Our story begins in 2006, on the eve of Lindsay Lohan's first DUI, with fourteen-year-old me weeping over the fact that I was neither rich nor famous. "She has no clue how easy she has it," I wrote in my diary, as if this movie star's renown was a betrayal she had deliberately inflicted on unpopular me. In retrospect, I'm pretty sure Lohan knew exactly how easy she had it: not very. But this, I refused to believe, from my vantage point as a member of her adoring, scrutinizing public.

My first acquaintance with Lindsay Lohan was via the 1998 remake of The Parent Trap, in which she starred as a pair of twins. This was some hot technology for its time a single actress playing two people, often in the same scene but, at seven years old, I didn't care about that. What mattered to me was that Lindsay Lohan, only a few years older than I was, was a star. A celebrity. 

She grew up onscreen and I grew up staring at her, entering puberty parallel and envious. Our lives seemed to share no similarities, and similarities were important if I was to become an even bigger star than her, which I believed was my calling. My sense of competition with her was mostly good for me her performance in Freaky Friday led me to take up the guitar, while Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen cured my stage fright and got me into musicals. But my competitive spirit turned noxious when she played Cady Heron in 2004's Mean Girls.

How luminous she was in that film, golden and autumnal! Her co-stars' performances are iconic in their own right, but just try looking at anyone but Lindsay Lohan whenever she's on screen. Though her turn is skilled and subtle, what stuck in my unconscious at the time was the freshness of her face, the glow on her skin. She was eighteen years old when Mean Girls came out, the youngest member of the principal cast, and she exemplifies the warmth and openness of youth in that film. Despite the ugly blue Mathletes uniform, she shines.

Even in The Parent Trap, before I decided Lohan was my enemy, she crackled with a precocious magnetism that made me so jealous I wanted to die. She romped and wisecracked; she schemed, she made mischief; she wore dresses of silk and crinoline, precisely the sorts of dresses that my own unimaginative mother always said were impractical. Impractical, too, were the classes offered by the august Barbizon Modeling School and the expensive spray-tan services that I fancied might make me more like La Lohan. That was the big difference between her and me, as I saw it: adults held me back but encouraged her. As a child, I didn't think too hard about what that meant for the kid receiving the encouragement. Only that it was not faaaiiiiir.

The unfaaaiiiiirness had become bile searing through me by the time I first saw Mean Girls in theaters, which I must have done a half dozen times. I yearned for even a little of what Lindsay Lohan had. I was young, too thirteen at the time  but, with my glasses and flat chest, no one would have ever called me luminous. And so, when Lohan's partying caught up with her a few short years later and suddenly every tabloid in America was jeering at her messiness, I felt satisfied. Consoled. She had been better than me, inarguably so, but now she was defeated.

And what a defeat! There were DUIs and possession charges, plus her ongoing inability to meet the terms of her probation not a particularly sexy dysfunction, that last one, but it contributed to my overall sense that Lindsay Lohan's star had become a supernova. None of this was the central focus of my life, of course, but every new tawdry piece of gossip filled me with relief, particularly the ones that were accompanied by a sickly and unflattering mugshot. These were signs that all was right in the world again. I hadn't known whether I loved or hated her, but now I could pity her, which sucked the poison out of both love and hate. It didn't feel sick to me yet that I was pitying someone who had no idea who I was, for exhibiting the same addictions my beloved parents had. If they'd been forced to get clean with millions of strangers jeering in the background, who knows whether they'd have managed it at all?

Did the sheer ugliness of the tabloids' takedown weigh on me? At the time, no. I was a creature of early 2000s insecurity and competitiveness. For girls, it was kill or be killed. Even through my angry self-absorption, it did strike me that I wouldn't have liked it if Perez Hilton jeered about my parents' rock-bottom moments for an audience of millions the way he did about Lohan's. But before I could get too compassionate, I remembered ruthlessly that this was just the cost of admission for someone like her. She'd made the Faustian bargain, privacy for fame and riches. Why should she be allowed to snatch back her privacy now, just because the fame and riches it had bought her couldn't cure her sickness? Perez Hilton was just the disguise the devil wore when he came to collect his due simple as that.

