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Stand-up comic and actor Artie Lange was part of a tradition of self-deprecating comedians whose no-holds-barred humor mirrored their off-screen propensity for self-destruction. Much like Chris Farley, Sam Kinison and John Belushi before him, Lange also suffered from punishing addictions to drugs and alcohol that resulted in lost opportunities, physical ailments, and eventually, a horrific suicide attempt. As part of the inaugural cast of "MADtv" (Fox, 1995-2009), Lange's future in TV comedy looked bright, until a botched drug intervention by his castmates led to an arrest, jail time, a stint in rehab and Lange being let go from the popular show. He found a comedic ally in Norm MacDonald, with whom he co-starred in the feature film "Dirty Work" (1998) prior to being brought along for MacDonald's short-lived sitcom, "The Norm Show" (ABC, 1999-2001). He later transitioned to radio, replacing Jackie Martling on "The Howard Stern Show" in 2001, during which time he wrote, produced and starred in the low budget feature "Artie Lange's Beer League" (2006) and penned the best-selling memoir Too Fat to Fish in 2008. Although a suicide attempt in early 2010 marked an all-time low for the comedian, Lange...
Stand-up comic and actor Artie Lange was part of a tradition of self-deprecating comedians whose no-holds-barred humor mirrored their off-screen propensity for self-destruction. Much like Chris Farley, Sam Kinison and John Belushi before him, Lange also suffered from punishing addictions to drugs and alcohol that resulted in lost opportunities, physical ailments, and eventually, a horrific suicide attempt. As part of the inaugural cast of "MADtv" (Fox, 1995-2009), Lange's future in TV comedy looked bright, until a botched drug intervention by his castmates led to an arrest, jail time, a stint in rehab and Lange being let go from the popular show. He found a comedic ally in Norm MacDonald, with whom he co-starred in the feature film "Dirty Work" (1998) prior to being brought along for MacDonald's short-lived sitcom, "The Norm Show" (ABC, 1999-2001). He later transitioned to radio, replacing Jackie Martling on "The Howard Stern Show" in 2001, during which time he wrote, produced and starred in the low budget feature "Artie Lange's Beer League" (2006) and penned the best-selling memoir Too Fat to Fish in 2008. Although a suicide attempt in early 2010 marked an all-time low for the comedian, Lange eventually returned to radio as one-half of the sports talk program "The Nick and Artie Show" in 2011. Blurring the lines of art and reality, Lange's personal demons continually fed his biting comedy even as they ultimately threatened to destroy him.
Born Oct. 11, 1967, Arthur Steven Lange, Jr. was raised in Union Township, NJ by his father, a general contractor, and his homemaker mother. Lange's family was thrown into chaos shortly after he was born; his father was arrested and put on trail for counterfeiting, but was spared by the court, which felt sympathy for Lange, Sr. after their birth of his son. In school, Lange showed an aptitude for baseball, and eventually became an All County third baseman, but spent most of his free time working with his father, with whom he had a close relationship. Tragedy struck again in 1985 when Lange's father fell from a roof and broken his back, which left him quadriplegic. Lange, who had graduated high school that same year, struggled to make up the family funds lost by his father's accident by seeking out items from celebrities to donate for an auction. Only Howard Stern - a favorite of Lange and his father - contributed an item. Lange, Sr. would pass away from an infection four and a half years later.
Meanwhile, Lange himself was beginning to tread the path between no-holds-barred comedy and danger that he would walk throughout his life. At 19, he was arrested for attempted bank robbery; according to Lange, his intention with the note that stated he was armed and wanted $50,000 was to catch the eye of a teller he found attractive, but the plan backfired wildly, and he was charged with disorderly conduct and sentenced to community service. As part of his probation, he attended the Connecticut School of Broadcasting for a few months in 1987. Lange demonstrated a natural manner on air, and was soon offered a job at a station in Wyoming. But Lange's family still needed money to stay afloat, and he soon took a variety of jobs, including cab driver and longshoreman, to provide for them. But following his father's death, he decided to follow a different dream.
A longtime fan of edgy standups like Richard Lewis and George Carlin, he felt that his calling was in comedy, and in 1989, he made his debut at New York's Improv. His humor, built around observations about class, his Italian-American heritage, and his beefy frame, soon gained a following. Lange then moved into sketch comedy with an improvisational group he helped create called Live on Tape. Lange soon found himself on television as part of the original cast of the sketch comedy series "MADtv," where, by his own description, he held down the John Belushi role - loud, rude and out of control. An impressive mimic who imitated everyone from Roseanne Barr to The Notorious B.I.G., his most popular recurring character was Mrs. Curtis, a recently deceased black woman whose spirit enters the body of the man who accidentally kills her with his car in a TV parody called "That's My White Mama." The possessed man picks up the mothering duties of her daughter (Debra Wilson), much to the consternation of her boyfriend (Phil LaMarr).
