When Jackass debuted on MTV in 2000, the world had never seen anything quite like it.
Here was a group of 10 dudes—quasi-stuntmen, really—who seemed willing to do anything for a gag. Swallow a live goldfish only to regurgitate it right back up? Sure. Get gored by a bull? Why not? Lock yourself in a dirty Porta-Potty and allow it to be tipped over? Go for it.
It was crude, it was juvenile, it seemed bats--t insane, and it was often times downright hilarious. Born out of the skater culture of the '90s, the show was a meeting of the minds involving Jeff Tremaine's Big Brother Magazine buddies (including Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, Dave England, Jason "Wee-Man" Acuna, and Chris Pontius) and Bam Margera's CKY Crew (which included Ryan Dunn, Chris Raab, Brandon Novak, and various members of Margera's family). And it seemed like there was nothing too dangerous or disgusting for the whole lot of them.
Immediately after its premiere on Oct. 1, 2000, it captivated an audience of male viewers ages 12 to 34 that was larger than any in MTV history. And just as immediate? The controversy.
The show's extreme antics forced the network to attach a disclaimer at the beginning and end of each episode, as well as after each commercial break, warning the impressionable audience watching at home that they should not, under any circumstances, try this at home. Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman railed against the show, urging MTV's parent company Viacom to think of the children. (Which, in all actuality, probably only helped its popularity.) And then the wars between the network and the stars of its new flagship enterprise, second in ratings only to TRL, began with public feuds over meager pay and perceived censorship.
After three quick seasons—only 25 episodes in total—it was over. The franchise transitioned to feature films (four theatrical releases, with three straight to DVD), some cast members like Knoxville went on to try the movie star thing, while others—well, let's just it hasn't been happily ever after for everyone.
As Margera and his CKY Crew were taking off, so too was the skateboarder's struggles with alcoholism. After frequently being seen intoxicated in behind-the-scenes footage from the Jackass films, as well as during his MTV spin-off Viva La Bam, he was taken to the hospital by state troopers and paramedics for "dehydration" in 2009 after a four-day drinking binge. By 2012, bone spurs had forced him to put his skating on hold and that, coupled with the loss of Dunn (which we'll get to in just a minute), saw him really lose control.
"I took a five year hiatus from skating because I had bone spurs, so instead I was making money by doing nightclub appearances, which basically was shooting photos and taking shots with the locals," Margera told People in 2017. "So I was s--tbag wasted every night, and eventually was like, 'This has to stop.' Once I woke up in my own puke and piss, I knew I had to cut it off."
In 2015, he gave rehab a shot, but left shortly after entering and didn't complete the program. Later that year, he and his mother April Margera appeared on VH1's Family Therapy with Dr. Jenn and, in October, his mom was telling TMZ that her son was three months sober thanks to his participation in the show.
After a brief relocation to Barcelona in late 2016, Margera returned to Pennsylvania in 2017 for the birth of his son, Phoenix Wolf, with wife Nicole Boyd. A month after his son's Dec. 23 birth, he was arrested in Los Angeles and charged with two counts of driving under the influence after being pulled over by California Highway Patrol for a cell phone violation.
"He decided to go to rehab in LA so we're putting that program into place," his mother told Page Six days after his arrest. "How long he stays is to be determined but he'll want to keep that private. He feels a lot better. He had a bad night. He's embarrassed by it. He's mad at himself for being stupid. Now he just wants to pick up the pieces and move forward for himself and for his family."
By August 2018, however, he'd relapsed again after being held at gunpoint in Colombia. "I just arrived in Cartagena alone and I took a taxi—a random one—from the airport to here," he said in video on social media. "And I couldn't speak Spanish, they couldn't speak English, and they translated on their phone for me to read, 'Empty your wallet,' as they put a gun on their lap to show it to me. So I did, and I had $500. They let me go. That was weird. Welcome to Colombia!"
He followed that up with another one of him opening a beer bottle. "Sober since January 10th, this is how you open a beer being alone, bored, and robbed," read the clip's caption.
