On a recent afternoon at Nick Nolte‘s sprawling Malibu compound, the bushy-bearded 76-year-old actor takes a long slug from a coffee mug, stuffed with four bags of green tea, and talks about the day he was arrested for driving under the influence of GHB — and the infamous photograph taken of him hours later.
“GHB,” Nolte tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue, “was one substance I ran into that I shouldn’t have messed with.”
The three-time Oscar nominee is out to set the record straight about his life as one of Hollywood’s most celebrated actors — and hell-raisers — in his new memoir, Rebel.
In it, he details the events leading up to his arrest on Sept. 11, 2002, and the subsequent fallout after a photograph of a disheveled, bleary-eyed Nolte — taken by police after his arrest — was released.
On that fateful day, Nolte admits to doing something he’d started doing with increasing regularity over the previous four years.
“I took GHB prior to going to the gym for a long workout,” he writes. “A strong dose made me feel great, yet I knew I was repeating with GHB the addictive cycle I’d been in before.”
Not long before his arrest, Nolte drove to an afternoon Alcoholics Anonymous meeting at a church near his house and felt the intoxicating effects of the psychoactive drug — which had become illegal two years earlier — kicking in.
Realizing he was in no shape to attend the meeting, Nolte drove off.
“I was a mess and driving on the Pacific Coast Highway,” he writes. “I’m told six drivers called 911 to report a big sedan weaving on the wrong side of the road.”
After his arrest, he was sent to a nearby hospital for blood tests and a local police officer asked if he could snap a photo of the wild-haired Nolte.
“I said, ‘Come on, you don’t really want to ask that, do you?’” Nolte told GQ. He finally agreed to let him take the Polaroid if the officer promised to share any cash he made from it with his fellow officers.
- For much more on Nick Nolte, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
In his book, Nolte writes: “It went viral — my hair wild, my expression unsettling, looking like an asylum inmate out for a lark. In 1992, People magazine had named me the Sexiest Man Alive, and now, 10 years later, I looked to all the world like a madman.”
Days after being released on bail, Nolte arranged to get himself admitted into a “renowned psychiatric institution known for its addiction programs. It took thirty days to wean myself off GHB and then I flew home. I was a renewed and fortunate man.”
Life is mellower these days for Nolte, who is helping to raise his 10-year-old daughter Sophie (“She’s fast, tough and strong,” he marvels), and, several years ago, ditched the booze, drugs and cigarettes that used to control his life.
“I was just worn out,” says Nolte. “Just worn out.”