TAMPA — More than 20 journalists spent much of Thursday waiting at Orient Road Jail for a man who is famous for being the father of a woman who is famous for being a Hollywood starlet turned incorrigible thief and drunk.
Michael Lohan, the estranged, alcoholic father of Lindsay Lohan, lives in Fort Lauderdale, but recently he has been visiting Hillsborough County. This week, he's been arrested twice, he's been in the hospital twice, he's been accused of beating up his one-time fiancee, he's allegedly violated a judge's order to leave her alone, and he's leapt from a third-floor hotel balcony into a thicket of tropical trees.
This series of pathetic misadventures somehow has become a story of national interest.
Start on Monday.
Up in Washington, Harvey Levin, the brash founder of No. 1 celebrity news site TMZ.com, spoke at a luncheon at the National Press Club. TMZ.com, which has existed for six years, draws 20 million unique visitors a month. Print newspapers? The evening news? That old stuff's out, Levin told the crowd. Instead, he said, respond to Americans' insatiable interest in the lives of the strangers they see on TV. Britney Spears. The Kardashian sisters. The Lohans.
Around that same time, in the parking lot of a South Tampa Dollar Tree, a woman was taking snapshots of Michael Lohan and Kate Major. She recognized them. They appeared to be putting some plastic bags in the trunk of a white BMW sedan.
The uninteresting amateur images were taken in the middle of what police would later describe as a "daylong argument" between the two.
Michael Lohan, 51, is a former Wall Street stockbroker who is an alcoholic with an admitted affinity for cocaine — problems exacerbated, he has said, by his daughter's poor choices that are so relentlessly chronicled. He was on the most recent season of the VH1 show Celebrity Rehab.
Kate Major, 28, is an ex-tabloid reporter who has been intimate with the elder Lohan for the last two or so years.
According to an arrest report and the statements of Major and Lohan, he wanted her to drop a restraining order she had against him and she said no. They offered unflattering details about sex that they did and didn't have.
Lohan was arrested and taken to St. Joseph's Hospital because he said he had chest pains. He tried to check himself out, but police stopped him. Jail deputies patted him down in his hospital gown in a video that of course ended up on TMZ. The parking lot pictures showed up on the website of a local radio show.
"I didn't do anything," Lohan told reporters Wednesday evening when he was released from jail. "This is how she makes money. She gets me arrested … and then she sells the story."
To this point headlines were bold on sites like TMZ, but not in papers like the St. Petersburg Times, where brief mentions sufficed. That was about to change.
Lohan checked in Wednesday night at the Tahitian Inn on S Dale Mabry Highway. Room 307 went for $139 a night. It looked down on the outdoor dining patio. He ate dinner there, then sang American Pie in a spirited session of karaoke, a video clip of which later showed up on TMZ.
The police arrived in the wee hours. They had heard from Major. She complained Lohan had been calling. The police went to arrest him for violating the judge's instructions. This is when Lohan launched himself through 34 feet of darkness and into a bird of paradise. Police found him on the ground with a hurt foot and a bloody mouth.
"She calls me," he told a man with a videocamera as he was getting into the cruiser, even though phone logs show the opposite, "and I'm a sucker. So I call back.
"I'm an idiot," he said.
On Thursday, Joe Pupello, the owner of the Tahitian Inn, didn't seem too bothered by the ruckus. "Good publicity, bad publicity," he said, "it's all publicity." And there was a lot. Searching the name Michael Lohan on Google News yielded more than 3,000 results.
Across town, at the jail, the Sheriff's Office had decided to allow access only to local, more traditional media, barring the "guys with camera phones," according to sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon. "I'm getting calls from all over the country," he said.
So five TV trucks waited, and four reporters from the Times waited, and finally they were told that Lohan would be released from Tampa General Hospital today and booked back into the jail. He then would be kept in solitary confinement — due, sheriff's officials said, to his celebrity.
Michael Kruse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelkruse.