tv Nightline ABC August 3, 2021 12:37am-1:06am PDT
tonight -- comedian kathy griffin sharing a stunning cancer diagnosis. >> the doctor said we picked up a mass on your lung. >> now fighting a new battle after that photo that nearly destroyed her career. >> i was laughing to stay alive, and what i found is i felt like if i can't make others laugh then there's no purpose for me to live, there's no reason for me to live. >> opening up about her struggle with addiction and her mental health. >> so bring us to the dark night when you decide that's it, i'm checking out. >> and how she's finding a new way forward. >> i think i'm a survivor. a resilient survivor. >> this special edition of
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co-anchor, juju cheng. >> reporter: kathy griffin has undergone a profound transformation. >> hi, juju. i'm kathy. >> but it wasn't easy. in fact, she says it was excruciating. >> a little bit over a year ago in june of 2020 i tried to take my life. and i made a very serious suicide attempt. to lose all my work overnight and to be told by people in my own industry it's over, leave the country for five years, you've shamed our industry, you know, on and on and on. and it definitely got to me. and so i got to the point where i kind of agreed. like maybe it is time for me to go. and i've had a great life and i don't think there's a next chapter for me. and what i think really led to something that extreme was i had become very severely addicted to
prescription pills. so i am in recovery but i'm a drug addict. >> reporter: four years after the trump mask photo scandal that almost destroyed her career, a stark and candid conversation about addiction, mental health, and now a shocking cancer diagnosis. >> i was laughing to stay alive. and what i found is i felt like if i can't make others laugh then there's no purpose for me to live. >> kathy, up top! >> reporter: for decades one of the rare few, a woman in the male-dominated world of stand-up comedy. bold, brash, unfiltered. griffin rarely holds punches and often pushes right up to the line. if not over. >> one of the things that strikes me is you know, this note in your routine where you said, you know, michelle obama's great. go high if you can. i'm down in the mud. >> michelle, i love you. take the night off. because i'm [ bleep ] down in the mud with the pigs where i belong, rolling around. rolling around. >> where i belong.
>> yes. >> where i belong. why do you belong there? >> we look at what's happening. in my case censorship and first amendment issues. and thinking you know what, sometimes taking the high road doesn't always work. >> but what is it about your background or even about your spirit that makes you want to fight dirty or be down in the mud? >> well, i think i'm a scrappy gal. and you know, it's the way i was raised. and it's the kind of family i'm from. and i think it's what folks that watch my work kind of respond to. kind of a tell it like it is attitude. >> reporter: an attitude shaped by a childhood as colorful as it was traumatic. >> i mean, irish catholic family. lots of alcoholism. remember, it was a different time. right? so i was making mixed cocktails for my parents, you know, when i was a kid. and i didn't drink but i knew how to make the tom collins with the powder mix, you know, and -- >> but you were a teetotaler because of it. >> i've never had a drink in my life. i think i just had this little voice in my head that said don't do it. i still think that if i would have taken a drink i think i would have become an alcoholic
very quickly. >> reporter: her girlhood also scarred by exposure to violence and sexual abuse. >> my late brother, the oldest in the family, was a sexual abuser, a pedophile. so that was very difficult. and my family didn't really like that i talked about it. >> i have to believe that plays into your scrappiness. >> absolutely. it also plays into the idea of wanting to be sort of a whistle-blower in my comedy and say things that you're sort of, quote, not supposed to say. >> reporter: turning things you're not supposed to say into comedy put griffin on the map. she toured the world performing stand-up. >> i've been very open about what i call my dental work. you know, i'm not going to lie to you about that. i've got staples in my head right now. but -- >> reporter: getting off the d list with her reality show about her life on it. >> you know how you get to carnegie hall? >> you [ bleep ]. >> reporter: but in 2017 many would say she crossed a line after tmz published a photo of
her holding a mask of president trump covered in ketchup. >> outrage from all sides after that video of comedian kathy griffin. >> kathy griffin and that image. >> nobody wants to see this. it wasn't funny, didn't work. >> reporter: the backlash was swift. her tour canceled. endorsements pulled. friends walked away. >> i think that emotionally that was the most painful, to have so many friends that to this day haven't called. i would like to think that i would not behave that way. i think it's sad that many americans were quiet at a time like during my photo when it probably would have been okay to kind of take a stand. >> you received a lot of death threats. >> oh, i mean, legit death threats. i mean, folks showed up to my husband's parents' house. they tracked my sister down when she was dying of cancer in the hospital and called her. and that was the intensity that i think i need people to know about. it's not just that i had a couple of bad days of press. it's, you know, these folks aren't playing around.
