The Biggest Bombshells from Matthew McConaughey's Memoir Greenlights

Matthew McConaughey looked back on his first 50 years for new book Greenlights. From his infamous arrest to vision-fueled wet dreams, these are the stories shared that you need to know.

By Billy Nilles Oct 20, 2020 6:10 PMTags
Watch: Matthew McConaughey Back in 2003!: E! News Rewind

Matthew McConaughey's new memoir Greenlights isn't your typical celebrity tell-all.

The Oscar-winning actor admits as much in the opening pages of the new book, out Oct. 20. "Yes, I tell stories from the past, but I have no interest in nostalgia, sentimentality, or the retirement most memoirs require," he writes. "This is not an advice book, either. Although I like preachers, I'm not here to preach and tell you what to do."

So, what is it then? Allow him to explain. 

"This is an approach book. I am here to share stories, insights, and philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it," Matthew says. "This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life. Adventures that have been significant, enlightening, and funny, sometimes because they were meant to be but mostly because they didn't try to be."

Matthew McConaughey's Best Roles

While Matthew may have approached writing his book in an atypical way, it's still full of the stuff we want out of our celebrity memoirs. There's the requisite peek into his unconventional childhood, the recollections surrounding his most iconic roles in Hollywood, and, of course, the insight into his relationship with wife Camila Alves.

These are the stories from Greenlights that you need to know.

The first pair of shocking revelations in Matthew McConaughey's memoir Greenlights come early, shared in a list of facts complied by the actor to "help set the table," he explains. "I was blackmailed into having sex for the first time when I was fifteen. I was certain I was going to hell for the premarital sex. Today, I am merely certain that I hope that's not the case," he writes. "I was molested by a man when I was eighteen while knocked unconscious in the back of a van." Neither story is elaborated on further anywhere throughout the book, though Matthew does note towards the end of his list, "I've never felt like a victim."

The youngest of three sons, Matthew's birth on Nov. 4, 1969, wasn't planned. (Mom Mary Kathleen though he was a tumor for the first five months of her pregnancy.) His mom's relationship with dad Jim was volatile. Throughout the course of their romance, they "were married three times and divorced twice—to each other," Matthew shares. In the book, he recounts one particular night in 1974 when Mom repeatedly calling Dad "Fat Man" during dinner set him off. He flipped the table, she broke his nose with the phone; she grabbed a chef's knife, he began flinging ketchup all over her. They circled one another as their sons watched until exhaustion got the better of them. 

"Seconds later, they moved toward each other and met in an animal embrace. They dropped to their knees, then to the bloody, ketchup-covered linoleum kitchen floor...and made love," Matthew writes. "This is how my parents communicated."

In the summer of 1979, while his parents were in the middle of their second divorce, Matthew lived with his father in a double-wide trailer on the outskirts of Longview, Tex. Well, his dad and a pet cockatiel named Lucky who was allowed to roam freely about the trailer during the day. One late afternoon, both McConaughey men returned home to find Lucky missing. "Seconds later, I heard Dad in the back of the trailer, 'Oh god, oh
god, noooo, Lucky,'" Matthew writes. "I ran to the back and found Dad on his knees leaning over the toilet. There, floating in circles in the bottom of it, was Lucky. Tears dripping off his cheeks, Dad reached with both hands into the bottom of the bowl and gently cradled Lucky out." What Jim did next for his beloved bird is, well, wild. 

"He opened his mouth wide and slowly put Lucky into it until the bottom half of her wings and her tailfeathers were all that was outside it," Matthew reveals. "He started to give Lucky mouth-to-mouth resuscitation." After ten exhales into the tiny bird, "that's when we heard, coming from inside my father's mouth, a small chirp. Now, with tears of pain turning to tears of joy, Dad gently removed Lucky's torso and head from his mouth. Lucky twitched some toilet water and saliva off her head. Now face-to-face, they looked into each other's eyes. She was dead. Now she was alive. Lucky lived another eight years."

When Matthew was working on an entry for the seventh-grade poetry contest in 1982, he showed his draft to his mom, asking her thoughts on his work. "She didn't answer," he writes. "Instead she opened up a hardcover book to a premarked page, put it in front of me, pointed, and said, 'What do you think of that?'" After telling her that he liked the poem, written by Ann Ashford, she told him, "'Then write that.'" When he countered that the work wasn't his, his mom replied, "'If you like it, and you understand it, and it means something to you, it's yours...write that.'" He did, and he won. "Obviously my mom was prepping me to be an actor long before it became my vocation," Matthew admits.

After enrolling at University of Texas with plans to become a lawyer, Matthew realized his passion was telling stories and sought his father's approval to attend film school, instead. (Dad's response? "'Well...Don't half-ass it.'") His 3.82 GPA landed him in the Honor's Program, but Matthew knew he needed some actual work on his resume if he wanted to make it in Hollywood. So, he signed with the local Donna Adams Talent Agency. "The first gig I landed was as a hand model," he recalls. "Donna Adams had told me upon signing that I had 'good-lookin hands,' and if I 'quit biting my nails' I might have a future in the hand modeling business. She was correct. I've never bit my nails since."

