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The Untold Truth Of Steve-O

You probably know Steve-O for the times he's repeatedly injured himself creating MTV's "Jackass." The show's over-the-top stunts have inspired a legion of fans and spawned a film franchise that's been carrying on for two decades. The 2022 film "Jackass Forever" could be the last movie we see from the "Jackass" crew, but it won't be the last we see of Steve-O.

After discovering his passion for stunt work while in college, Steve-O went on to attend the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College to sharpen his skills. From there, it wasn't long before he partnered with Jeff Tremaine and Johnny Knoxville to create "Jackass." None of them thought the show — which had a goofy premise and relatively unknown hosts — would become a sensation, but nearly overnight, it did. Although it only ran on MTV for three seasons, it had a much longer life on the big screen, with four main films and multiple spin-offs released over 20 years.

Steve-O has always been central to "Jackass," but the franchise isn't the only thing he's been working on for the past couple of decades. Since making a name for himself as one of the world's bravest (or dumbest) men, he's overcome addiction, gone vegan, and turned his side hustle as a stand-up comedian into a successful career. You might be familiar with "Jackass," but there's plenty you don't yet know about Steve-O. This is his untold truth.

Heartbreak started his career

For Steve-O, the path to "Jackass" stardom began long before the show itself. He told Forbes that he first began experimenting with videotaping when his dad won a camera from a golf tournament while the comedian was still a teenager. Steve-O took the camera from his dad's closet and used it to film skateboard tricks with his friends, discovering that he had a real knack and passion for filming in the process.

It wasn't until after Steve-O went to college at the University of Miami that he got the idea to film more elaborate stunts. "I spent more time partying and jumping off the diving boards at the pool than going to class, which was why I got dumped by my girlfriend," he said. In the midst of heartbreak, Steve-O turned back to filming and started to videotape himself "jumping from the roofs of apartment buildings into shallow pools, and plenty of other dangerous stunts." The reactions he got from people who watched his tapes convinced him to drop out of school and become a performer.

He graduated clown college

Steve-O's stint at the University of Miami wasn't the end of his education. He later attended the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College with 32 other classmates (via Men's Health). The entire group graduated from the program, but only 10 of them were offered a shot at joining the circus that had been training them. Steve-O didn't quite make the cut, but he wasn't ready to give up on clowning.

Steve-O told Graham Bensinger that he got the opportunity to work alongside another group of clowns on a cruise ship. The job only lasted a season, though, because "there was a clown mutiny." The other clowns didn't get along with Steve-O, and they all threatened to leave if he returned for another season, so the management fired him.

Luckily, the job also gave Steve-O the inspiration for a major stunt. Standing on stilts, Steve-O would light his clown suit on fire, then have a unicycler ride through his legs while a skateboarder jumped over his head and through a fireball that he spit out of his mouth. For the finale, he'd chug a beer and tip over. Steve-O called Jeff Tremaine to pitch him the idea, and they filmed the stunt as a pilot for MTV. The station refused to air the stunt but liked the idea and Steve-O enough to create "Jackass."

Some of his stunts ended with arrests

Who knew that being an over-the-top stuntman could land you in jail? Steve-O found out the hard way in July 2002, when a performance at a nightclub in Louisiana very nearly landed him behind bars with a felony (via MTV). Two of the stunts in Steve-O's performance came back to bite him. First, he received a principal to second-degree battery charge for "presiding over" a stunt that ended in a club bouncer knocking a college student unconscious. Then he got a felony obscenity charge for stapling his scrotum to his thigh.

After much negotiation, First Assistant District Attorney Mark Rhodes said that the prosecution agreed that Steve-O hadn't been an active participant in the battery and that his scrotum stapling was "more than likely protected under free speech when conducted in front of paying adult patrons." Steve-O avoided the charges and a trial by agreeing to be on probation for one year, donate $5,000 to a local shelter for battered women and children, and never perform at Terrebonne Parish again.

