While I was the newsreader on Fox & Friends Weekend, I was primarily concerned about making sure my cocaine was lined up before I went out drinking.
She was 26, blonde, beautiful and had just been hired by Fox News as a national correspondent, making her the youngest on-air talent in the history of the cable network. Courtney Friel’s battle to succeed in the news business paled in comparison to the battle of alcohol and drug addiction she was secretly fighting. From wearing a bra on her head in a commuter train to paying off the Mexican police to get her confiscated cocaine back, Friel gives an uncensored look at her life of partying and eventual recovery in her new memoir “Tonight At 10: Kicking Booze and Breaking News,” now available on Amazon. Friel recently celebrated ten years of sobriety and enjoys every minute of her life now with her two children and fiancé.
The following is an excerpt from Tonight at 10: Kicking Booze and Breaking News:
For the next few years, I got host and correspondent gigs on E! News, Court TV, Travel Channel, Fox’s America’s Most Wanted, and anchored mini newscasts that people could watch on their cell phones. At one point I had six different jobs and worked 25 days in a row. I would even drive out to Palm Springs—two hours each way—to freelance report and anchor at the CBS station there because I missed local news.
One night, I had to edit my story back at the station, so I stopped at a drive-through for a bite before heading to the gas station to pick up a large beer. I emptied out my soda, poured the beer into the cup and secretly drank it while I was in the editing bay. I had a pretty little clear and purple “bumper” that I would take snorts of blow from, too. My drug use often made the drives to and from the desert difficult— I was either too tired or too speedy. One time, I’d taken a tad too much Ephedra, which had already been banned by the FDA, and started having a panic attack. I threw the pills out the window after making a pact with God that I would never take them again. Another time, I was so tired driving back at midnight that I pulled off the freeway and into a parking lot. I had to pee really bad, and when I saw there weren’t any restaurants open, I literally peed in the backseat of my car before napping. Not my proudest moment.
My substance abuse hit new highs when I moved to New York City in February 2007 and was hired to be the face of foxnews.com. At the time, I was the youngest person to be hired for an on-air position at the channel at just 26 years old. I thought I’d have a gradual buildup of TV time, but instead I was thrust onto all the shows at once. I even hosted Fox & Friends my very first weekend there! I was completely unprepared for it and felt totally uncomfortable. My only saving grace was that Britney Spears had shaved her head the night before, so I had a pop culture story to speak on.
Once again, I found myself the target for bullies— except this time they were primarily online. Blogs called me the “bikini bonehead anchor” after someone dug up pictures I’d done for Maxim and FHM from a World Poker Tour shoot. They would write that I was “pretty, but an idiot,” and that I didn’t deserve all the airtime I was getting. Internally, the rumor about me was that I’d gotten the job because I already knew one of the bosses from meeting him in Wildwood, New Jersey and that maybe he wanted to sleep with me— but Wildwood, New Jersey was a place I’d never even been to! In reality, my agent had sent Fox News Corporation my news reels.
Just like I’d done with my high school bullies, I internalized all the hurtful comments—but relief was always only a bar away. I’d drink after hours with coworkers and turn into that annoying girl on the hunt for cocaine. I’ll keep my famous party pals’ identities a secret, but here’s one hint: I did lines in one anchor’s closet before he came out of the closet! I also had a handful of random dealers who would show up wherever I was to give me a gram of blow in a small plastic bag or a vial for $60—or an eight-ball for $180. I’d often invite them to party with me.
Anyone who tries to romanticize cocaine needs to remember this: most cokeheads don’t sit in big mansions by a fireplace on white shag carpets and snort pristine powder off fancy mirrored tables (although I did do that once). More often than not, they do bumps off the back of a dirty toilet in a nasty bathroom filled with messages like “Larry sucks mad dick” scribbled on the stalls. They stay up all night and get depressed when the coke runs out, as the sun rises and birds chirp. They wake up starving in the late afternoon and scarf down an entire take-out pizza, feeling like shit about themselves—and then they start up again the next day. That, more or less, was me. It was a vicious cycle. Each time I’d wake up feeling like shit, I’d immediately go into self-hatred mode. Then I would set rules (which I’d never follow) such as only drinking on the weekends, or only drinking one night during the work week.
While I was the newsreader on Fox & Friends Weekend, I was primarily concerned about making sure my cocaine was lined up before I went out drinking; then I’d hit brunch spots when the morning show ended, drink bottomless mimosas, pass out and miss the whole day. I once puked in the kitchen of a popular restaurant and got kicked out. I also barfed right in the middle of Eighth Avenue in front of a bunch of people.
I had some close calls on those weekend mornings, struggling through hangovers. I once partied until 2 am and had to be up at 4 am for the first 6 am news cut-in—clearly not enough time to sleep off the drugs and booze. I was still wasted and tried to chug as much water as I could while getting my makeup done. On camera under bright lights at the news desk that morning with my heart pounding hard, I once again prayed to God to get through the next two minutes without becoming a YouTube moment. When the camera started to roll, I put on a smile and said: “From Americasssss Newzzzzroom…I’m Courtnayyy Frieeel.” I swore to myself I would never cut it that close again.
Thankfully I never got in trouble with my bosses, although they knew about my party girl reputation. Clearly, they thought I had poor judgment and was a loose cannon. Say what you want about Fox News, but they were super gracious when I decided to get help (though more details on that in Chapter Three). But even that close call didn’t stop me from putting on the brakes. And my pill problem was picking up speed too.