At the start of 2019, Margera took to social media to announce that he would be checking into "alcohol rehab" for the third time, writing, "I am hoping the term 3rd time is a charm is true." Ten days later, however, he shared a lengthy eight page letter on Instagram that revealed he was leaving the facility, deciding he'd rather go about getting sober on his own.
"By day number 5 in rehab I realized when I am bored is when I drink," Margera wrote. "Well in rehab I am bored 50 percent of the time so that's when I figured out that when boredom sets in and alcohol is off limits, that's when I get creative as f--k, an explosion of good ideas, exercise, skate, workout, yoga, hike, bike way more. Because I don't like to sit stagnant! (UNLESS I AM DRUNK)."
While he was committed to going about it alone, the rest of the year proved challenging for Margera's resolve. After a video of him screaming at and threatening his manager in a New York City comedy club surfaced online, his family and friends had him committed to a mental health facility. After just one week of treatment, he was released and sent home.
In August, he was removed from a commercial flight after an airport police officer who told Margera he was too intoxicated to fly. The following day, he posted a public plea to Dr. Phil McGraw on social media, asking the television personality and clinical psychologist for help. During an appearance on Dr. Phil, Margera admitted he consumed champagne on the flight there and was taking two Adderall pills daily. He agreed to return to rehab, but after four days, was out and arrested at a Los Angeles-area hotel for harassing patrons and staff. After his release from police custody, he immediately returned to rehab. Following an announcement in September 2019 that he'd been officially diagnoses with bipolar disorder and was receiving treatment, things in Margera's life seem to have stabilized.
Alcoholism hasn't been Margera's only struggle over the years, either. In 2017, while appearing on an episode of Viceland's Epicly Later'd, he revealed that at the height of his fame in the early 2000s, he was also suffering from a major eating disorder.
"When you're on camera a lot, people have a lot to say," his mother said in the episode. "He always wanted to have this very slim, slim look. A lot of it happened when he became good friends with [HIM singer] Ville Valo. Ville drank a lot…He's the loveliest man ever, but he never ate. He just drank. I think Bam started sipping on a beer because he liked the way he looked."
"I didn't start officially drinking until maybe 24 or 25. Then the rock star life and drinking spun out of control," Margera explained. From there, he began drinking more and more to curb his appetite, which ultimately manifested itself in behaviors that are associated with bulimia.
"We would go out to dinner and he would immediately excuse himself and go to the bathroom," his mom remembered. "I'd say, 'Are you throwing up?' And he says, ‘Yeah, yeah. Sometimes I throw up and that way I'm not gonna get fat.'"
Born Stephen Glover, Steve-O was the guy in Jackass who didn't seem capable of saying no to anything thrown his way, no matter how truly insane the idea might be. (Case in point: The finale of Jackass 3D when he's launched into the air while inside of a Porta-Potty full of you know what.) But he was also battling some serious demons at the time.
As he revealed in January 2019 during an interview on In Depth with Graham Bensinger, he'd begun drinking before he was 12 years old, claiming that his mother would give him "just a little booze" on planes to stop him from crying. He also detailed his extensive drug usage.
"My favorites were Ketamine, cocaine, nitrous oxide, PCP, of course marijuana, alcohol. Oh, I loved Xanax so much, and Valium," he recalled. "Never got too into meth, but I never turned it down. Had some pretty terrible experiences on magic mushrooms. Had a lot of great experience on LSD. Like, random, weird stuff. I huffed video head cleaner. There was this weird episode where I was drinking aluminum cleaner...and that would bring about some pretty disturbing incidents."
And that's not mentioning the time that he resorted to snorting cocaine that had been mixed with his dealer's HIV-positive blood.
With his dealer passed out, he noticed cocaine residue on the table. "I went over to the table to scrape up a pile of cocaine to snort it, but as I had sat down looking at it, there was, of course, blood had been squirted," he explained. "You could see the little tiny little blood splatter on the residue. This is how just desperate and pathetic my addiction was, that I sat there knowingly scraping up this tainted, like, blood cocaine and I sat there and snorted it, which is so f--ked up. I snorted the blood of an intravenous drug user."