they'll try to kill your family. >> how many cities today? ? you're announcing 11 new cities today. it's a good little run of shows. >> reporter: a year after the photo went viral we joined kathy on part of her 2018 comeback tour. days before she'd perform at a sold-out carnegie hall. >> i'm doing a mini press junket. so i'm going to start at "the view." >> we'll do two segments -- >> he said maybe not two. >> give us a count. >> one, two, three, four. >> she caused an uproar, made some powerful enemies. please welcome back the fabulous kathy griffin. >> thank you! [ cheers and applause ] i'm here! i'm alive. i'm just glad to be alive. >> it was -- i can't believe it's been a year since this. >> i know. >> it's a year this month that that picture was released. >> right. >> and we already described -- >> what a year it's been. >> yeah. >> by the way, i take the apology back. [ bleep ]. >> it's just me, everybody.
kathy griffin, living legend. i'm just a person. no one cares. >> reporter: outside radio city music hall -- >> what is this sign? all right. let's see how long till someone notices. ldng ck.ter: true toor et it? it's me.ure.dot be [ bleep ]. >> reporter: and there was this exchange with what appeared to be a trump supporter. >> hi. >> we love trump. >> oh, i don't believe you. really? you love trump? let's talk about it. how much do you love trump? why do you want to talk -- come up to me and talk about trump? what do you love about him? his policies? you think he's going to give you a tax cut, lady? you're a woman. let me guess. you held your nose because he grabbed somebody's [ bleep ] and that's okay with you? hey, hey, hey. relax. >> look at this guy start with me. she walks by she goes "i love trump." >> i'll kick his butt. >> thank you, sir. you are an angel from heaven. >> can we get a photo of me and you? >> let's do it. >> reporter: ever combative publicly. privately griffin was struggling. painful moments like this captured by her husband for her documentary "kathy griffin: a
hell of a story." >> i'm so scared to get off the plane. >> it's going to be okay. you're welcome here. >> i'm scared. >> why? >> because i don't know. nobody cares about this tour. >> we're going to support you. we've got your back. >> i was really convinced that you know, somebody was going to harm me or there would be -- all the things i'd been reading. i just felt there was pending doom. i lost a ton of weight. and i don't mean to be cute. like oh my god, i can't believe i keep losing weight. i meant like i wasn't even like aware of sort of not being able to keep food down because i was dealing with so many things. it was a really tough time. >> reporter: after her world tour the darkness became overwhelming. back home in los angeles her addiction to prescription pills spun out of control. >> how did that happen? >> you know -- >> the woman who never drank a drop of alcohol gets hooked on pain dile painkillers.
>> isn't that a bitch? i think one of the reasons i actually wasn't acknowledging that i was a serious drug addict is because i thought i don't even drink, big deal, i take a couple pills now and again, who doesn't? and also my age was a big part of it. i mean, who bottoms out and tries to take their life at 59? it's almost a joke. right? >> i think it's very instructive for people to see how you get lulled into it. how did you get lulled into it? >> i have to be honest. it really kicked into high gear when the trump thing happened. prior to then i'm going to say i was like dallying with a pill addiction in a way that wasn't good. but then after that happened i just thought who cares. and it's all the stories that you've heard. the first time i got speed was from some doctor on set. and he said oh, i call this a 10:00 a.m. meeting. and i said what does that mean? he said, well, if you've got a show the night before and you're up late but then at 10:00 a.m. the next day you've got to be really on you take this and you're all good for your 10:00 a.m. meeting. and it's a very hollywood story. right? and it got out of control very
rapidly. >> so bring us to the dark night when you decide that's it, i'm checking out. >> i was thinking -- i started thinking about suicide more and more as i got into the pill addiction. and it became almost an obsessive thought. i started really convincing myself it was a good decision. i got my living revocable trust in order. i like had all my ducks in a row. i wrote the note. the whole thing. and i just thought i'll just take a bunch of pills and i will just go to sleep. and i took about 100 pills. i fell down two flights of stairs. and you know, i'm no spring chicken, honey. 59. i don't remember any of it. i then went back to bed. then i looked at my body and i could see i had like lacerations and bruises and stuff. and i was like oh, i didn't do it enough. took a bunch more pills. fell down again.
this time on like a marble floor. and then that time when i came to even then i was like okay, this isn't good. and i had the phone number of one of my doctors. and i texted him and i just came clean via text. i said, look, i'm addicted to pills, i've taken about 100 pills, i tried to take my life. i think all i've done is just injury the hell out of myself. can i come in? that's when they put me on the 5150 psych hold. >> what was your husband's reaction to what happened that day? >> i think my husband was actually kind of heartbroken. and i have to tell you, one of the things that i remember was the doctor who helped save me in the hospital, when i was still like day one and still saying something like well, i guess i shouldn't have done this but you know, i really think my husband, he should find somebody who's not such a wreck and she said in front of him, "there's a lot of studies about how detrimental it is to the loved one of the person taking their life."
