Dr. Drew: Guiding People One TV Show at a Time
Issue   |   Mon, 11/12/2012 - 21:06

If you have ever flipped through the channels and found yourself watching MTV’s show “Celebrity Rehab” or a “Teen Mom Reunion” then you have laid your eyes on Dr. Drew Pinsky, the host of these reality television shows. Dr. Pinsky, or Dr. Drew, is a member of the Amherst College Class of 1980, the first co-ed graduating class.

He was also a first in many other things — the first to publicly speak out about AIDS, create health-based Internet websites and television shows for youths, probably the first to get up in the morning for his 110-hour work-week and most likely the first to know why “Teen Mom’s” Maci and Kyle broke up.\

“I’ll Make a Man out of You”

His father, Morton Pinsky, was a family physician.

Education was always very important in the Pinsky household.

“One thing I am most grateful for was that [my parents] funded my world-class education. [Education] is such a gift that a lot of people do not have,” Pinsky said.

During his high school years at Polytechnic School, Pinsky was unsure where his future college years would lead him.

“I really was not forward thinking at all. It was not until I started excelling in my last few years of high school that these opportunities emerged,” he said.

In fact, Pinsky’s decision to attend Amherst College was out of the blue; before deciding on Amherst, he had thought that he would go to UC Santa Barbara.

Arriving at the College in the fall of 1976, Pinsky was stepping into unknown territory.

Having never experienced snow, Pinsky was ”stunned and shocked” upon encountering the northeastern winter.

Not only was he “completely unprepared,” but so too were his parents.

“They did not understand where I was going, how I was going to get there [and] once I was there it was ‘good luck!’” Pinsky said.

Pinsky was thrown into a new environment and was inadequately prepared to meet some of the challenges. Pinsky sought help at the medical clinic, but to no avail.

“It was not so much that the College did not have adequately trained personnel. It was [that] there really was no such thing as adolescent medicine at that time. Adolescents were underserved because there was no attention paid to that stage of life,” Pinsky said.

Yet, despite his troubling years at Amherst, Pinsky credits the College with developing him into the man he is today.

“Really everything I am is because of that school,” Pinsky said. “I had a lazy mind when I went there. You had to be thinking and creating at the highest level that I did not know I had in me. Once I got there and my mind started changing in terms of my understanding of the world, I wanted to do so many things.”

Pinsky graduated in 1980 with a Bachelor of the Arts, majoring in Biology. However, the subject that had the greatest influence on Pinsky’s career was a philosophy class taught by Professor Hadley Arkes.
“Some things we cannot answer with science. You have to have an understanding of philosophy to really understand [and answer] these questions,” Pinsky said.

Arkes’ class, “Political Obligations,” did just that. As an adult, Pinsky began to reread the writers taught in that class — from Kant to Aristotle and Abraham Lincoln.

“I didn’t care as much about where [Arkes] went with all of it; he just got me thinking,” Pinsky said.

Pinsky continued his studies at the Univ. of Southern California School of Medicine. Even though medical school was more time-consuming, it was not as rigorous as Amherst.

As a recent graduate of the College, Pinsky realized the importance of being a voice for the younger generation.

What opened Pinsky’s eyes to the power of performance, and hence his route of expression to young adults, was radio. He was asked by a few friends to do a segment entitled “Ask a Surgeon.” Seeing it as community service, Pinsky agreed. On the radio, Pinsky was one of the first individuals to talk about the AIDS epidemic publicly.

After graduating medical school, Pinsky went on to do his residency at USC County Hospital and later became chief resident at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena.

He put his involvement with radio in the background and devoted his time towards medicine for over two decades. He was working 110 hours a week, seeing up to 60 patients a day, leaving at 5:30 a.m. and getting home near 10:00 p.m.

But in 1995, his radio career came into the forefront as his show’s broadcast went from once a week to five days a week.

With the popularity of the radio broadcast, “Loveline,” Pinsky was tested with Adam Carolla in 1996 to create a MTV “Loveline” show. The combination of two created a perfect balance — a comedic Carolla with a more serious Pinsky.

And perhaps with the emergence of “Loveline,” Pinsky began to think that this was the avenue he was meant to drive down. However, his exploration would not end there.

“Just Remember Friendship Never Ends”

“He was a surfer dude. He had white hair down to his shoulders,” Curtis Giesen said when describing Pinsky.

Good friends since seventh grade, Giesen and Pinsky left Pasadena together for Amherst College in 1976.

In the late 1990s, Giesen, working in the Internet space, took an idea to Pinsky about creating an online health site. This idea developed into an Internet-based community and advice site for teenagers, DrDrew.com.

“I wanted to take [Drew’s] brand in new directions,” Giesen said.

DrDrew.com combined popular culture with serious health issues to draw young adults to the website. Giesen and Pinsky attempted to step in and be a voice for young adults regarding health issues ranging from substance abuse, sexual relationships and mental health issues. DrDrew.com had over one million registered users by 2000.

