Video: Tom terrific?

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Dateline NBC
updated 4/1/2005 7:51:13 PM ET 2005-04-02T00:51:13

It's a nightmare, he says, he wouldn't wish on anyone. Actor Tom Sizemore has come a long way since he was on Hollywood's A-list, working with directors like Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott. His chronic drug problems, repeated run-ins with the law, and bizarre public meltdowns have derailed, for now, a once-promising career. He spoke out in his first primetime interview since a judge sentenced him to jail for violating his probation. It's an interview he almost didn't finish.

In every man's life, there comes a time when he must face reality; even if his business is fantasy, even if he plays the tough guy. Here was Tom Sizemore, squirming under a tabloid spotlight, coming to Dateline to explain himself.

Tom Sizemore: “I don't want to be in the business of ruining my life. I've done enough damage.”

Keith Morrison: “Basically you're just a guy with a drug problem right?

Sizemore: “I'm clean and sober right now. I'm in treatment. Right now. This very day.

Morrison: “How many days do you have?”

Sizemore: “Sober? Eighteen.”

Morrison: “What's your longest period of time without.”

Sizemore: “Doing any drugs at all? From '95 to 2001. It’s not a coincidence they're the most prolific years, and my career was building.”

Building? Exploding actually. Sizemore made millions playing hardscrabble tough guys in blockbusters like “Blackhawk Down,” “Heat” with Robert DeNiro and “Saving Private Ryan” with Tom Hanks.

Sizemore: “I'm a nice middle class kid from Detroit who likes sports, who loves to read and was happy doing what I was doing, playing second fiddle to Tom Hanks. It was terrific.”

He was so close, on the cusp of superstardom, with paydays of $10 to 15 million, even starring as a cop in his own TV series, “Robbery Homicide Division.” And then it all went bad.

Sizemore: I made egregious mistakes in the choices I made. And for that, your honor, I am sorry.

He was in L.A. Superior Court, begging a judge not to send him to prison:

Sizemore: I never thought I'd break my father's heart. Or my mom's. Or mine. But I have. And I'm to blame for that, what I did was wrong.

It's a long story, these things usually are, but the heart of it was truly unseemly. It began with a nasty breakup with his girlfriend, the famous Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss. Then, a spate of emasculating phone messages she admits leaving for him and, Fleiss alleges, a face full of bruises caused by him.

Convicted two years ago of beating and repeatedly threatening Fleiss, Sizemore was placed on probation and ordered to take regular drug tests. And it was, prosecutors say, his repeated failures of those tests that landed him back in court last week, to be sentenced for violating probation. His was a life in freefall which had been so promising.

Sizemore: “All of those things that were my life became obscured by four words: ‘Tom Sizemore hit me.’”

He still can't get past the incident with Fleiss. The photograph, the charge, the whole incident, he says, was faked. It probably didn't help that he once pleaded no contest to punching another woman, though he still says he never actually did that.But Fleiss, he contends, made things up to get back at him.

Morrison: “So did you hit her?”

Sizemore: “I never laid a hand on her.”

Morrison: “You didn't do that to her face?”

Sizemore: “I swear on my life that I did not do that to her. I loved her.”

Morrison: “You didn't touch her?”

Sizemore: “I didn't touch her. I never touched her. I never touched anybody.”

Morrison: “You know you look like sort of a tough guy.”

Sizemore: “I'm not tough at all.”

Morrison: “But is that why people believe that you would hit Heidi Fleiss?”

Sizemore: “I don't know why people would believe it. I'm an actor. I pretend. I wear make-up for a living. I'm a sissy.”

So was Sizemore then, 'acting' in court when he begged the judge for mercy? Or was he acting in the parking lot after the judge sentenced him to 17 months in prison, but allowed him to remain free on appeal? His bizarre behavior had many wondering, what's going on with this guy?

It's a special kind of hell, the place reserved for a troubled life unraveled in public. The whole world watches moments best forgotten. And Sizemore, sitting with us to explain -- so concerned about saying the right thing he has brought notes with him -- finds it hard even here to keep it together, to contain his better judgment.

