- Further Readings About the Author
- Media Adaptations
- Personal Information
- Writings by the Author
Born September 28, 1954, in Pittsburgh, PA; son of a judge; married (divorced); married; wife's name Elizabeth; children: two daughters. Education: Graduated from Columbia University. Addresses: Home: Los Angeles, CA.
Writer. Actor in films, including Permanent Midnight, 1998, 12 Rounds, 2000, Gun Shy, Hollywood Pictures, 2000, Zoolander, Paramount Pictures, 2001, Down with the Joneses, Paramount Pictures, 2003, Hollywood High, Radical Media, Inc., 2003, and Inland Empire, 2006. Has also appeared on A&E's "Biography," 2001, and "Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations," 2007.
Pushcart Prize, 1976.
- Permanent Midnight (memoir), Warner Books (New York, NY), 1995.
- Perv: A Love Story (novel), William Morrow (New York, NY), 1999.
- Plainclothes Naked (novel), William Morrow (New York, NY), 2001.
- I, Fatty (novel), Bloomsbury USA (New York, NY), 2004.
- Love Without (stories), Open City Books (New York, NY), 2007.
- Pain Killers (novel), William Morrow (New York, NY), 2009.
- Happy Mutant Baby Pills (novel), William Morrow (New York, NY), 2013.
- (Editor) The Heroin Chronicles, Akashic Books (New York, NY), 2013.
- Bad Sex on Speed (novel), Rare Bird Books (New York, NY), 2013.
- Old Guy Dad: Weird Shit Happens When You Don't Die Young (nonfiction), Rare Bird Books (New York, NY), 2015.
- (As Herbert W. Day) Café Flesh, VCA Pictures, 1982.
- Bad Boys II, Columbia Pictures Corporation, 2003.
- Hemingway & Gellhorn, Home Box Office, 2012.
Also author, with Ben Stiller, of the screenplay What Makes Sammy Run.
Author of numerous episodes for television series, including You Again?, 1986, Thirtysomething, 1988-89, Moonlighting, 1989, ALF, 1986-89, Northern Exposure, 1990, Twin Peaks, 1990, and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, 2001-06.
Contributor to periodicals, including Playboy, GQ, Village Voice, Esquire, Details, Black Book, LA Weekly, Tin House, and Hustler.
Permanent Midnight was adapted for film by David Veloz in 1998.
In his memoir Permanent Midnight, Jerry Stahl explains in explicit language and vivid imagery his long, hard road from successful writer to street-living heroin addict and back again. A Publishers Weekly critic called it an "unabashedly lurid and often highly entertaining book," while Michael O'Sullivan, writing for Washington Post Book World, called the movie based on the book, which stars Stahl's good friend Ben Stiller, a "serious film about one man's sojourn in hell." Renee Tawa commented in Chicago Tribune Books: "Stahl's memoir unfolds ... with moments of self-loathing interspersed with irony and black humor. He writes, for instance, of injecting heroin at the hospital while his daughter was being born."
Raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, by a father who eventually committed suicide and a mother who was severely neurotic, Stahl basically lived alone from the age of sixteen or seventeen, at which time he began using drugs. After graduating from Columbia University, he remained in New York City, where his drug use escalated. After winning the Pushcart Prize for a short story when he was twenty-two, Stahl received calls from publishers wanting to know if he had written a novel that they might publish. He told Erik Himmelsbach of Salon.com: "I always knew how to write. I never knew how to live. ... I didn't know how to return a phone call. I didn't know how to take a meeting. ... I was high all the time."
An editorial posting for Hustler drew Stahl to Los Angeles where, after beginning as a porn writer, he became a successful television writer for series such as Alf, Moonlighting, Twin Peaks, and Thirtysomething earning 5,000 dollars a week. However, a 6,000-dollars-a-week drug habit cost him writing jobs. Not only could he no longer hold such jobs, at the age of thirty-eight he could not even hold a job as a McDonald's cook. He told Stevens: "I remember hearing my sixteen-year-old co-workers whispering, 'I think he's retarded.' It's hard to live that kind of stuff down." Even after rehabilitation and the success of his memoir, he relapsed.
By the time he wrote Perv: A Love Story, Stahl had been clean for about five years, and he felt he could safely examine issues such as sexual and substance abuse. "Somehow, because I have more distance from it, I can go deeper into it," he told Himmelsbach. "What's really the disturbing element is the ease with which you can enter a state of mind like that. I wish I could write about a happy accountant in Reseda."