I'm sure the Kids These Days™ wish for wealth and fame as much as I did that's sort of the point of celebrities, to give kids something unhealthy to aspire to that drives their parents ballistic. But early '00s covetousness is what I know best, and the yearning for celebrity was cattier back then. Before the smartphone era, in which any stranger on the street can become paparazzi, stars weren't as reserved as they've become. They couldn't systematically curate their own images via Instagram if they wanted the spotlight, they needed traditional paparazzi to shine it on them (as Lynn Melnick reflects on elsewhere in this cluster). They gave us more to envy then; they gave us more to hate. Few of us bothered to prune the branches of our violent loathing for famous women, which is a shame, because doing so would have shown our fannish fawning for what it was. How much simpler it would have been just to say that I hated Lindsay Lohan because I wanted to become her! I'd sensed, Highlander-like, that there could be only one Lohan, and I wanted it to be me. 

It never occurred to me that becoming a star would have entailed accepting the burden of other fourteen-year-olds' loathing, a force that struck fear into my heart whenever I encountered it in its lower-intensity state from girls at school. I already smoked weed every day to fend off memories of peers who laughed behind their hands at my outfits. How much sooner would my own collapse have come if those memories weren't of no-name little bitches, but of the entire world? I didn't see the reality of Lohan's life: imprisonment in the world's most glamorous fishbowl. When she sang "I'm tired of rumors starting, I'm sick of being followed" in her song "Rumors," I rolled my eyes. Poor little rich famous talented beautiful Lindsay Lohan! If rumors ever started about me, I thought viciously, I would simply ignore them, with all the grace and self-assurance that I'd failed to exhibit thus far in the face of the aforementioned no-name little bitches. But that was the problem  my enemies were small-time, and seemed to demand meagerness of me. How could any ordinary girl be graceful and self-assured? Fame was what instilled those qualities, I was sure of it, and I detested any celebrity who lacked them.

I needn't have worried so much. Before long, Lohan had her first DUI, kicking off a downward spiral that would eventually end her cultural domination. In 2006, she appeared in five films; in 2007, three; in 2008, none. Scandals notwithstanding, it's hard to point to anything about her lifestyle that actually changed in those early years of the fall. She stayed famous, she kept partying, and, if paparazzi photos of her life in Mykonos and Dubai were any indication, she was still plenty rich. The escapades were the same, but now we, her adoring public, could look down on them rather than envy them. Her drug problem was now the filter through which all her glitzy exploits, past and future, would be forced to pass. When I said poor thing about Lindsay Lohan, it was with a self-satisfied smirk on my face, as if I, personally, had bested her. Forgive me, Lindsay  I was untested. 

About fifteen years later, my own partying and messiness and addictions caught up with me. The smug equilibrium I'd known thanks to Lindsay Lohan's downfall was shot, leaving behind only the woozy realization that she's beaten me to the punch yet again. And now that she's managed to claw back some of her privacy, it's much harder for someone like me to covet her life or to pity her ruin. 


In a 2006 Vanity Fair profile, Lohan sputters out an insincere-sounding denial in response to the question of whether she'd ever done cocaine. "It's kind of a sore subject," she admits. "I've lost a family member over it, practically."

The family member in question is Michael Lohan, her estranged father. He was a figure of Hunter Biden-like decadence back then, the sort of addict who's only capable of the loudest, grandest fuck-ups. Watching those fuck-ups in the tabloids was a blast: Pa Lohan passed out at a Manhattan strip club! He beat up a family member with a shoe at a first communion celebration! Oh, what fun! His humiliated daughter could only perform songs like "Confessions of a Broken Heart" that begged him to return to the light any light, any behavior that wasn't such a naked sabotage of family and self. 

At what point did she get sick of petitioning the poor bastard, over and over again, to give up this half-life and come back to her? By its nature, repeatedly begging someone for a gift they never give you tells you how unwanted your begging is. If you can't lick 'em and you can't lick someone else's addiction, any more than you can breathe their breaths for them join 'em. 

My folks were cokeheads, too, but I know significantly less about their rock-bottom behavior than I do about the Lohans'. My parents had gotten sober by the time they had me and experienced the humiliations of addiction in relative privacy. Nobody cared what they were up to other than a dozen or so loved ones. Other nobodies hide their drug problems under roughly the same auspices, sometimes for decades though our culture does not tolerate addiction, it approves of people who conduct their sufferings in private. By that logic, what could we even do about suffering that was definitionally public, like Lindsay Lohan's? Because she was a star, her pain belonged to us; and, because we had no compassion for pain that didn't have the decency to hide, we cut her down. We cut down her father, too, but only because of the link between his anguish and hers. It was her blood we smelled in the water.

