Steve-O and I have been talking for a little while when he receives a text message. “I love it when TMZ reaches out,” he says, by way of explanation. A producer for the celebrity-gossip outlet has seen his most recent YouTube video—“I Got Arrested AGAIN!,” detailing his detention for climbing on the Lincoln Memorial—and has a few questions.
The stuntman born Stephen Glover has an unusually long relationship with TMZ. They were fairly symbiotic for a time: Steve-O rocketed to fame and notoriety after Jackass premiered on MTV in 2000, while TMZ has been mining celebrity misbehavior for content since 2006. For a while there, he was as reliable a subject as the site had. After the star-making supernova that was the Jackass TV series, which ran from 2000 to 2002, Steve-O hung around in the culture—first as the star of a nature-inflected stunt show, Wildboyz, and then as a central character in three astonishingly lucrative Jackass movies. TMZ’s cameras were there to document just about everything else, feeding a transfixed audience a steady drip of Steve-O mayhem. It has seen him through high points (“Steve-O and New Fiancée Share Ring and Dream Wedding Details”) and low ones (“Steve-O Goes Jihad on Neighbor”), once describing him as its “favorite train wreck, second only to Tara Reid.”
He was, by his own admission, off the rails in those years. By the time Jackass aired, he’d already: spent a couple years homeless, largely by choice; been paid by the government to have drugs tested on him; gained admission to the prestigious Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College; worked as a clown on a cruise ship; and lost that job after the other clowns on board threatened mutiny if his contract was renewed. He had long ago written off the idea of ever holding a steady job. In a strange way, the success of Jackass relieved him of that responsibility: after the show blew up, his only real work (outside the stunts) was to be maximally himself. Consequently, he spent the better part of a decade on a substance-fueled one-man tour of destruction. If there was a line between the chaos he sowed in his film and television work and the shenanigans he got up to off the job, Steve-O chopped it up and snorted it.
“Anybody who comes into some level of celebrity, I think that there are just growing pains involved,” he says. “And for me, the growing pains of adapting to having a profile, a celebrity profile…I was particularly immature and pretty reprehensible. But I think that that's also just par for the course, you know?”