and i could see it on my husband's face. you know. and i can act like i was saying oh, it will be better off for him. but it was really selfish because i know him well enough to know it's a crushing thing to have to go through. >> reporter: from there kathy began one of her biggest battles. recovery. >> the detox was nasty. i mean, it was months. i mean, the tremors were like this. and the flop sweat. and i was so unsteady. like when i would brush my teeth my husband had to hold my hips so i wouldn't fall over. yeah. it was crazy. >> tell me the bright side, when the clouds start to part. what's that like? >> i think the thing that was really helpful was from day one i got involved with aa. i started doing that. all via zoom. the sober clinicians would come over every single day and they would pee test me. and every day like my goal was to get -- you know, they have the multicolored bars and my goal was to like test clean. >> reporter: kathy says she's been sober for over a year, still focused on making people
laugh but focusing on herself now too. >> do you feel like this brush with death has changed that for you? >> i do feel it's changed. and i always get the most pleasure in the world from make people laugh and entertaining people. i get as much joy making like my girls in my aa meeting crack up -- they think i'm a riot, by the way. but i think i am learning balance, and it's all about how much you put out and work and then when should you pull back because in my case i have this like nice simple edict which is ill it get in the way of my recovery or not. >> when we come back, the shocking diagnosis. >> the doctor said we picked up a mass on your lung. >> kathy, in the fight of her life. again. >> trust me, the irony is not lost on me that a little over a year ago all i wanted to do was die and now all i want to do is live. is struggling to manage your type 2 diabetes knocking you out of your zone? lowering your a1c with once-weekly ozempic® can help you get back in it. oh, oh, oh, ozempic®!
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"nightline," kathy griffin, continues. here again, juju cheng. >> kathy griffin says it's been roughly a year since she kicked her addiction to prescription pills. ironically, sobriety may have saved her life in more ways than one. it helped her discover a terrifying diagnosis. >> there's no more oxy. there's no more vicodin. so i was like do i have arthritis? my joints are hurting. so i went and had a bunch of tests. and then the doctor said we picked up a mass on your lung. then they did a needle biopsy. i jut found out that it's cancer, lung cancer. he no i've never smoked. i like to be the exception to the rule. >> exactly. oh, my god. >> i'm special. >> but how did that hit you? >> i was definitely in shock. i'm still a little bit in shock.
not denial. but i still like once a day i'll just turn to like nobody next to me and go can you believe this [ bleep ]? is this a bitch or what? but immediately i just thought about, you know, the program and my friends in the program. so there's a big, you know, one day at a time. so before you jump to oh my god, it's over, you're going to croak tomorrow, just listen to what the doctor says. so it's stage 1. it's nowhere else in my body. so i need to focus on that. >> that's really good. >> trust me, the irony is not lost on me that a little over a year ago all i wanted to do was die and now all i want to do is live. >> reporter: today griffin had half her lung surgically removed, and she's taking it all with her finely tuned sense of humor. >> can i tell you something when you're a comic? the doctors all want to like be funny. so one of the doctors -- because i was like how does this work? and he's like -- and i love whe they try material on you. its s hasn't been happening to for 40 freaking years. and he said the lung is actually a couple of balloons.
we basically just deflate the lower balloon and remove it. it's kind of like taking out a used condom. you can use that. and i'm like okay, why don't you do the surgery and i'll do the jokes. >> let's stay in our lane. >> thank you, doctor. >> doctor. >> reporter: early detection hopefully means no chemo, no radiation, and griffin is optimistic she'll survive this setback too as she has throughout her life. just without the pills. >> so what does the next chapter look like post-surgery for you? >> the beauty is i like don't worry about that as much anymore. which is by the way an exercise. it's work. but my whole life has been -- epecially when you're a touring a tour a week in advance.'t pla- you plan it months or years in advance. what i'm learning is, not to sound cocky but at this stage of the game i think people know who i am and i think it's okay for me to go you know what, i'm going to see what comes in. i'm not going to chase it like i used to. >> that sounds remarkably healthy. >> very zen, right? who am i?
>> who are you? >> thank you. i think i'm a survivor. whether i like it or not. i think i'm a resilient survivor. >> why is it important you share this part of your story with the world? >> because i'm -- i'm so grateful when i see anybody talking about these topics. i mean, we're talking cancellation, suicide attempt, addiction and recovery and cancer. and i've been around a long time. trust he m, i'll get a couple of calls from folks saying you shouldn't have done that or people are going to be afraid to hire you. but nothing compared to if i wasn't able to have this conversation. this stuff is real. and you know, i've built my career on the back of being brutally honest and hopefully being funny and entertaining. and sometimes it's not about being funny, it's just about saying something that i know i appreciate when i see other folks talking about this stuff. so i think i don't need to hide it. >> we'll be right back. truthfully, it's frustrating to see how fast dust reappears.
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suicide or worried about a friend or loved one, help is available. call the national suicide prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for free confidential emotional support 24 hours a day seven days a week. even if it feels like it, you're not alone. that's "nightline" for this evening. catch our full episodes on hulu. we'll see you right back here same time tomorrow. thanks for the company, america. good night.
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