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Andrew Zimmern Discusses His Druggie, Homeless Past

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Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmern is going to be profiled on Nightline tonight (barring breaking news, etc.), and apparently he discusses his history of drug abuse with host John Berman in pretty graphic detail. Zimmern has discussed his addictions in the book Second Chances: Top Executives Share Their Stories of Addiction and Recovery by Gary Stromberg, but this interview reveals a period of his life in which he was squatting in abandoned buildings in lower Manhattan and stealing purses to support his habit. In his words, he was "the guy you crossed the street to avoid if you walked by me in New York." The folks at Nightline sent us a partial transcript, below.

Berman: It was a serious drug problem?

Zimmern: Oh very serious. Yeah – hard drug addict, alcoholic, la package totale.

Berman: So, we’re not talking about like dabbling in drugs?

Zimmern: Oh, no no no we’re talking about – let me see if I can paint the picture for you: I lived in an abandoned building in lower Manhattan; one that we squatted – a bottle gang and I. I would steal purses off the backs of chairs in those swanky little cafes on Madison Avenue, run down the side street, leap the wall at Central Park and 5th Avenue, get on the subway, go down to the lower east side and sell the credit cards and passports that were in the purses for money to support my drug and alcohol habit. And then go to sleep at night on a pile of dirty clothes in this abandoned building and I sprinkled a bottle of Comet Cleanser around so the rats and roaches wouldn't cross over at night so I could pass out in some peace and quiet and that's what I thought was normal. That's how I lived for a year – no showering, I was the guy you crossed the street to avoid if you walked by me in New York.

Berman: It’s amazing. I mean, looking at you now, you look like my Uncle Murray. But it was that bad?

Zimmern: It was worse than that. I’d rather not scare you too much but you’re living the life where you are constantly beat up, abused, abusing other people, doing something horrifically shameful and tawdry things that crater your soul – you give away pieces of yourself that you swear you would never do. You know, I swore I would never talk to you like this and then reach into your jacket and take your wallet and those are the things that you do when you are being driven by the insanity and the compulsion of alcohol and drug addiction.

Berman: How much of a role in your life does that period now play?

Zimmern: The largest. I don’t know how to phrase it any other way. Any decision that I make, anything that I do, every single consideration of my day goes through the prism of what my former experience has been. And I have a life based on completely different principles now and I try to stick with those. I think it has been the secret to my success.

· Stomach Soup, Anyone? Confessions of 'Bizarre Foods' Eater [ABC]
· All Andrew Zimmern coverage on Eater [-E-]

Andrew Zimmern and John Berman. [Photo: ABC]