From being flung 80 feet into the air inside a used porta potty to walking a tightrope over a pool of alligators, Steve-O has taken part in stunts that have left him bruised, scarred, broken and hospitalized. As a star and co-creator of the 2000s MTV reality show Jackass, he amused audiences by performing the most unhinged stunts he could think of, abusing his mind and body in the process.
“I lacked attention from my parents as a baby,” says Steve-O, whose real name is Stephen Gilchrist Glover. “I’ve always wanted to please everybody. I’m just such an attention whore. That’s been my whole life: trying to sway people to know of me and be fond of me.”
His use of questionable antics to gain attention started young. The 49-year-old tells Big Think that his sister recently found his 6th-grade report card, which stated: “Steve desperately wants the praise and approval of his peers, but the way he goes about seeking it brings about the opposite results.”
No pain, no gain
As he grew up, he did manage to finally find the praise and approval he longed for. Jackass started as a niche reality show and quickly grew into a huge comedy franchise. Jackass: The Movie made over $60 million at the box office on just a $5 million budget in 2002, which was then followed up by several more movies, spinoffs, video games, and other profitable media. Celebrity fans include Tony Hawk, Gene Simmons, Francis Ngannou, and Tyler, the Creator, all of whom have appeared as guests in the big screen adaptations of the cult show.
“I think there’s something inherently compelling to all humans about people being in pain,” says Steve-O on how being in agony for most of his professional life has benefited him. “That fact is something I’ve capitalized on a great deal in my career. I know that pain is compelling, and so I documented myself being in pain, and I’ve become successful as a result.”
There’s no doubt he’s tasted success, but does Steve-O look back with a sense of regret putting his body through so much? Not a chance.
“I’ve been able to heal from my injuries. I’ve made it out the other end of all the painful stuff. And the more I’ve gotten hurt myself in various stunts, the more notable the stunt was,” he says. “I look at the most grievous injuries I’ve suffered, and I consider them wonderful things that helped me become a notable personality.”
Suffering on the inside
Although Steve-O might have healed his wounds on the outside, he still has to look after his mental health after years of battling an addiction to alcohol and drugs.
“With alcoholism, part of the recovery process is to share everything with another person,” he explains about becoming sober. “That opened up a bunch of things that I had to share that I wasn’t willing to. I opened up my notebook, and I wrote at the top of the page the words ‘To the grave.’ These are the things that I was dead set on never, ever sharing.”
After an intervention by his Jackass co-stars in 2008, which led to an involuntary stint at a psychiatric ward, Steve-O knew he had to make serious changes to his erratic lifestyle – so he decided to finally open up.
“This person who I brought these secrets and codes to had told me, ‘I’ve been doing this for years. Trust me, you’re not going to tell me anything I haven’t heard. Just go for it.’ And when I read my coded secrets to him, he said, ‘Ding, ding, ding. That I have not heard!’ And we both laughed. By speaking up to that one person who I trusted, I was largely freed.”
Becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable
It’s against all odds that Steve-O is still alive. His many injuries have tripped him up throughout his career – but never kept him down. But these are calmer, more prosperous days for the stuntman. He has a podcast with 1.65 million subscribers; he’s now a stand-up comic and has been sober for 15 years.
But that void inside him that he has tried to fill with the attention of others is still present and crying out for more. Instead of succumbing to its pressures, though, Steve-O has decided to use it to his advantage.
“My life has been characterized by not feeling good enough, but I like this sense of incompleteness and restlessness,” he says. “If I felt that I was good enough, then I’d probably be happy. And if I was happy, I’d probably be content. And if I was content, I’d probably be lazy. And I think I can safely say that I don’t necessarily want to feel like I’m good enough because where’s the hustle in that?
“I’m not good enough; I’ve got a lot of work to do to get to a place where I’m going to be okay… and that’s fine.”
Visit steveo.com to see The Bucket List Special.
We interviewed Steve-O for Question Your Perception Box, a Big Think interview series created in partnership with Unlikely Collaborators. As a creative non-profit organization, they’re on a mission to help people challenge their perceptions and expand their thinking. Often that growth can start with just a single unlikely question that makes you rethink your convictions and adjust your vantage point. Watch Steve-O’s full interview above, and visit Perception Box to see more in this series.
Words: Jamie Carson
STEVE O: I've been in pain for a living.
Hey everybody, my name is Steve Glover. I'm also known as Steve-O, and I am an entertainer of all sorts.
You know, going back to the beginning, I lacked attention from my parents as a child, like as a baby.
You don't have to be Sigmund Freud to imagine that that might have caused me to become an attention seeker.
When I set out to write my first book, which was my memoir called "Professional Idiot," I went through all this stuff that my sister had collected, and among it was a report card from sixth grade.
My homeroom teacher wrote on this report card: "Steve desperately wants the praise and approval of his peers, but the way he goes about seeking it brings about the opposite results."
And I would try so hard and I would just be overwhelming and do, like, just really aggressive things.
If I could go back and talk to the child version of me, if I could just say, "Man, like chill out." But that kid didn't know how to chill out.
There's nothing I could tell him that was gonna change what was going on. It made me very uncomfortable and desperately unhappy a lot of the time.
As I've gotten older, I think there's something inherently compelling to all humans about people being in pain.
And that fact is something that I've capitalized on a great deal in my career.
I know that pain is compelling, and so I document myself being in pain, and I've become successful as a result.
I've always wanted to please everybody. I'm just such an attention whore, and I need so desperately to be liked—that's been my whole life.
When I dropped out of the University of Miami in 1993, I felt that I was a failure in life; destined to fail completely, and to die very young.
There just wasn't that much I was passionate about except partying and just being kind of crazy.
So my one plan was to try to become a crazy famous stuntman.
I didn't really necessarily expect that it would work. I just wanted to videotape lots and lots of stuff so that when I inevitably died, having failed at life, there would be some evidence that I had existed.
When I got a profile with this "Jackass" franchise, I was recognizable to normal people in the street.
When I'm in situations where it's unmanageable because there's so many people, and like, ah, it gets a little bit overwhelming and hectic, it is important for me to remember that that's all I ever wanted.
'What are you most afraid that someone else will find out about you?'
With alcoholism, part of the recovery process is to share everything with another person.
And that opened up like a bunch of things that I had to share that I wasn't willing to share. I wasn't ready to share.
I opened up my notebook and I wrote at the top of a page the words, "To the grave."
These are the things that I was dead set on never, ever sharing, period, no matter what.
I was gonna take these secrets to my grave.
And as I wrote down these things, I wrote them in code so that heaven forbid, if anybody got ahold of my notebook that they would not have these secrets.
This person who I brought these secrets in code to had told me, "I've been doing this for years. Trust me, you're not gonna tell me anything I haven't heard. Just go for it."
And when I read to him my coded secrets, he said, "Ding, ding, ding! That I have not heard!” And we both laughed.
And by speaking up to that one person who I trusted, I was largely freed on that day.
But there's no way I'm talking about it here.
'In what aspect of your life do you feel not good enough? When is the first time you remember feeling that way?'
My life has been characterized by feeling not good enough.
Part of me believes that that's just a trait of alcoholism.
You know, I like this sense of incompleteness and restless, irritable discontent.
Like if I felt that I was good enough, then I'd probably be happy.
And if I was happy, I'd probably be content.
And if I was content, I'd probably be lazy.
And I think I can pretty safely say that I don't necessarily wanna feel like I'm good enough because where's the hustle in that?
You know, like, I'm not good enough.
You know, I got a lot of work to do to get to a place where I'm even gonna be okay.
And that's fine.