The Louisiana incident wasn't the last time one of Steve-O's stunts led him into legal troubles. In fact, he was arrested again — this time in Sweden — just a few months after making his deal with prosecutors in Louisiana (via USA Today). This time he swallowed a condom full of marijuana and snuck it through customs as a stunt for the "Don't Try This At Home" show he and his fellow "Jackass" members were performing in Stockholm.

He once released a hip hop album

Steve-O's fans know him as a stuntman, and some even know him as a stand-up comedian, but not many people are aware of Steve-O the rapper. Back in 2011, he recorded and released the album "The Dumbest Asshole in Hip Hop" to not much fanfare at all. The CD included a bonus DVD of more Steve-O content and a poster of the album cover that read, "Never before has a rapper been so ... dumb."

With tracks like "Crack Cocaine" and "Poppin' Off," it's no surprise that Steve-O's album didn't break the charts, but that was likely never his goal to begin with. Even Steve-O's fans more or less forgot the album entirely the moment it was released. Looking back at it a decade later, one reviewer didn't mince words about the quality of Steve-O's music, saying, "It's awful, but it's so bad it's fun to listen to." Steve-O never released a follow-up album, and it doesn't seem likely that he ever will, but fans can always go back and enjoy one of the stranger moments in the stuntman's career for themselves. 

His dogs helped him get sober

Steve-O went through a massive lifestyle change in the late 2000s. After years of performing wild stunts partially fueled by drugs and alcohol, he decided to get sober, and he's maintained that sobriety since 2008 (via Men's Health). When talking about it, Steve-O makes what was likely a lengthy and difficult decision seem totally simple. "Here's what got me motivated to change: I hit a wall. ... I really reached a point where thank god, my life got so bad that I had to surrender to the process of recovery." The process has entirely transformed his life, and it's left him with plenty of energy for more stunts.

Of course, no one goes through recovery alone, and Steve-O credits his rescue dogs, Walter and Bernie, with keeping him going (via Us Weekly). He adopted his first dog when he first embarked on the recovery journey in 2008, and he said it's been good for him to "have a priority that's not myself." Since then, Steve-O's dogs have become his closest friends. "I can't believe how much those little sons of bitches have enriched my life," he said. They've helped to deepen his connection with animals in general, and that's also become a major part of his life.

He's an animal rights activist

Steve-O has been an outspoken animal rights activist for years, and sometimes he combines his passion for ridiculous stunts with his love of animals to powerful results. In 2014, TMZ reported that Steve-O and five of his friends changed a "SeaWorld Drive" sign just outside of San Diego to say "SeaWorld Sucks." That got people talking, but not as much as Steve-O might have wanted, so the following year, he upped the ante.

Steve-O knows how to get attention, and climbing a 100-foot crane certainly did the trick. The machine hovered above Sunset Boulevard, which gave the performer the perfect spot to speak to the world through a giant Shamu balloon with just two words on it: "SeaWorld Sucks" (via Rolling Stone). At the top of the crane, Steve-O set off a series of fireworks before making his way back to the ground, where he was promptly arrested. From the streets below, law enforcement couldn't tell whether the man on the crane was suicidal, so they deployed a whole team to air on the side of caution — a helicopter, five ambulances, and close to 100 firefighters.

Prosecutors charged Steve-O with five misdemeanors that could have landed him in jail for over four years. He reached a plea deal for 30 days in jail, three years probation, and a $14,000 reimbursement to the city of Los Angeles. In the end, Steve-O reported for his sentence at Twin Towers Correctional Facility, but he was released after serving less than eight hours.

He was vegan for almost a decade

In addition to fighting for animal rights with attention-grabbing public displays, Steve-O also altered his own lifestyle to align with his values. He told Us Weekly that he became a vegan shortly after he started his recovery, and the decision impacted way more than his diet. "I think it's benefited every area of my life," he said. He explained to Grub Street how his vegan diet ties into other decisions he makes about his health, like choosing to drink more water and meditate in the mornings.