Perv is a fictional account that draws on Stahl's experience during his teens. The central character, Bobby, is expelled from a prep school in Pennsylvania for having gang sex with a consenting girl. Bobby's father committed suicide, and his emotionally unstable mother seeks solace in pills and alcohol. Bobby and Michelle, a girl he had a crush on in kindergarten, decide to hitchhike to San Francisco. They meet Varnish and Meat--older, predatory, hippie junkies who lock them in their car and subject them to a night of verbal, psychological, and sexual abuse.
Himmelsbach called Perv "dark and gruesome ... a disorienting, disconcerting, hilarious coming-of-age tale." Rhonda Johnson commented in Entertainment Weekly that it is "not for the easily confused, offended, or overstimulated." In fact, Stahl himself commented to Himmelsbach, when asked why his fiction has received so much resistance: "Permanent Midnight is like a Hallmark card compared to Perv."
Stahl went on to write Plainclothes Naked, another darkly humorous novel, described by Jeff Zaleski in Publishers Weekly as containing "wanton violence. Crushing drug addiction. Sexual abuse. It's the world according to Stahl." The story line revolves around a photograph of George W. Bush having kinky sex with the mayor of a tiny town outside Pittsburgh. Characters include two blackmailing crack addicts and a private investigator with a serious drug addiction who happens to be the mayor's ex-husband. "Stahl's talent for supplying a cast of mean yet oddly moving characters is evident, as is his talent for creating tactile, unsettling images," wrote Zaleski.
In 2004 Stahl published the novel I, Fatty. The account fictionalizes events in the life of comic actor Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, including a heroin addiction, false accusations of rape despite being impotent, and a media circus that results from his multiple trials. Caroline Leavitt explained in the Boston Globe that "Stahl creates an ingenious structure: Fatty is unreeling his life into a tape recorder in exchange for the shots of heroin he craves. And what a tale it is! Stahl's a fabulous writer, tunneling deep into Fatty's mind, creating a richly sympathetic voice that veers from wisecracks to woe, all brilliantly illuminating the humanity behind the clown mask, and revealing a man starving for love." Carolyn See, writing in the Washington Post Book World, reported that "Stahl gives us a crash course in what the movies were, and are, in how movies first played to vast audiences of immigrants--fresh-off-the-boat peasants to whom a treacherous banana peel was the perfect metaphor for how life played out in this enigmatic new country." Brandon M. Stickney, reviewing the novel on the Bookreporter Web site, stated: "There is no such thing as reality, only perception, which, as Fatty and so many others learned, is a fatal dose of remembrance and imagination. Oscar Wilde, step aside--Jerry Stahl is back in town." Steven Rosen, writing in Curled Up with a Good Book, observed: "This was obviously a subject close to the author's heart and he does it justice. But what he does best is ripping open the souls of the human beast."
Nicholas Royle wrote in the London Independent: "Wisecracking, poignant, and frequently hilarious, the voice never cracks." Royle added that the novel "may lack the imaginative audacity of cinema novels such as Steve Erickson's Days between Stations or Theodore Roszak's Flicker, but in terms of its getting under Fatty's skin and creating a truly sympathetic hero in a series of tight spots, it's without equal." Chris Petit, writing in the London Guardian, remarked that "apart from its obvious virtues as biographical writing and recreating a lost era, Stahl's book makes an important point in identifying hysteria as a recurring driving force in the American psyche." Booklist contributor Alan Moores found that the "hysteria over Arbuckle's criminal case ... finds harrowing resonance with our own modern-day obsessions with sex and celebrity."
Stahl published the short-story collection Love Without in 2007. The collection of light stories mixes contemporary humor with shock value. The various tales include a likeable Dick Cheney engaged in a homosexual affair, a midget with a vegetable fetish, and unorthodox ways to take drugs. Patty Jones, reviewing the collection in Straight.com, noted that it is "safe to say that Jerry Stahl's oeuvre occupies its own dark and sticky niche," appending that the collection "is definitely love it or loathe it." A contributor to Publishers Weekly complained, however, that "the book is less a collection of fully conceived stories than a repository for half-baked ideas." Tom Shone noted in the New York Times Book Review that "for all their rococo oddity, Stahl's stories lie curiously flat on the page: they shock, but do not surprise."
