Sex, drugs and MTV: Insiders recall early wild days behind the scenes
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In the early days of MTV, life often imitated art.
Which is how a real-life Beastie Boys bash, hosted by the music channel, came to look an awful lot like the band’s raucous “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)” video.
“Things on that trip could have resulted in dangerous outcomes,” an MTV producer who asked not to be named told The Post.
It was 1987 and someone at the network had the bright idea for the band to “kidnap” a fan and take the guy to Spring Break in Daytona Beach, Fla.
“Kids were having sex on nightclub dance floors, the Beasties got the winner drunk and put him into a hot tub with a bunch of girls, kids were jumping off of balconies,” recalled the producer. “O.J. Simpson was [there as] a judge for the Hawaiian Tropic beauty contest. He would not have been there if not for MTV.
“Everyone was blowing it out and showing off because of our cameras.”
Finally, the producer had to rein in the action. “The Beastie Boys were getting wasted in a swimming pool and it could have gotten dangerous,” he said.
After all, he pointed out, MTV was a multi-million-dollar business. “Sponsors were a big part of this.”
Back when MTV debuted on Aug. 1, 1981, it seemed destined that business and pleasure would mix. The channel played rock ’n’ roll videos 24 hours a day, after all. It revolutionized not only pop culture but also cable TV — making music a visual commodity and delivering a crop of hard-partying role models into homes across America.
And at MTV headquarters in Midtown Manhattan, the off-screen hijinks were often just as wild as the videos that the network played until the early aughts, when reality shows became the new normal.
Sex on the elevator, cocaine in the offices, stars melting down — it all used to be par for the course at MTV.
Ken R. Clark, who managed on-air talent, recalled an executive walking into a lounge at the network’s headquarters and finding an underling being sexually gratified by the female vocalist of a New Wave band.
As Clark told The Post, the exec shouted just three words to his subordinate: “Shut that door!”
KISS bassist Gene Simmons, meanwhile, was known for roaming the offices and, as Clark said, “hitting on staff.” On at least one occasion, however, the entreaties got out of hand.
“A woman who worked in the office got flirty with Gene,” Clark added. “She said she would do anything for a backstage pass. He picked her up and put her on [the green room’s] pool table.” It’s unclear what happened next but, “She came out of the room, screaming.”
As one of the network’s original VJs, Mark Goodman had a front-row seat for rock stars being outrageous.
He remembers conducting a backstage interview with David Lee Roth at the 1983 Us Festival, which his band Van Halen headlined.
“They got paid a ton of money, had a huge backstage compound and David was completely drunk and coked,” said Goodman, sounding not at all surprised by the behavior. “He’s the funniest guy in the world and kept laughing at his own jokes.”
Goodman also admitted he did his fair share of playing along.
“I didn’t do any cocaine with him that night,” he said of Roth. “But I have on many occasions.
“I went out for a week or so on tour with him,” Goodman added. “While high on coke and pot, we talked about Chinese art. David makes crazy associations and his mind moves quickly.”
Other messed-up rockers proved less engaging. Goodman, who now hosts a show on Sirius XM, looked forward to doing the first US interview with Frankie Goes To Hollywood when their song “Relax” hit it big on MTV.
Then he met frontman Holly Johnson and co-vocalist Paul Rutherford.
“They rolled into the studio straight from a night out at the gay clubs, partying, with no sleep,” said Goodman. “I’d ask a question, Holly would whisper in Paul’s ear and they would both laugh.
“Finally, I said, ‘I love Frankie Goes to Hollywood, but America does not give a shit. If you want to do an interview, let’s do it. If not, let’s stop.’ Holly said, ‘Okay, let’s stop.’”
A few days later, though, Johnson dropped by the studio to say sorry.
Goodman is still skeptical of the apology: “Maybe his manager said, ‘This is MTV. Get in there and apologize to this guy.’”
Such amends were not made by Ian Astbury, vocalist for The Cult, after a 1987 New Year’s Eve run-in. MTV’s five VJs were hosting the night’s coverage from various bashes around the city.
“I bought a bunch of coke and a bottle of Cristal,” said Goodman who sipped champagne during breaks. “I was about to light a cigarette when Ian and the Beastie Boys came out of a bathroom. They were partying and drunk. Ian walked by and flipped the cigarette out of my mouth. I grabbed him by the lapels, threw him to the floor and said, ‘What the f–k?’”