Steve-O hasn't gone back to his meat-eating ways, but these days he says that he's not a vegan (via Men's Health). He's technically a pescatarian because he'll eat fish and eggs from time to time. That's not his biggest slip-up, though. "I've been letting a lot of dairy slide too," he said, adding, "Even admitting that, I have a problem with that."

Despite having been a vegan himself, Steve-O has also been critical of vegans in the past. On Instagram, he asked "combative, annoying vegans" to consider whether they do "more harm than good" by attacking people for not living the vegan lifestyle. "Maybe stop working so hard to pit people who are on your team against you," he wrote. The post garnered plenty of backlash from some vegan commenters, but Steve-O has never been one to care about haters.

His voice is truly unique

Every "Jackass" fan is familiar with Steve-O's voice. There's just nothing quite like it. He has the gravelly rumble of a cigarette-smoking blues singer, but he's sounded like that for over 20 years. "Honestly, I always thought that my world record for barfing the most on television might have something to do with it," Steve-O said in a YouTube video (via Men's Health). Over the years, he's also speculated that his unique tone could have come from swallowing glass or consuming copious amounts of nitrous oxide in his younger years.

Eventually, Steve-O decided to consult with an otolaryngologist to find out the root of his raspy voice, and the answer wasn't at all what he expected. It turns out Steve-O sounds that way because he uses his throat muscles rather than his vocal cords to talk. To prevent his condition from getting worse, Steve-O started working on using his vocal cords with a voice coach, but he wasn't entirely sold on changing his signature sound. "I kind of like getting recognized over the phone — and my girl darn sure doesn't want anything different." Chances are, even if Steve-O learns how to talk the "right way," he'll continue to sound like he always has.

He's a successful stand-up comedian

After making his name as a stuntman, Steve-O decided to stretch his abilities and try out a new career path (aside from being a rapper, that is). He began working as a stand-up comedian in 2011, and he's spent the past decade touring various shows and approaching stand-up with the same determination he once aimed at his stuntman ambitions (via Vanyaland).

Steve-O has completed two comedy specials: "Gnarly," which was the first special he took on tour, and "The Bucket List," which he began touring just as the coronavirus pandemic shuttered venues across the country. His stand-up acts have always incorporated some of his stuntman roots, but "The Bucket List" takes things to a whole new level. Notably, he incorporates footage of brand new stunts and stories into his act, creating a multimedia experience for the audience. To raise the bar even higher, all of the stunts in the act are "just so high-level and that they weren't even supposed to happen."

Despite all the work that Steve-O has put into his stand-up acts, he's had a difficult time getting them out to anyone who isn't in his live audience. He would gladly give the acts to a streaming platform like Netflix, but so far, there hasn't been any interest in his work. "They only want to give [comedy specials] to the most prestigious, pure, you know, lifelong stand-up comedians," he told Graham Bensinger, adding, "of which they do not consider me to be one."

He and his fiancée want to open an animal sanctuary

In an interview with Graham Bensinger, Steve-O explained that he and his fiancée Lux Wright met on a job that "never ended up seeing the light of day." Even though the project ended up being a failure, it gave Steve-O the opportunity to meet the love of his life. The two of them don't plan on ever having kids, but they still have big plans for their future — opening an animal sanctuary where they'll eventually be able to live when they retire.

"We want to have it in Southern California, so we can drive to it," Steve-O said. Ideally, it would also operate as a bed and breakfast that would give people the opportunity to stay longer and develop deeper relationships with the animals they're visiting. Steve-O said he hopes it gives people pause the next time they go to eat an animal for dinner.

He went on to explain that in the long term, the sanctuary would also become a daycare for children with special needs. Steve-O's nephew has Down syndrome and autism, and he has witnessed the stress his sister is put under while trying to manage her career and take care of her children. He wants to be able to give back to parents with similar struggles, and his fiancée is more than happy to create that legacy with him.