Braden Pollock, inside Greene’s 24 car garage, converted into a disco for the evening.
“You know I don’t drink,” Gloria reminded me, though she did plead guilty to a longing glance at the desert buffet of ice cream and rich, hot chocolate sauces.
“They didn’t serve ANY alcohol?” one Hollywood celeb asked me later, incredulous. “I can’t believe anyone had any fun.”
But indeed they did, and no one gotÂ belligerent with the valet parkers, despite waiting more than an hour for their wheels.
Then they drove safely down the mountain.