In 2009 Stahl published Pain Killers. The private investigator and drug addict Manny Rupert happens to come across the once-thought-deceased Nazi "Angel of Death" Josef Mengele in San Quentin and ends up discussing his views on the similarities between Nazi and American medical experiments. A contributor to Velvet said that "this isn't merely one big history lesson. If anything, it's more a lesson in human nature. But it's a novel too. There's a narrative tightly wound within. And it's something else." Reviewing the book in the Los Angeles Times, Tod Goldberg claimed that it is "clear that this comic crime novel is simply too long for its own good. 'Such was the magic of chaos,' Stahl writes late in the novel while discussing Mengele's ability to disappear after World War II. 'You could hide in the middle of it. Walk through like you belonged and keep on going.' It's a fitting coda to this novel as well, which, though rediscovering its footing in the last two vibrant and delirious chapters, never quite recovers from the middle." S.E. Mathews declared in Helium: "I recommend this book with reservation. I relished its thoroughly unrepentant black heart and immoral center, but others who prefer something that adheres to a more traditional storyline and characters might not be so inclined." Rosen, again writing in Curled Up with a Good Book, said that this account is "dark and grim and full of the hysterical beauty that informed his first book." Stahl's "trademark blend of ballsy, blacker-than-black humor and wry social commentary lets him find humor in the Third Reich," observed a Publishers Weekly reviewer, and Booklist contributor Thomas Gaughan contended that the novel is not "for the squeamish, but readers who like shock and laughs with their crime are likely to love it."
Stahl now describes himself as a "bearded soccer mom." Alternatively, as he told Pope, referring to the strait-laced actor of television's My Three Sons, "I'm totally Fred MacMurray now. I don't do any drugs, and there you are."
Stahl served as the editor for the 2013 book The Heroin Chronicles. The book was part of a series from Akashic books that included The Cocaine Chronicles and The Speed Chronicles. In an interview with Paul Teetor, contributor to Los Angeles Weekly, Stahl was asked for whom the book was written. He responded: "Clean livers everywhere. It's good, family entertainment, good for everybody from six to sixty."
The book contains short stories from thirteen writers, including Nathan Larson, Lydia Lunch, Tony O'Neill, L.Z. Hansen, Sophia Langdon, and Gary Phillips. Stahl also contributes a story. Each of the stories involves a character who is currently using heroin or has been an addict in the past. In addition to describing the feelings of being high on the drug, the stories also include themes related to drug abuse, such as contracting hepatitis C, suffering from depression and anxiety, and overdosing. In his statement in the book, Stahl quotes the author and famous addict William Burroughs.
A writer in Publishers Weekly suggested that The Heroin Chronicles "will satisfy devotees of noir fiction and outsider art alike." Jennifer Funk, contributor to Library Journal, described the book as "a highly graphic and sometimes grotesque read."
Stahl's following novel is Happy Mutant Baby Pills. In an interview with Anisse Gross for the Rumpus Web site, Stahl explained how he became inspired to write the book: "I started writing the book at the same time I was in a trial program for Hepatitis C, an experimental treatment trial at Cedar Sinai. My girlfriend was pregnant at the time, and they told me the pills I was on were so toxic, that if I so much as touched her, even a drop of sweat, the baby would be born purple with wheels, essentially. It basically reminded me of this insane toxic pharmacological smorgasbord that we live in. Even though I was railing against big pharma, oddly enough it saved my life." Stahl also discussed pharmaceuticals in an interview with David Breithaupt, a contributor to the Los Angeles Review of Books: "Pharmaceuticals are a backdrop in my book--a chemical canvas against which my characters can parade their particular brand of sanity, or insanity, depending on who's judging. ... I didn't tackle the pill industry so much as how it impacts the people who consume its product, and the methods used to promulgate it."
The narrator of the book is Lloyd, a former copywriter for a pharmaceutical company who is addicted to pills. He boards a Greyhound bus after an unsuccessful attempt at robbing a pharmacy, and he meets Nora Funk. Nora, also a drug addict, tells Lloyd that she wants to hurt her former boss and the father of her child, and Lloyd offers to help her. Nora wants her actions to be a statement about capitalism, pesticides, and the pharmaceuticals industry. Lloyd quickly falls in love with Nora.
In a review of the book on the January Web site, a contributor commented: "Stahl's self-deprecation is legendary, and he never sacrifices artistic merit for speaking the truth. When Stahl riffs on dope addiction, he's unbeatable, even though its ground already covered. The genius of Stahl is that he never repeats himself. ... Stahl's riffs seem new with every book." "Happy Mutant Baby Pills is a deeply disturbing, deeply funny look at a society desperately in need of assistance," asserted Carol Gladstein in Booklist. A writer in Publishers Weekly suggested: "Stahl's fans will forgive the halting start and sudden end to this fleshed-out satiric novella." A Kirkus Reviews critic remarked: "A grotesque and lurid allegorical tale, this is not for the faint of heart."
