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In memoir, Rick Springfield reveals dark secrets with self-deprecating humor

Decades before he became TV's Dr. Noah Drake and a rock idol in MTV's golden age, he was merely Richard Springthorpe, a suicidal Australian teen who considered himself, as he laments, uglier than a baboon's rump.

In his new memoir Late, Late at Night, the man who would become Rick Springfield details his lifelong battle with depression — Mr. Darkness, he dubs it — and how it followed him along on his journey to superstardom.

Casual fans might cringe at times while reading the 320-page tome, which begins with an attempt to hang himself at age 17.

"It surprised even hard-core fans," the 61-year-old admits during a phone interview. "There's so much in there they didn't know."

Springfield returns to Florida on Saturday to play Ribfest in St. Petersburg. He took time out from his book tour to chat with the Times about his new book.

This book might shock those who saw Rick Springfield as a well-adjusted "bubble-gum" star.

I think the initial onslaught was a happy, shiny guy, you know. A lot of the hard-core fans — they've listened to the later albums — they know there's more going on. All my songs are written from a dark place. Even Jessie's Girl is a relationship that I couldn't make happen.

It's kind of bizarre to see you follow some of the darkest moments of the book with stabs at humor.

Self-deprecating remarks, probably more. That's just the way I am naturally. I wouldn't say I'm positive; in fact, I'm a glass-half-empty kind of guy a lot of the time.

Have you second-guessed being that frank in print?

No, not really. I was considerate about my wife (Barbara), that she be viewed appropriately. She's a strong woman and we hit all the issues head-on when they happened and dealt with them. We finally decided that we're better together than we are apart.

There are plenty of "rock star meets sex-crazed groupie" stories in there, too. Just curious: Did your parents ever sit you down for the bird-and-bees talk?

No, not really. My mom was raised by Victorian English parents and my dad was away a lot. I think the only thing my mom did was give me a book when I was about 11 called The Facts of Life. She said, "If there's any questions, just come and see me." I got a page into it and went to her and said, "What does 'erect' mean?" And she said "Go ask your father." So that was pretty much it.

Last year you basically played yourself on Showtime's Californication. How different was that gig from your General Hospital days back in the '80s?

Oh, light years. First of all, the writing is really great. Second, you're working with all really great-caliber actors. There are some great actors on soaps, but for me being on soaps was more about line memorization. Everyone is always struggling to remember all the lines because you have to do an hour a day. It's the toughest gig in acting. On a show like Californication, you get a week to shoot a half-hour. And movies is different again. You get 16 weeks to do 90 minutes.

Late in the book, you admit to turning down a smaller role as an astronaut in The Right Stuff to star in Hard To Hold.

Unfortunately I think my ego took over at that point. I thought, "I'm at this point now, hey, I'll do my own movie." It was a good, hard lesson to learn. A lot of the reason I put a lot of the self-deprecating stuff in the book is because I learned lessons from them. I made a step forward; that's why I don't regret anything — most things anyway.

Rick Springfield shares the good and the seriously awful from his life in the new book Late, Late at Night. Here are some highlights.

VIETNAM VET: In 1968, while only 17 years old, Springfield and his band signed up to travel to Vietnam to play shows for allied forces. But it'd be far from any USO type of gig. The band is often under enemy fire. During one night skirmish, Springfield is forced to feed shells into a mortar to hold off the enemy. The next day, he's told that one of his shells killed a Viet Cong soldier. "I feel sick," he writes. "Thinking of it now, I still do."

BARING IT ALL: While playing for an Aussie band named Zoot, Springfield and his bandmates once posed nude for a publicity shot, showing off their backsides. His mother wasn't happy. "A bit of lace is much more interesting than seeing the whole doohickey," she scolds her son, who assured her nobody will ever remember the snapshot after it was published in a music magazine. To the contrary, it has reappeared throughout his career — once as a huge backdrop at a show at a gay club — and is even reproduced in his book.

DOG DAYS: Late, Late at Night is sprinkled with stories of Rick's beloved canine companions, but none is more infamous than an orphaned, black and white bullterrier mix that would become known as Lethal Ron — "so named because of his staggeringly bad gas." Lethal Ron would become the "cover dog" of Rick's first big album, 1981's Working Class Dog. Rick, who fought the record label against putting a beauty shot of him on the cover, dressed his pet in a shirt and tie and included a tiny photo of the singer in his pocket as a joke to the art department.

CRUISING WITH RICK: Just days after his gig at St. Petersburg's Ribfest, Rick Springfield is setting sail with 2,000 of his closest friends on the Carnival Destiny out of Miami for a five-night Bahamas cruise. Coming along on the trip is special musical guest Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon and former MTV veejay Mark Goodman. The trip is Monday-Nov. 20. Check rickspringfieldcruise.com for more information.

NO ONE-HIT WONDER: If you think his career started and ended with 1981's Jessie's Girl, then Rick Springfield would like to have a few words with you. (By the way, in real life it was Gary's girl he lusted after.) Oprah Winfrey once angered the rocker when she tried to book him for a show about one-hit wonders. He has recorded more than a dozen albums and has scored 17 Top 40 hits, starting with Speak to the Sky in 1972.

.IF YOU GO

Ribfest Music

Ribfest runs Friday through Sunday at Vinoy Park, 501 Fifth Ave. NE, St. Petersburg. $10 advance, $15 at gate; 12 and younger free. (727) 528-3828; www.ribfest.org. Here's the music lineup. For more on the ribs and other activities, see Page 18.

Friday: Doobie Brothers at 8:30 p.m. Rest of the lineup: Geezers (1 p.m.), Hamlin and LA (2:30 p.m.), Sheri and the Vision (4:30 p.m.), Dave Mason (6:30 p.m.) and Emily's Ashes (8 p.m.)

Saturday: Rick Springfield at 4 p.m. Rest of the lineup: Urban Gypsies (12:30 p.m.), the Gary Schutt Band with Todd Plant (2 p.m.), Talk to Mark (3:15 p.m.), Ben Bryan Band (5:30 p.m.), Braxton Adamson Band (6:15 p.m.), Radio Crime (7:30 p.m.) and Grand Funk Railroad (8:30 p.m.)

Sunday: Dr. Dave Band (noon), Lee Brice (2 p.m.), Amanda Drake and the Barnburners (2:45 p.m.), Phil Vassar (3:45 p.m.), Suite Caroline (5 p.m.) and Eric Church (6 p.m.)

In memoir, Rick Springfield reveals dark secrets with self-deprecating humor 11/10/10 [Last modified: Thursday, November 11, 2010 11:58am]

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