Before things escalated, Goodman added, “People pulled me off of him.”
The incident took place off-camera, but that wasn’t always the case.
VJ “Downtown” Julie Brown, who joined the network in 1987 and now hosts the show “’90s on 9” on Sirius, was hosting “Club MTV” when she had to deal with the alt-punk band Dead Milkmen.
“They came out on stage and handcuffed me. I freaked out,” said Brown, who tried squirming away from the pranksters. Producers cut to a commercial and, added Brown, “somebody came on stage and got me unlocked. I was upset to have gotten into that situation … and they weren’t on the show again.”
Over the years — when MTV still focused on music and before reality shows became the channel’s bread and butter — it grew more and more common for bands to drop by to promote new music. That led to opportunities for shenanigans both behind-the-scenes and on-air.
Whenever Mötley Crüe came in, they “were a mobile party,” recalled Clark. “They’d set up in the green room, with babes or groupies, and do coke off of the pool table.”
A decade older than most of the Crüe guys, Ozzy Osbourne, meanwhile, had a different set of needs. “The make-up artists had to hide his facelift scars,” Clark said.
Howard Stern knew how to stir up trouble. During a Thanksgiving appearance in the 1980s, he showed up with a freshly killed turkey and tried to hand it off to Middle Eastern cab drivers outside of MTV’s Midtown headquarters.
In 1992, Stern made an even more outrageous appearance during the Video Music Awards: Dropping from the UCLA Pauley Pavilion’s ceiling as a gas-blowing superhero called Fartman. The whole thing promised to be off-putting enough that an insider told The Post, “We had to ask 10 or 15 people to co-present with Howard before Luke Perry agreed to do it. Luke was not our first choice.”
In the late ’90s, MTV launched its afternoon countdown show “Total Request Live,” which aired live, with a studio audience, from the Times Square studios.
One of the show’s most notorious guests was Mariah Carey, who in 2001, made an unhinged, unannounced appearance — performing a strip tease, passing out ice cream and completely throwing off host Carson Daly.
As recalled by a former staffer who asked not to be named, “It was a last minute booking, which was unusual. Typically her lighting director came in ahead of time and told us how to light her — it was always controlled. This time, she rolled through with an ice cream cart. She gave a rambling interview to Carson and seemed to be having her Britney shaved-head moment. In the control room, we watched with our mouths open — but we didn’t cut it short.”
Another favorite diva, Madonna, put on an exclusive for MTV staffers ahead of the release of her controversial 1989 video “Like a Prayer,” which featured her kissing a black Jesus and dancing in front of burning crosses — and cost her a Pepsi sponsorship.
For the sneak peek, [Madonna’s team] “brought [the video] in a Brink’s truck, like they were afraid one of us would steal it,” said Clark. Turns out, the fears were warranted.
Before the clip showed, “Somebody drilled a hole through the wall [of the room where the video would be viewed] and ran a cable into a back-office with a VHS recorder. While they were screening the video, a copy was made.”
Did Madonna care? “Give us a break. She would not have a career if not for MTV.”
Another time, Madonna herself was challenged by a rival diva. It was the 1995 Video Music Awards and MTV News anchor Kurt Loder was doing a serious interview with the singer who had just won her first “real” — Loder’s words — VMA trophy: Female Video of the Year for “Take a Bow.” (Her previous awards were for technical categories like Cinematography.)
Suddenly, Courtney Love began lobbing containers of makeup at Madonna from beneath the interview platform.
Madonna asked that Love be kept at bay but Loder, recognizing a juicy moment, invited her up anyway. “Courtney Love is in dire need of attention,” Madonna said drolly.
Love then scrambled up to the interview spot and accused Madonna of being “mean to me.”
“Courtney was wasted and taking it out on Madonna,” said an MTV producer who was there.
But questions remain: How was Love ever allowed to start throwing stuff at Madonna? Who let Mariah Carey have her meltdown on “TRL”? And why didn’t anyone stop the Beastie Boys from getting a fan wasted?
As the producer put it: “In the early days of MTV, the standards of traditional television did not exist.”
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