In 2015 Stahl published Old Guy Dad: Weird Shit Happens When You Don't Die Young. In a series of essays originally published in the Rumpus, Stahl shares his experiences of becoming a father while in his fifties. His first child was already grown by the time his girlfriend announced that she was pregnant. Stahl reminisces about parenthood while he was largely addicted to heroin and other substances and how his second chance at it would be different. He also reflects on the challenges of being a parent and how this would be magnified by his age. Booklist contributor David Pitt insisted that "parents will relate, no doubt, as will Stahl's loyal readers." In an article in the New York Post, Royal Young admitted that "while Stahl is tackling a softer subject than heroin in the book, his writing style remains as caustic and visceral as ever."
Writing in the London Guardian, Chris Campion remarked that "his manner is so dry that it makes everything he says sound like a wisecrack--which more often than not it is. His writing, similarly, is characterised by a black humour that feels almost toxic; and an unflinching commitment to honesty, no matter how sordid or humiliating." In an interview in Crave, Stahl talked with Erica Rivera about the benefits of being older and more psychologically healthy in raising a child, saying: "I think there's a certain level of ease. I don't have a lot left to prove in the world and I definitely have a lot more time to be with my kid than I did then. Being a dope fiend, as Jim Carroll said, is the worst nine-to-five gig in the world. So, yeah, I'm here more. As my first daughter will never fail to remind me, she didn't get what this one got, but somehow it's all worked out. It ends up being a weirdly, if unexpected, happy family."
FURTHER READINGS ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
- Stahl, Jerry, Permanent Midnight, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1995.
- Stahl, Jerry, Old Guy Dad: Weird Shit Happens When You Don't Die Young, Rare Bird Books (New York, NY), 2015.
- Booklist, April 15, 1995, Greg Burkman, review of Permanent Midnight, p. 1451; August 1, 1999, Ted Leventhal, review of Perv: A Love Story, p. 2030; September 1, 2001, Brendan Dowling, review of Plainclothes Naked, p. 53; May 15, 2004, Alan Moores, review of I, Fatty, p. 1612; March 1, 2009, Thomas Gaughan, review of Pain Killers, p. 29; November 1, 2013, Carol Gladstein, review of Happy Mutant Baby Pills, p. 25; June 1, 2015, David Pitt, review of Old Guy Dad: Weird Shit Happens When You Don't Die Young, p. 18.
- Bookwatch, December 1, 2001, review of Plainclothes Naked, p. 11.
- Boston Globe, November 15, 2001, Jim Sullivan, "The Real Dope about Heroin," p. D4; July 25, 2004, Caroline Leavitt, review of I, Fatty.
- Chicago Sun-Times, September 18, 1998, Roger Ebert, review of film version of Permanent Midnight, p. 30.
- Chicago Tribune Books, December 8, 2002, review of Plainclothes Naked, p. 6; January 6, 2003, Renee Tawa, review of film version of Permanent Midnight, p. 3.
- Crave, August 19, 2015, Erica Rivera, author interview.
- Entertainment Weekly, June 26, 1998, "Ben Stiller, Jerry Stahl: The Other Ben & Jerry," p. 24; September 25, 1998, movie review of Permanent Midnight, p. 78; November 26, 1999, Rhonda Johnson, review of Perv, p. 89; July 23, 2004, Lisa Schwarzbaum, review of I, Fatty, p. 80.
- Film Comment, September 1, 2004, Chris Chang, review of I, Fatty, p. 77.
- Guardian (London, England), March 12, 2005, Chris Petit, review of I, Fatty; June 17, 2015, Chris Campion, "Jerry Stahl: 'Our Family Business Was Shame'."
- Hollywood Reporter, April 8, 2011, Daniel Miller, author profile, p. 18.
- Independent (London, England), February 23, 2005, Nicholas Royle, review of I, Fatty.
- Interview, April 12, 2014, Royal Young, author interview.
- Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 1995, review of Permanent Midnight, p. 310; September 1, 1999, review of Perv, p. 1340; August 15, 2001, review of Plainclothes Naked, p. 1160; May 1, 2004, review of I, Fatty, p. 422; December 15, 2004, review of I, Fatty, p. 10; January 15, 2009, review of Pain Killers; August 15, 2013, review of Happy Mutant Baby Pills.