Though his popularity was on the rise, Lange was falling apart. Frequent use of cocaine was hampering his ability to not only perform on the show, but also function from day to day. After one particularly horrific binge, his castmates attempted to intervene on his behalf, but Lange fled the studio and tore through the streets of Los Angeles with friends in pursuit, until police in a supermarket stopped him. Attempted assault on one of the arresting officers landed him in court, where he was charged with time served and probation. Counseling and treatment followed, but Lange's tenure with "MADtv" was over by its third season in 1997. After being released from rehab, Lange found himself in a dire situation. His weight had ballooned dramatically, and he was unable to find work on television or as a stand-up. Help arrived in the form of former "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ) player Norm MacDonald, who was a fan of Lange's work on "MADtv." He offered the struggling comic a role in his feature film, "Dirty Work" (1998), as MacDonald's ne'er-do-well best friend. The film was a flop, but it put Lange back on his feet, and he was soon making regular appearances in comic features like "The Bachelor" (1999) and "Mystery Men" (1999). That same year, Lange returned to television as MacDonald's half-brother in the second season of the "The Norm Show" (ABC, 1999-2001). Though he had found success and health again, Lange's boundless energy soon found him wanting more.
In 1998 and 1999, Lange joined MacDonald as a guest on "The Howard Stern Show." A lifelong fan of Stern's show, he impressed the shock jock and his listeners alike with his encyclopedic knowledge of the most obscure details from past shows; this, along with his willingness to share the lowest details of his past with Stern, made him an ideal candidate to replace head writer Jackie Martling when he left the Stern program in 2001. "The Norm Show" ended its network run that same year, and by October, Lange was on board with Stern. Relentless gags based around his weight; his gargantuan appetite for food, appetite and drugs; his failed movie career and his state of semi-permanent adolescence marked his tenure. Lange quickly fell in with Stern's gaggle of semi-celebrities and human oddities, and for a third time, found himself riding high with a sizable fan base. His popularity was also paying off outside of the Stern studios with small but memorable roles in popular films like "Old School" (2003) and "Elf" (2003). In 2006, Lange gained his first starring role in the crude comedy "Artie Lange's Beer League," which he also wrote and produced.
The pressure and scrutiny got the better of Lange in 2005. After missing four days on the program, fans and co-workers alike began fearing another relapse. These concerns were cemented by a follow-up appearance which found Lange acting erratically and making veiled references to drug usage. Two more missed days followed, after which Lange explained away his behavior as stress over scheduling conflicts. However, in 2006, Lange gave the real reason behind his on-air breakdown: withdrawal from heroin, which he had used since his stand-up days. Shortly before shooting began on "Beer League," his declining health forced the producers to threaten him with legal action. With the help of his mother, he was prescribed Subutex, which helped him break his addiction. There were signs of a return to normalcy, most notably a guest appearance on "Entourage" (HBO, 2004-11) and a recurring role on "Rescue Me" (FX, 2004-11) as a philandering cousin to John Scurti's hapless Kenny Shea.
But in 2007, Lange began to unravel again. After admitting on the air that he was feeling narcotized after taking a Subutex, he broke into a rage and hurled objects at cast member Sal "the Stockbroker" Governale and walked off the air during a dustup with his personal assistant. All parties eventually patched up their differences, but Lange's appearance was raising concerns with the Stern staff. Despite a doctor's warning to lose weight, he was photographed at a McDonald's restaurant. In 2008, he stated that he had begun an outpatient rehab program after missing "The Comedy Central Roast of Bob Saget" (Comedy Central, 2008), but this was later revealed to be a lie. Lange eventually conceded in August that he had relapsed on heroin; by the end of the year, he was regularly missing episodes of the Stern show.
By mid-2009, Lange appeared to be making some strides to regain his life. His book, Too Fat to Fish, which detailed some of the more absurd and harrowing aspects of his life, topped The New York Times bestseller list, and he had recorded a live concert film for DVD titled "Jack and Coke" (2010). More importantly, Lange had reportedly lost a significant amount of weight; having topped the scales in 2008 at nearly 300 pounds, he reported lost nearly 70 pounds by mid-2009. But once again, Lange found a way to derail the positive momentum. A June appearance on the premiere episode of the sports show "J Buck Live" (2009) saw Lange hurling derogatory comments at players, fellow guests and even the host himself. Though Lange later stated that he had been encouraged off-air by Buck to run amuck, the press and HBO executives alike, who banned him from any future HBO sports programming, excoriated him. In September of 2009, Lange lost his driver's license after a conviction for driving under the influence, just two months after driving his car into a river while under the influence of sleeping pills. A month later, he ascribed a two-week absence from the Stern show to a "mini-nervous breakdown." By December of that year, Lange was announced as taking an indefinite leave from the Stern program. No reasons were cited for his absence. In the early hours of Jan. 2, 2010, Lange apparently stabbed himself nine times with a kitchen knife. He was rushed to a hospital, where the incident was confirmed as a suicide attempt. He was released from the hospital on January 9, 2010. Howard Stern was said to be distraught over his friend's condition.
Following an eight-month stint in a psychiatric ward, a leaner, sober Lange reemerged with a surprise stand-up comedy set at New York's Comedy Cellar in September 2010. While not delving into grisly specifics, the comic did touch upon his recent recovery process in a routine that elicited roars of approval from the supportive audience. Although Sirius Radio had said it would welcome the troubled comedian back to Stern's show and Lange himself expressed an interest in doing so, by July 2011, his return had yet to materialize. For his part, Stern claimed that Lange had not specifically asked to come back to the program. Lange's radio comeback began with a July 6, 2011 guest-host appearance on sports talk host Tony Bruno's Fox Sports Radio show, accompanied by friend and comedian Nick DiPaolo. The installment was so well received that soon thereafter, Lange announced that he and DiPaolo would be hosting a show of their own with the radio network. In October of that year, "The Nick and Artie Show" debuted on Sirius XM Satellite Radio.
By Paul Gaita
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