While waiting tables to make ends meet, Matthew met casting director Don Phillips while enjoying some drinks at the local Hyatt's bar one evening. After the two were kicked out of the bar, they smoked some weed together in the back of a cab on the way to Matthew's apartment. It was there that Don asked whether Matthew had ever done any acting. Matthew told him his credits: a Miller Lite commercial and a Trisha Yearwood music video. Don replied, "'Well, there's a small part in this movie I'm casting you might be right for. Come to this address tomorrow morning at nine thirty and pick up the script, I'll have the three scenes marked.'" The role was David Wooderson in Richard Linklater's now classic Dazed & Confused. Matthew based his performance on his adopted older brother Pat. And his iconic "Alright, alright, alright"? A complete improvisation in a scene Matthew was added to last minute. 

"Now, twenty-eight years later, those words follow me everywhere," Matthew writes. "People say them. People steal them. People wear them on their hats and T-shirts. People have them tattooed on their arms and inner thighs. And I love it. It's an honor. Because those three words are the very first words I said on the very first night of a job I had that I thought might be nothing but a hobby, but turned into a career."

Five days into shooting the movie, Matthew's life changed yet again when his mom called him to break the news that his father had died. "I couldn't believe it," he writes. "He was my dad. Nobody or no thing could kill him. Except Mom. He'd always told me and my brothers, 'Boys, when I go, I'm gonna be makin love to your mother.'" And that's exactly how it happened.

"When he woke up that morning at 6:30 a.m., feeling frisky, he made love to the woman he had divorced twice, and married three times. His wife, Kay, my mom," Matthew continues. "He'd had a heart attack when he climaxed. Yes, he'd called his shot all right."

With plans to head to Hollywood after graduation to sleep on Don's couch while he looked for work, Matthew booked a one-day gig on a local Austin film production. He was to play the "Romeo to Renée Zellweger's Juliet" in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, a part that had no lines. Days before the shoot, director Kim Henkel asked Matthew if he knew of any actors who might be good for the lead role of Vilmer, the film's killer. After giving Kim a few names and returning to his truck, Matthew got an idea. "I stepped out of the opened door, shut it behind me, and strode back down the walkway to the office door and without knocking, went inside," he writes. 'Hey, Matthew, you forget something?' Kim asked. 'Yeah, I did. I wanna try out for that role of Vilmer.'" Working opposite Michelle, the production office's secretary, Matthew auditioned for the part right then and there.

"I went to the kitchen and grabbed an oversized metal kitchen spoon, stalked back into the room as Vilmer, and with a mechanical leg limp I skidded Michelle's desk out of my way, pinned her in the corner, and proceeded to make her cry in fear," he recalls. He got the part. Suddenly, a one-day gig turned into four weeks of shooting. His move west would have to wait.

After catapulting to fame with the lead role in A Time to Kill, Matthew found himself struggling to handle his new life. So he sought guidance at a place he'd read about in a book: the Monastery of Christ in the Desert in Abiquiu, New Mexico. After a 13-and-a-half mile walk to the monastery, Matthew was welcomed with open arms and a small cot to sleep in. The next day, he and Brother Christian went for a walk in the desert.

"I unloaded my feelings of guilt, the low and lecherous places my mind had been traveling, the perverseness of my thoughts," Matthew explains. "I shared the demons of my mind for three and a half hours with Brother Christian. I took myself to the woodshed. He did not say a word. Not. One. He just patiently listened as we wandered side by side through the desert. At hour four we found ourselves back at the chapel sitting on a bench just outside the entrance. Now weeping, I eventually came to the end of my confession. We sat in silence while I awaited Christian's judgment. Nothing. Finally, in the unrest of the stillness, I looked up. Brother Christian, who hadn't said one word to me this entire time, looked me in the eyes and in almost a whisper, said to me, 'Me, too.' Sometimes we don't need advice. Sometimes we just need to hear we're not the only one."

As he continued adjusting to his fame, he was dealt a blow one night while watching Hard Copy. "There's my mother, talking to the camera that is following her through our house on a guided tour," he recalls. "'And this is the bed where he lost his virginity to Melissa, I think her name was, anyway, doesn't matter, she didn't last...And this is his bathroom, just a shower, no bathtub, and you know what I caught him doing in there! Ha-ha, but trust me, it's no big deal, I've seen it plenty of times.'" When he called his mom to ask what she'd been thinking, she told her son, "'I didn't think you'd find out.'" Their relationship would be strained for the next eight years.

"She wanted a piece of my fame, and while I was still finding my balance with it, I wasn't self-assured enough to share it with anyone else, especially my own mother," Matthew writes. "The more she wanted a piece of my place, the more I locked her out. If Dad were alive he would have loved my success, but unlike Mom, he would have been in the front row, not trying to steal my show." Eventually, with his feet "more firmly on the ground," Matthew loosened the reins and allowed her to participate in his fame.

