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Libel

This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

About ten years ago, I wrote a book that was published in the UK. It was also published here, a little bit later, but there's something about having a book out in Britain -- about doing interviews on the BBC, about threadbare book parties where well-known authors stuff their pockets full of shrimp -- it all has a kind of Kingsley Amis/Evelyn Waugh vibe to it that's a lot more fun than getting up at four in the morning to do a 40-second drive-time interview with the guys on the morning zoo in Tampa.

And the book didn't really sell all that well in either place. Put it this way: it did okay, but it didn't cause me any tax trouble. And if you're going to have a book that doesn't sell, it's a lot more cool for it not to sell in Britain.

But about halfway through my mini London book tour, as I was coming out of the Viva Radio studio, I was met by my editor, my publisher, and the publicist. They had grave looks on their faces.

"Rob, we need to ask you a question. Have you ever been a heroin addict?"

"Define addict," I said. "I'm kidding, no. No. Never. I mean, look at me? I'm not that interesting."

"Well then sit down," they said. "We have something awful to tell you."

It wasn't that awful. It turns out that the week before, another American author, who had also written a kind of show business memoir, named Jerry Stahl, had come through town, plugging his book about his struggle with heroin addiction. And some small London neighborhood throw-away paper had somehow conflated my book -- which was about my career right after the show Cheers went off the air -- and his hobby -- which was slamming a monster-sized hit of Mexican brown between his toes.

So there was an article in that day's issue plugging my upcoming appearance at the National Film Theater by luridly recounting the time that I went from a run-through with Sam, Woody, Norm and the gang at Cheers to a crack house downtown.

Instead of where I usually went after runthroughs, which was to the craft service table for a handful of Cool Ranch Style Doritos.

"You're a very rich man," someone said to me at the party that night. British libel laws, apparently, are a lot more lenient, and people are routinely awarded huge sums for mistakes like this. Of course, what it would mean is that I'd have to prove that I wasn't, ever, a heroin addict -- not such a hard thing, once you've spent 30 seconds with me -- and that being called a heroin addict, in Hollywood, would constitute character defamation.

It's hard, of course, to believe that anyone who works in this town has a character that can conceivably be defamed any more -- I mean, someone calls himself an agent, or a producer, or an actor, or a screenwriter, there's not much worse you can call them -- but everyone at the party agreed that I would win my libel suit and retire to France.

When I got to the hotel that night, there was a stack of phone messages and faxes for me. All from the editors of the sad, lazy little paper. All begging for forgiveness. All protesting that they weren't a rich paper at all, but a small community hand-out, and that they were very very sorry and please please don't sue us. The last was a fax, drunkenly scrawled "We are not owned by Rupert Murdoch!" sloping down the side.

So what could I do? I settled. I told them that if they sent me a copy of the article, nicely framed on acid-free archival paper, I'd forget the whole thing. They were happy, and I had something interesting to hang on my wall.

Because, the truth is, I never was a heroin addict. I never hung out in crack dens. I never ducked into the men's room at the studio to cook up a spoon. And I'm not sure that I want the whole world to know that.

That's all for this week. Next week, it the pledge drive!

For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.

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