I always needed Xanax to bring me down from coke, but I also kept a bottle on me at all times in case I got stuck underground in the subway and had a panic attack. A shrink had given me Adderall to help me stay focused, so I would get up really early, pop a pill, then look for story ideas while I worked out on my mini-elliptical. I’d snort it if I needed a bigger boost, which allowed me to drink a lot more too. At the end of the day, sleeping pills helped me go to bed early enough so I could get up for the morning show the next day. (While I’m on the subject, I’ll note this: doctors in New York write prescriptions for pills like they’re candy. Lots of them take cash since many don’t take insurance, so they give you what you want to keep you coming back—get it?)
Ambien was the beginning of the end. I loved the high I got when I fought off sleep and having sex on it was off the chain (or so I thought until I got sober and realized that, hey, sex is so much better when you’re not f***ed up). Loopy from Ambien, I’d bargain-shop online in a daze. Later, random things I had no recollection of ordering would show up on my doorstep—jewelry, clothes, shoes. I’d also wake up to crazy Facebook messages I’d posted with no memory of having written them. Around this time, I also thought it was a great idea to incorporate Ambien into my partying, which made me black-out more frequently.
With my brain scrambled from uppers and downers, I felt like shit all the time and didn’t like the person I was becoming. I was supposed to be Murphy Brown, but I was looking more like Anna Nicole Smith (the skinny version). I even stole pills from my husband’s supply…and from his mother and grandmother’s medicine cabinets when we’d visit them. For the first time, I was starting to worry about either getting busted buying coke from a shady dealer and losing my job or dying in my sleep like any number of recent celebrities: Heath Ledger from an accidental overdose of prescription pills, DJ AM the following year after mixing cocaine, Oxycodone and Lorazepam, take your pick. That could have easily been my fate—there was one night I had Ecstasy, alcohol, coke, pot, Xanax and muscle relaxers in my system. I should have died!
Sometimes you have to romance death before you stop playing with fire. Or you have to see yourself as a raving moron before you get a grip on yourself— you have to have what I call your “David Hasselhoff hamburger moment” (if you’re too young to know what that is, please use the Google). Here’s one of mine:
I was on an evening train heading back into New York City after partying all day in the Hamptons. I already had copious amounts of alcohol and cocaine in my system when I decided to pop some Ambien and Xanax to get another high. There I was: 29 years old, married, and a news anchor and correspondent at Fox News Channel. Carter was sitting someplace else on the train. For some reason, I took off my padded strapless bra, tied it around my head, and pretended it was a crown I’d just won at a beauty pageant. My friend Ann filmed me with her cell phone, asking me questions about winning the “Miss 34-C Cup Queen” title (which, by the way, was really a B-cup). I grabbed some random guy standing next to me, pretended he was my boyfriend and asked him if he was proud that I won the crown. I was certain that the people sitting around us thought I was hysterical—and that they might even recognize me from TV! I went home and passed out, as usual.
About a week later, Ann emailed me the video of our train antics. I had no recollection of it at all. I watched it in my Fox News office, absolutely stunned and horrified. I was beyond wasted. My eyes were barely open and I was slurring, snorting and flopping all over the place. In my hair were chunks of blueberry pie, which had gotten there after I’d smashed said pie in my face at the party earlier. My impromptu BF and his pals were not amused; in fact, they looked disgusted. Seeing myself in this state was a huge wake-up call—or so I thought. Apparently, I needed one more push into the deep end.
Shortly thereafter, on Labor Day weekend, I was with three other couples at my parents’ vacation house in Florida. At this point, Carter was aware that I was abusing Ambien. He’d already confronted me on the issue multiple times and had thrown my pills away. I’d agreed to stop taking them, but he still had his own supply (for his crazy morning hours working at CNN). The first day in Florida, our group went absolutely bonkers on alcohol overload. A few of the guys went to a thrift store, bought two baby strollers, and filled them up with beer to take to the beach. Later that day, the strollers ended up in my parents’ pool.
It was pouring outside. Our loud conversations and laughter were irritating the neighbors. More drama ensued that resulted in yelling, splashing and crying. I went to my bedroom and took a big handful of pills to numb everything out. Though I wasn’t trying to kill myself, I did end up passed out on the living room floor. My friends couldn’t wake me up but they somehow managed to get me into bed. When I woke up the next morning, head throbbing and about to puke, Carter told me that I needed to go to inpatient rehab or he’d divorce me. If I didn’t yell back “f*** you” at the time, I was definitely thinking it. He went downstairs and came back up with the three other couples. Everyone surrounded my bed and looked down at me. Still semi-blasted, I looked up at their faces and thought: Shit, is this an intervention?
*** Tonight at 10: Kicking Booze and Breaking News gives readers a front row seat to Friel’s crazy life while she was abusing alcohol and drugs as well as her experiences in rehab and eventually journey to sobriety. The book also gives tips on getting and staying sober, with chapters on dating, raising children, divorce, career stress, chronic pain, meditation and having fun. Currently there are more than 48 million Americans struggling with substance abuse, with an estimated 130 people dying every day from opioid overdoses. Former Fox News and NBC anchor Megyn Kelly calls the book “a raw, honest and unsparing examination of one very famous news anchor’s not-so-well-known path to sobriety” and adds “Courtney’s story will make you laugh, cringe and, ultimately, cheer.”