After a wet dream gave Matthew a vision of himself "floating downstream on my back in the Amazon River, wrapped up by anacondas and pythons, surrounded by crocodiles, piranhas, and freshwater sharks" as "African tribesmen" watched from the shore, he decided to go on a quest. After learning that the Amazon was in South America, and not Africa, he embarked on a 21-day solo trip to Peru carrying just a backpack containing "minimal clothing, my journal, camera, medical kit, a hit of Ecstasy, and my favorite headband." On the 12th night, unable to sleep in his tent, he stripped naked, punched himself in the face "a couple of times for good measure," vomited "until there was no bile left in my belly, then passed out from exhaustion." The next morning, he "felt great—alive, clean, free, bright" and finally found the Amazon.

In 1999, Matthew had settled in the quiet Tarrytown neighborhood in Austin, Texas. One Saturday that October, the Texas Longhorns of his alma mater had beat the undefeated Nebraska Cornhuskers. Naturally, Matthew celebrated by partying straight through to Monday morning without a minute of sleep. At 2:30 a.m., he decided it was time to wind down. " It was time to lower the lights, get undressed, open up the window, and let the jasmine scent from my garden come inside. It was time to smoke a bowl and listen to the beautiful African melodic beats of Henri Dikongué play through my home speakers. It was time to stand over my drum set and follow the rhythm of the blues before they got to Memphis, on my favorite Afro-Cuban drum born of ceremony and speaking in tongues, the congas...It was time to lose my mind in it, take flight into the haze, and slip into the dream. It was time for a jam session." Unfortunately, his neighbors weren't feeling the same spirit and the police were called. 

The officers entered his house "unannounced," wrestled him to the ground and handcuffed him. After finding his bong, the cops told him he was under arrest for "'disturbing the peace, possession of marijuana, and resisting arrest,'" he recalls. Matthew refused to cover himself with a blanket, insisting, "'I'm not putting s--t on! My naked ass is proof I was mindin my own business!'" Later that morning, the judge shared Matthew's confusion over how things escalated so quickly and dismissed the charges, leaving Matthew to simply pay a $50 fine. The press coverage of the incident, however, turned his neighborhood into a tourist destination after a local paper printed a photo of his house with the address visible. To protect his neighbors, Matthew moved.

After relocating to the famed Chateau Marmont on L.A.'s Sunset Blvd. while embarking on the highly lucrative rom-com phase of his career, Matthew enjoyed a lot of "transactions, flings, affairs." But a wet dream about fatherhood set him on a path to find The One. It was July 2005 when Camila Alves found him. Matthew was at the Hyde Club, holding court, when he noticed "a thin, soft, silk turquoise dress draped over caramel-colored shoulders floating right to left across the hazy, low-lit neon room," he writes. "She made an impression and a definition: Naughty and fundamental. Young with a past...She was no virgin but she wasn't for rent. A mother to be. She wasn't selling nothing. Didn't need to. She knew what she was, who she was, and she owned it. Her own element. A natural law. A proper noun. Inevitable." He approached her table, stole her away from her friends mid-conversation, and then brought her to his place for a nightcap after closing. After the chauffeur left without her "for some reason," she stayed the night in his guest room. "I snuck down to that guest bedroom twice that night to check on her," Matthew writes. "I got kicked out both times."

He took her to get her car out of impound the following morning, arranged a date for the following night, and the rest is history. "Fifteen years later, she's still the only women I've ever wanted to take on a date, sleep with, or wake up next to," Matthew writes."

In 2011, Matthew and Camila had welcomed son Levi and daughter Vida into the world, but remained unmarried. Until a 3-year-old Levi asked an important question, that is. "'I'm Levi McConaughey, Vida's Vida McConaughey, but Momma is Camila Alves,'" Levi said to his father. "'Why doesn't she have our last name?'" When Matthew explained it was because he and Camila weren't married yet, Levi countered, "'Why not?'"

Matthew replied, "Good question...I do want to marry Momma. I just don't feel the need to. If I marry Momma, I wanna feel like I need to. I don't wanna do it because that's what we're supposed to do, or because I merely want to, I wanna do it when that's what I need to do."

Levi's next question: "Are you afraid to?"

The next day, Matthew consulted his pastor and then proposed to Camila on Christmas Day. They still hadn't set a date, but in May 2012, she let him know she was pregnant again and didn't want to walk down the aisle with a bump. On June 13, 2012, "Camila Aravjo Alves became Camila Alves McConaughey." Son Livingston arrived that December.

Matthew's iconic chest thumping moment during his Wolf of Wall Street cameo? Another unscripted ad lib from the actor himself. "That was something I was doing before each take to relax and keep my rhythm," Matthew writes, adding that it was Leonardo DiCaprio's idea for him to do it in the scene.

While working on the book, Matthew writes that he found a list of his ten goals in life, dated Sept. 1, 1992, that he'd completely forgotten about. They were: become a father, find and keep the woman for me, keep my relationship with God, chase my best self, be an egotistical utilitarian, take more risks, stay close to Mom and family, win an Oscar for Best Actor, look back and enjoy the view, and just keep livin'. Mission accomplished.

Greenlights is available now.