Fortunately, he did not contract the virus, possibly because the blood had dried. "All these years later," he said, "and I just don't have it."
But his habits and his anything-goes mentality quickly began getting him into trouble. In 2002, he was arrested on obscenity and assault charges for stapling his scrotum to his leg during a performance at a Louisiana nightclub and being principal to a second-degree battery. And in 2003, he was arrested in Sweden due to footage of himself swallowing a condom full of cannabis in order to get it past authorities while flying. He then regurgitated it live on stage. Two months later, he was arrested for disorderly conduct after urinating on potato chips in public during a Lollapalooza tour stop in Pennsylvania.
Things hit a fever pitch in 2008, though, after he was kicked off the air during MTV's live broadcast of the Jackass MTV 24 Hour Takeover at the request of executives for his intoxicated behavior. Days later, he was placed under a citizen's arrest on suspicion of vandalism and drug possession after he was filmed putting holes in the wall of a neighbor's apartment and was charged with felony cocaine possession. Then, after receiving an email in which Steve-O suggested his possible suicide, Knoxville and the rest of the guys sprang into action.
"We'd all had our eye on Steve-O because he'd gotten to a really bad point in doing all kinds of crazy drugs," Knoxville told Access Hollywood in 2010. "But [when Steve-O's] e-mails kind of hinted at [suicide]… I got 10 of our closest friends—big guys—and went to his house and said, 'Steve-O, you know, we're here to take you in to the rehab, or actually 5150 [medical hold],' and he goes, 'No dude, I ain't going.' I said, 'Steve-O, if you don't go I've instructed the guys to knock you out and then we'll take you.' He's like, 'OK dude, I'll go.'"
He was placed under a 72-hour psychiatric hold which was then extended to 14 days after an alleged suicide attempt.
In June, he pleaded guilty to the felony, but avoided jail time due to his time spent in treatment. The next month, with 115 days of sobriety under his belt, he announced on MySpace that he was returning to "the looney bin" because "I've had horrible mood swings and severe depression. My brain is fucked up from using so much cocaine, ketamine, PCP, nitrous oxide, and all sorts of other drugs."
In March of this year, Steve-O celebrated 12 years sober. Upon a decade of sobriety in 2018, he took to Instagram to express his gratitude for his recovery. "Hard to believe it's been an entire decade since I've had a drink or a drug," he wrote. "I just can't put into words how grateful I am for @realjknoxville and the rest of the guys who locked me up in a psychiatric ward on March 9, 2008, where this journey began."
Without a doubt, the most tragic of all the Jackass stories belongs to Dunn. Childhood friends with Margera and the CKY Crew, Dunn was a beloved part of the gang who retreated from his buddies after an injury while filming Jackass Number Two in 2006 led to a potentially life-threatening blood clot in his shoulder. While seeking treatment for the injury and his Lyme disease, he fell into a depression and cut off all contact with nearly everyone in his life for two years. He eventually returned to the fold for 2010's Jackass 3D and began hosting the G4 show Proving Ground in 2011. But his life was cut short on June 20 of that year when he drunkenly drove his car into a tree in West Goshen Township, Pennsylvania. He and his passenger, Jackass Number Two production assistant Zachary Hartwell, were killed upon impact as the car burst into flames. Dunn had turned 34 only nine days prior to the accident.
Hours before the crash, Dunn had posted a video of himself and Hartwell drinking at a bar and toxicology reports indicated that his blood alcohol level was more than double the state's maximum legal limit. Preliminary investigations suggested that he had been driving between 132 and 140 miles per hour in a 55 miles per hour zone.
"We were friends since we were 12 years old," Raab told Page Six in 2018. "He was like my brother. He was one of my best friends. It completely destroyed me when he died."
"[Ryan's death] affected us profoundly," Margera's mother April told the outlet. "He was like a member of our family. When he moved here in the ninth grade from Ohio, he immediately ended up in our house and really felt like—I know his mother said—he finally found a place where he needed to be. He found a home with the boys and who they were filming with. He found something purposeful in his life...it's still hard to believe he's gone. He was the sweetest man ever."
McGhehey's nickname amongst the Jackass guys was "Danger Ehren," owing to his propensity to injure himself or lose teeth in the pursuit of a stunt. And years later, he's paying for his daredevil ways.
"We were all kind of competing for that time [on TV]," he told Page Six. "There were some things that I obviously didn't want to do—like I don't know any human being that would want to be chased by bulls or be blindfolded—that sucks—or drink [their] own pee. Those things are what people remember and it makes people laugh and that was the whole point of it. And I've had many, many injuries from it—25 surgeries including nine knee surgeries and three broken backs."
As such, he has a warning for anyone who's ever watched Jackass. "The pain is real [from the surgeries]," he explained. "That's the other thing, with the way that we live as humans now with sports and stuff we do, it's almost like people live like it's a video game. I'm here to tell you it's not. You only get one body. Take care of it."
Another member of Margera's CKY Crew, Raab, known by his stage name Raab Himself, was struggling with addiction while playing his manic character on the show. "I did a lot of cocaine and I drank my ass off pretty much seven days a week. [Jackass] was a perfect time for my addiction to manifest," he told Page Six. "It's an obsessive lifestyle. I didn't realize how much I became a slave to drugs and alcohol."
The constant injuries didn't help matters.
"If you got hurt, you were like, 'Oh, I can just take a pill for that,'" he added. "And you justify it's a painkiller, I'm in pain. I broke my ankle. I need this. And then you justify it to yourself if you broke your arm, you'd need [another painkiller] too. And before you know it, you're just so caught up in it. Then what happens is people are like, 'Raab, you have a drinking problem, you're doing too many drugs' and you're like, 'I'm not as bad as this person and this person' and you're surrounded by a bunch of drug addicts and alcoholics and you're just pointing the fingers at each other."
Eventually, he realized that if he wanted to get out of Jackass alive, he had to simply get out. "I had to pull out of Jackass stuff. I didn't do the second and third movie. I got paranoid about friends...and I got darker into drugs and drinking and wanting to be alone. I'd end up alone in my condo just doing drugs and drinking and just not wanting to be around anybody," Raab explained, adding that his struggles led him to contemplate suicide.
With nearly a decade of sobriety under his belt, he's admitted that returning to regular life after Jackass wasn't so easy. "I had to get a job—I didn't get rich like some of the guys, but I got decent money as a young kid but I blew it like an idiot," he explained. "[We'd say] 'Let's go to the airport and go to an island!' I went and got a job at a restaurant [as a waiter] and that was embarrassing for me because people would be like, 'Raab, what the f--k are you doing here?' This young kid was, like, 16 and said, 'I thought the Jackass guys were dumb, but now I know they're really dumb'—and, like, dude, I'll tell you what, if you ever thought you wanted to kill yourself—there's a kid saying that s--t and I want to punch him in the face but I can't and I just have to take this and I have to hear it."
Another lifelong friend of Margera's, Novak appeared in Jackass Number Two and Jackass 3D. He was also a heroin addict for 21 years, which he recounted in his memoir Dreamseller. He tried rehab multiple times, and would crash with Margera between stints, which he admitted in a 2017 interview with Gorilla Films wasn't the best decision. "And then with Bam and the crowd I ran with, you know, everyone liked to party," he said. "So if people wanted to be friends with me, they came up to me and handed me drugs. It's not like I was running with the most sober of crowds."
He would eventually be asked to leave Margera's house during the taping of a 2007 episode of Radio Bam for lying about having heroin on him and was later kicked off an Australian tour. In 2010, he was arrested on an outstanding warrant after visiting a hospital for injuries sustained while filming Jackass 3D. And in early 2011, he admitted on Radio Bam that he'd used his cellmate's urine to pass a drug test while locked up and was subsequently ordered back to jail for ten months. In 2015, he went into detox and has been sober ever since.
"I can honestly tell you I've never been happier in my life," he said in 2017. Like, no bulls--t. When I speak at colleges and all that, I tell them that sobriety has given me everything drugs and alcohol had promised me."
(Originally published on January 27, 2019 at 3 a.m. PST.)