By Mandi Bierly
Updated February 24, 2011 at 12:00 PM EST
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  • ABC

Image Credit: Harpo Productions/George Burns/AP ImagesThe only thing that could have made David Arquette’s sit-down with Oprah Winfrey seem like even more of a success would be Charlie Sheen calling into another radio show on the day it aired. (Oh wait, Sheen did.) As Arquette joked to Winfrey, you have your breakdown on Howard Stern, then you come back together on Oprah — and it appears he has. Arquette taped the interview a little over two weeks after completing a 28-day rehab program for alcohol addiction. He was honest and more serious than most of us have ever seen him as he discussed his public spiral and detailed the events that led to his separation from wife Courteney Cox. He pretended to cry early in the hour when Winfrey set up a montage of the actors’ love story, but there was a sincerity in his voice (and almost tears in his eyes) late in the show when Winfrey asked him if he wanted to get back together with his wife. “I want what’s right. And I don’t know right now,” he said. “I want us to be the best people we can be, and then if it’s together… I want her to be happy, and if me even being the best person I can be doesn’t make her happy in a partner, like who she needs, whatever she’s looking for… That’s still to be answered.” He said they’re best friends who will always be in each other’s lives because the one thing they have already figured out is how to be amazing parents to their six-year-old daughter, Coco. “I’d love for it to work out,” he said.

Together with recollections from his sisters Rosanna and Patricia (who pre-taped a joint interview that was played for David and the audience at different points), David painted a picture of a difficult childhood. He said he stole his first beer from his father at age 4, began stealing his dad’s pot at age 8, and started seriously drinking at age 12. His sisters said there was always drama in their parents’ home — chairs flew, holes were punched in the wall, their dad used marijuana and drank whiskey and their mother once stabbed Rosanna in the arm with a knife and choked Patricia to the point that she almost blacked out. Patricia described it as a “mine field.” She said David always put pressure on himself to be the best son in the world. As difficult as that upbringing was, David, like his sisters, warmly and proudly noted their parents healed themselves: Their father got sober in his later years, and their mother became a marriage-family counselor whose children had nothing but love and forgiveness for her at the end of her life.

Dealing with his mother’s impending passing and death in 1997 at the start of his relationship with Cox, Arquette got into drugs to numb the pain. He said it scared Cox, and on his mother’s birthday the following year, he decided he would no longer do hard drugs — he’d just drink and smoke pot. Couple’s counseling got them through that and gave them the confidence to wed. Cut to their 11th wedding anniversary, and Cox telling him, “I don’t want to be your mother anymore,” which he admitted only made him want to act even more like a wild child. He wasn’t able to process it at the time, but he’d become unhappy with their dynamic — him trying so hard to be the perfect husband that he ended up losing a part of himself and what made him happy — that he’d begun drinking more heavily. She gave him a motorcycle as a gift, and he joked that he wasn’t sure what she was trying to say with it — hop on it and leave, or die? Shortly after that, she told him she wasn’t happy and that she wanted to separate. The tabloids had begun linking her to someone on her show, Cougar Town, so he thought it must be true that she was sleeping with someone else. (She wasn’t, he confirmed. She was just leaning on her colleagues.) He felt abandoned, like she was breaking the promise inscribed on their wedding rings: “A deal is a deal.” He was bitter, angry, and made himself the victim. He didn’t realize he was doing whatever he could to push her away. He thought he’d show her, by self-destructing to the point of being “virtually suicidal, in a way,” he said. This was right before they left to film Scream 4, so it wasn’t until after they wrapped and returned home that they separated and began living in different homes.

Winfrey referred to him having sex with a waitress after the separation as an affair, and it was the only one of her insights he balked at during the hour. In his mind, “affair” means it was a secret. They’d decided to live separate lives. In his mind, he was free again, especially since he still, at that point, thought she was spending time with another man. Since they hadn’t gone public about their separation, the tabloids labeled him a “cheater” when news of him sleeping with someone other than Cox broke. Arquette, who prides himself on having always been faithful to her, said he doesn’t regret calling into Howard Stern’s show to set the record straight about the timing of their separation, even though he did so after drinking until 3 a.m. the night before. He said he needed to implode to get down to his foundation and rebuild, and without the honesty Stern elicited, he wouldn’t be where he is today. He does, however, regret how much he shared about his marriage out of anger and confusion. Rosanna said she phoned David after that, and he was so angry, humiliated and sad, she suggested his drinking was getting out of control. He wasn’t ready to hear it. Patricia said his identity was so wrapped up in being a good husband and a good dad, when he realized neither Courteney nor he were happy, he didn’t know how to cope.

He woke up from a nap one day and Patricia and Courteney were by his bed. They asked him to come downstairs, and David knew what was happening when he saw his best friend, his business manager, and someone he didn’t know sitting there. “What up, turkeys? I guess this is my intervention?” he recalled saying. The conversation took around 10 minutes, he said. He wanted help. He considers himself sober since Dec. 30, contrary to paparazzi reports that he was at a wild New Year’s Eve event. (Winfrey questioned that move, likening it to her deciding to eat healthily and then visiting a potato chip factory. But he was there, with a sober companion, because he’d made a commitment, he said, and he wanted to see if he could dance and have fun sober, which he did. He’s also been to Vegas since for a clothing convention — the suit he wore for the chat was from his own line — which also blew Winfrey’s mind.)

A pre-taped visit to Arquette’s home (how hopeful was his “I [heart] LOVE” T-shirt?) showed him doing yoga and meditating, each of which he does three times a week. He said he wants to connect to something greater than himself, not listen to that “mean, vicious critic” in his head that leads him down the wrong path. He’s taking business meetings, but he’s also still in therapy. Back onstage with Winfrey, he admitted that one day on his way to therapy, a woman asked him if he was “David Cox.” He talked about it there, and realized how he felt about Courteney making more money than him and being in her shadow went back to his parents’ relationship and whether his actor father made enough money.

Arquette said he’s learned that when arguments arise, he needs to slow things down — because Cox is faster than him — and ask what each party is trying to accomplish. (It was good to see his smile again when he joked that he and Courteney haven’t actually had an argument yet in which he could use his new tools. Oprah assured him he’ll get the opportunity.) He said he’s feeling sober for the first time in 30 years, and it’s making him more present — whether he’s with Oprah (“I’m seeing the light in your eyes right now. Put those lasers away!” he joked) or his daughter (who he said smiled when he told her he was “at camp” to stop drinking so much). He said he wants to stay sober, be loving and kind to others and himself, deal with issues as they arise honorably, learn to ground himself and not rely on Courteney or anything else to do that, and for perhaps the first time ever, live the life he wants for himself and not for anyone else. He also wants to show other people with addictions that there is hope. By the time the show ended, you had to be rooting for Arquette, and completely believe him when he spoke about how he loves Cox with all his heart. Cox, Oprah made sure he told us, knew he was taping this interview. I don’t see how either of them could be anything other than proud of what he shared this time.

Episode Recaps

Cougar Town

Courteney Cox stars in Bill Lawrence’s ensemble comedy
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