- Library Journal, June 15, 1995, David C. Tucker, review of Permanent Midnight, p. 73; June 1, 2004, Reba Leiding, review of I, Fatty, p. 126; January 1, 2013, Jennifer Funk, review of The Heroin Chronicles, p. 85.
- Los Angeles, March 1, 2009, Michael Mullen, review of Pain Killers, p. 72.
- Los Angeles Review of Books, February 17, 2014, David Breithaupt, author interview.
- Los Angeles Times, April 23, 1995, Bruce Wagner, review of Permanent Midnight, p. 4; September 12, 2001, David L. Ulin, review of Plainclothes Naked, p. E1; March 15, 2009, Tod Goldberg, review of Pain Killers; November 21, 2013, Joseph Lapin, review of Happy Mutant Baby Pills.
- Los Angeles Weekly, January 10, 2013, Paul Teetor, author interview.
- New Statesman & Society, March 22, 1996, review of Permanent Midnight, p. 37.
- New Yorker, June 5, 2000, review of Perv, p. 22.
- New York Post, June 20, 2015, Royal Young, "Jerry Stahl Says Fatherhood's as Crazy as Heroin Addiction."
- New York Times, November 4, 2001, Kimberly Stevens, "A Night Out with Jerry Stahl," p. 7.
- New York Times Book Review, August 8, 2004, Campbell Robertson, review of I, Fatty, p. 14; August 12, 2007, Tom Shone, review of Love Without, p. 20.
- Observer (London, England), April 21, 1996, review of Permanent Midnight, p. 16.
- People, August 28, 1995, Clare McHugh, review of Permanent Midnight, p. 29; August 30, 2004, review of I, Fatty, p. 50.
- Publishers Weekly, April 3, 1995, review of Permanent Midnight, p. 51; August 2, 1999, review of Perv, p. 70; August 20, 2001, review of Plainclothes Naked, p. 51; May 24, 2004, review of I, Fatty, p. 42; May 21, 2007, review of Love Without, p. 33; January 19, 2009, review of Pain Killers, p. 36; January 26, 2009, Jordan Foster, "PW Talks with Jerry Stahl," p. 95; November 12, 2012, review of The Heroin Chronicles, p. 45; August 26, 2013, review of Happy Mutant Baby Pills, p. 41.
- USA Today, March 12, 2009, James Endrst, review of Pain Killers, p. 5D.
- UWire, February 2, 2014, Kate Irwin, review of Happy Mutant Baby Pills, p. 1.
- Variety, September 21, 1998, Glenn Lovel, review of film version of Permanent Midnight, p. 108; November 1, 2004, Ann Donahue, review of I, Fatty, p. 42.
- Washington Post Book World, September 18, 1998, Michael O'Sullivan, review of film version of Permanent Midnight, p. N56; December 12, 1999, review of Perv, p. 4; July 30, 2004, Carolyn See, review of I, Fatty, p. C7.
- Blogcritics, http://www.blogcritics.org/ (January 17, 2005), Michael Benning, review of I, Fatty.
- Bookreporter, http://www.bookreporter.com/ (October 29, 2009), Brandon M. Stickney, review of I, Fatty.
- Curled Up with a Good Book, http://www.curledup.com/ (October 29, 2009), Steven Rosen, reviews of Pain Killers and I, Fatty.
- Helium, http://www.helium.com/ (October 29, 2009), S.E. Mathews, review of Pain Killers.
- Huffington Post, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/ (July 17, 2015), David Henry Sterry, "Jerry Stahl on Voltaire, Cher, and Being a Dad When You're Not Wacked Out on Heroin."
- Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/ (February 11, 2004), author profile.
- January, http://januarymagazine.blogspot.com/ (December 27, 2013), J. Kingston Pierce, review of Happy Mutant Baby Pills.
- Jerry Stahl Home Page, http://www.jerrystahl.com (May 15, 2016).
- Powells.com, http://www.powells.com/ (October 29, 2009), author interview.
- Rehab Reviews, https://rehabreviews.com/ (August 18, 2015), Danielle Stewart, "Jerry Stahl on Being an Old Guy Dad."
- Rumpus, http://therumpus.net/ (January 28, 2014), Anisse Gross, author interview; (March 17, 2014), Jerry Stahl, "Bad Moments in Parenting."
- Salon.com, http://www.salon.com/ (October 19, 1999), Erik Himmelsbach, author interview; (December 6, 2004), Christopher Dreher, author interview.
- Straight.com, http://www.straight.com/ (August 16, 2007), Patty Jones, review of Love Without.
- Velvet, http://www.welcometothevelvet.com/ (October 29, 2009), review of Pain Killers.*