“Drew is a very non-judgmental person, but he is straight and direct, but not in a preacher way,” Giesen said.

DrDrew.com provided an avenue for this type of information and advice.

“We were a serious health site, but had enough pop-culture to make it entertaining and a place where youth wanted to be involved,” Giesen said.

The duo worked well together.

“He’s a doctor and I’m a business person. We are honest and straight up with each other,” Giesen said.

In fact, they recently launched a new Internet creation, GreenRoom.com. The idea emerged from Pinsky’s frustration with social media, such as twitter.

GreenRoom allows individuals to request video conversations, phone conversations and recorded messages with experts and celebrities — from TV hosts, doctors, comedians, journalists, artists and more.
“People want the personal access,” Giesen said.

The new GreenRoom creates this atmosphere. Users get to have personal conversations with experts and celebrities, and in return, celebrities get to broadcast their name brands and donate to a charity of choice.

“Does knowing Drew the way I do make me want to work with him? The answer is yes. Knowing him, and knowing how people react to him, makes me want to help him do new things with the Dr. Drew brand and take it in new directions,” Giesen said.

Besides working as business partners, Giesen and Pinsky are also close friends.

“I have had my own Dr. Drew for many years. He is an intelligent, direct, honest and compassionate guy who cares about helping people. I know that well,” Giesen said.

“Might as Well Face it, You’re Addicted to Love”

“[Pinsky] is hands-down, the absolute best. He is such a compassionate, talented, smart and funny guy. It’s unbelievable how one person can do so many things,” Rachel Miskowiec said.
Pinsky and Miskowiec crossed paths on The CW daytime show, “Lifechangers,” with Pinsky as the host and Miskowiec as the producer.

“The goal was to everyday take someone in a half-hour from point A to point B, whether it was ‘you have no money, you are about to have a baby and need a job’, or ‘I can’t find a date,’ or ‘why your ex wasn’t going to make it work,’” Miskowiec said.

The show covered a hodgepodge of topics, both big and small in size. From relationships, love, health, addiction or shopping addictions, Dr. Drew, accompanied by a committee of experts, celebrities and doctors, tried to offer sufficient advice to change an individual life, one half-hour at a time.

“At one point, we got 67 people jobs in one hour! People were willing to do things for Drew, because his brand was so clean,” Miskowiec said.

Just as Dr. Drew’s brand was clean, he too tried to cleanse people of their addiction problems.

“Something that people overlook with Drew is that he made addiction a disease. Prior to Dr. Drew, talking about addiction was associated as a dirty, horrible thing … [Dr. Drew] brought addiction into the conversation in households. He made it a disease, something that was treatable …like cancer,” Miskowiec said.

By diagnosing addiction as a disease, Pinsky gave power to individuals, giving them the strength that they can beat addiction.

“Every single time I saw some family member or someone who was addicted to something and saw the light bulb go off when they realized that ‘maybe I do have something wrong with me, maybe I should go to rehab, and that I can beat this and I do have worth’ … it was astounding,” Miskowiec said.

“[Pinsky] is a doctor and he is also an amazing television show host. Think about the doctors you see in your life — the ones who give you a flu shot — and then think about that man on television. No!” Miskowiec said.

But, Pinsky was that man — an Amherst graduate who infused his talents as a doctor into the television world.

“Never Say Never”

Besides “Loveline,” DrDrew.com, GreenRoom and “Lifechangers,” Pinsky has continued his career through “Celebrity Rehab” and “Teen Mom Reunion,” “Dr. Drew” on HLN, among others.
Pinsky’s HLN program, a more recent production, can be watched Monday through Wednesday at 6:00 and 9:00 p.m. The show seeks to answer the question “why we do what we do?”

However, it was not until last year that Pinsky admitted to himself that he had shifted from his first career, medicine, to his second, television.

Having experienced Amherst College in a period when the lives of young adults were being “underserved and underappreciated,” Pinsky realized he needed to be a voice for young adults, particularly because he understood what they were going through.

The media was a powerful tool that Pinsky took to his advantage.

“You have to be willing to entertain or else you won’t get viewers. You have to get into environments and programs that may be uncomfortable and challenging. It is about taking these stories and using them as opportunities to not just shape people’s understandings, but the culture at large,” Pinsky said.

Yet, Pinsky’s story of success was not an easy adventure. Thirty years ago, before he became known as “Dr. Drew,” Pinsky was where current students are right now.

“The pain you are experiencing now will serve you well in the long run. I promise,” Pinsky said. “You are at a school that is just a cut above the others. Even when [students at other schools] are getting amazing experiences, Amherst is always a notch above. It will serve you the rest of your life. It will not go under-used or under-rewarded. And I know it is painful, but be patient and be grateful.”
Pinsky currently lives in Pasadena with his wife, Susan. His children, triplets Douglas, Jordan and Paulina, are sophomores in college, with Jordan attending Amherst College.

“The last time we visited [Amherst College], was just a couple weeks ago. The fact that my entire family is all at home on the campus now …is deeply meaningful to me,” Pinsky said.