The Vanity Fair profile was published at an inflection point in Lohan's life and career: she had caused one intoxicated car accident so far, and was becoming a fixture on the party circuit, but it still seemed possible for her to claw back some of the smart, professional image she'd lost. The message she tries to send throughout the profile is that she had problems once, sure, but she'd fixed them. She makes canny grabs for sympathy, speaking candidly about her problems with her father and her bulimia (but, notably, not her own addiction). Her then-publicist, Leslie Sloane-Zelnik, is all over this piece  trying to erase the cocaine question from the record, stopping her from begging a Nassau County jail guard to let her talk to her incarcerated father because it might lead to an unflattering tabloid item. By March 2010, several bench warrants and rehab visits later, Sloane-Zelnik had dropped Lohan as a client. The image was officially dead.


Was I sharp enough back then, or empathetic enough, to smell the quiet desperation of drug addiction on Lindsay Lohan? No, because the strain of addiction I knew was my family's. My people were neither rich nor famous. We would never be photographed leaving a vehicle pussy-first not because we never drunkenly flashed mobs of strangers; we did, but nobody would ever think to take pictures of us doing it. If I had been emotionally honest at fourteen, I would have identified this as the key difference between a Lohan and myself: both of us equally destined for drug-addled slovenliness, but only one of us deemed a matter of national interest for it. 

Here is a story from my fifteen years of addiction that I've never told anyone: one night, I was drunkenly leaving a bar that was up a flight of stairs, and I fell. My brain didn't even have the decency to black out that night, so that I still remember whacking either my skull or my ass against every step on the way down. A young couple had been smoking on the stairs and they scrambled out of my way, laughing at my clumsiness. The next day, my body felt like it had been through a much more serious event  a heavyweight championship fight, an airplane crash. The relative mildness of the real incident only embarrassed me more whenever I chanced to remember it throughout the day. I wished I had been in an airplane crash. At least that would've been grave enough to justify this excruciating full body bruise, its tentacles as vast and lurid on my skin as a man-o-war's.

Not a great story, I know. But that's the point  this is only being presented to you as noteworthy because I decided it was. Only two people witnessed the mortifying incident and, as neither of them made their living trafficking in embarrassing stories about me, it went undocumented until now. 

What's so interesting about driving under the influence, or with a suspended license, or with cocaine in the car? Nothing Lindsay Lohan was what made those scenarios exciting to us, the gravity of her fame exerting the same reliable pull on her crimes as it did on her triumphs. We cared less about what, specifically, she was doing wrong than that she was doing wrong at all, publicly and therefore for our benefit. She was our scapegoat.

It doesn't feel good to look at Lindsay Lohan's career in recent years. There was a much-touted performance in a 2022 Christmas romcom; there's a cameo in the new Mean Girls movie. Not much else. Maybe she would have stepped back from the acting world no matter what, but considering everything she went through in the world's most glamorous fishbowl, it's hard not to see the ways we forced her hand. She tends to blame the paparazzi rather than the public, as if we aren't just two expressions on the same face.

Is she sober? I don't know. She's been to rehab several times; there were court-mandated alcohol education classes, most of which she skipped; beyond all this verifiable data, how would I know? These are only the expressions of sobriety and relapse that took place on camera and in front of reporters. Looking back on all her humiliations, at rehabilitations punctuated by mugshots, it's hard to remember that I don't actually know Lindsay Lohan. There's a reason it's Alcoholics Anonymous a splashy, highly publicized journey to sobriety is one that's vulnerable to wrong turns. 

I am, in my comparatively low-level and low-pressure way, a sober public figure, and it's hard. I watch my mouth a lot. I reach, constantly, for calm and patience that are not within my stable of natural moods. I'm glad my "public," tiny as it is, knows I'm sober I have a hard time keeping commitments that I've made in secret. But when well-meaning readers have questions about my journey that have difficult answers, I bristle: what business of yours is my addiction? And I'm someone who's deliberately made it other people's business, when Lindsay Lohan's business in the realm of addiction and sobriety was strictly her own. 

Lindsay, after all these years, I get it. Some things, you just want to keep private.

Rax King is the James Beard award-nominated author of the essay collections Tacky: Love Letters to the Worst Culture We Have to Offer and the forthcoming Sloppy. She lives in Brooklyn with her toothless Pekingese. @raxkingisdead is her handle on Instagram and Twitter.