Morrison: “You're an actor. You cried in court. And then you know you gave the finger to the press outside.”

Sizemore: ”F*** the -- excuse me.”

Morrison: “But you cried in court. Was that acting?”

Sizemore: “I'm not acting right now. I said f*** the press.”

Morrison: “I know. Go back to court. How were you?”

Sizemore: “I was broken hearted. My poor mother and poor father out there and they're both aging, and my mother's almost dead watching their eldest son be -- f*** the press. I'm done.”

Morrison: “Whoa! Careful, careful. You're going to carry the chair with you all the way.”

At this point, Sizemore rips off his microphone and stalks away. Moments later, after we spoke off camera, he returns, contrite, embarrassed.

Sizemore: “I'd like to apologize.”

He was willing and ready to talk about the immediate attraction to drugs that first time he tried them, years ago. When, he says, suddenly for the first time in his life, he felt normal. Until the habit sucked him down.

Sizemore: “My poor judgment, the drug abuse. I take full responsibility for. I wish I hadn't done it. I couldn't believe it was happening to me. It's that simple. I don't want to die. Already my mother hasn't slept for three years.”

Morrison: “Well, she thinks you're going to die.”

Sizemore: “I'm doing better now. And I'm seriously going to do better. This is it.”

Morrison: “What is it like to be in there, to be inside Tom Sizemore's body?”

Sizemore: “I wouldn't want anyone to have gone through what I went through. I wouldn't wish it upon anybody. I never really had anything nice in my life, except for my parents. This thing has been a nightmare of epic proportions. I've lost everything I've ever worked for.”

Everything, he says. A promising TV series, canceled before its time; by his own estimate, a total of $18 million in cash; and his home, once owned by the legendary actor Gary Cooper. It was sold to pay back taxes and legal fees. All of these things were taken away by drugs.

Morrison: “Tell me about your house. The house you had.”

Sizemore: “I'd rather not. That's too –“

Morrison: “Gary Cooper's house, huh?”

Sizemore: “Coop lived there for a while. I lived there 10 years. I don't want to talk about how much I've lost. It makes me very sad. I was living in a garage three and a half weeks ago.”

Morrison: “Huh?”

Sizemore: “A garage. You know, not as nice as this warehouse. But I put insulation in and an outlet. I have a pregnant girlfriend. No money. I'm lucky I come from poor beginnings because I was able to weather that storm. I weathered that storm.”

His mood careens around the room; he offers remorse, contrition, tears. And then they're burned away in a fierce denunciation of the prosecutor he claims is out to get him and that woman, Fleiss, whose accusation put him here.

Sizemore: “You know what I want back? I want the two years and 10 months back of anxiety. I want my mother's heart attack back. I want all the pain and suffering my family's gone through back. I want my good name back. I want it all back. Can they give it back to me? They can make an attempt. It's called money. To make me whole. I want $1 billion. I think that's a fair amount. It's a round number. I'll settle for $100 million.”

Morrison: “Was any of this your fault?”

Sizemore: “No. The drugs were. But being arrested, being falsely accused, unjustly brought to trial. I've been -- I didn't do it.”

His appeal of the assault charge is pending, and while he waits, he works on gritty little independent movies, with paydays that would once have been nothing more than pin money. What choice does he have, he asks, stuck in tabloid purgatory, where he waits, so impatient, for something that feels like a life.

Sizemore: “Lots of people have problems. And if we're lucky, we're able to right ourselves, and become our better selves, right our lives, and continue on. That's what I'm hoping for myself. I'm as tough an S.O.B. as you're ever going to meet, mentally. I'll get through this. Will Hollywood forgive me? Of course they will. But only if I stay clean and sober.”

Tom Sizemore is scheduled back in court in two weeks. Prosecutors say he'll have to show that he's enrolled in a court-approved drug treatment program. If he violates the terms of that program, the judge could sentence him to up to three years in state prison.

We contacted Sizemore's ex-girlfriend, Heidi Fleiss, for her response to his claim that he never hit her. She had no comment.

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