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Steve-O, star of 'Jackass' franchise, tries a sober life

Matthew Odam
Stephen 'Steve-O' Glover returned to Austin for Fantastic Fest last month.

Steve-O (Stephen Glover) has made some serious upgrades since the first time he visited Austin.

In 1994, broke and marginally employed, the college dropout was lured to the Texas capital by some high-risk work as a medical guinea pig. Fitting for a man who would eventually become famous for absorbing all manner of abuse as one of the stars of the "Jackass" franchise, the latest of which opens in theaters nationwide today .

Slowly waking after a midday nap at a luxury hotel during last month's Fantastic Fest, Steve-O speaks with a cracked voice and slightly detached amusement.

"They were looking to test this drug for pigs and cows on people," Steve-O says. "At first it was a $1,500 medical study, and that was just so much money. The goal was for them to keep giving us this drug until someone's resting heart rate was over 150 beats a minute. They didn't reach their goals in the 10 days, so they offered us $500 more to stay two more days and give us even more of this drug. It was a super dangerous medical study. And just a wild time. We were sleeping on a rooftop."

That trip to Austin would foreshadow a career spent torturing himself for the entertainment of others. But the self-inflicted harm done on camera paled in comparison to the abuse in his personal life.

Drugs and alcohol slowly ravaged the daredevil, to the point that his friend and co-star Johnny Knoxville eventually had to stage an intervention in 2008.

Now, sober for two and a half years, Steve-O is back on the big screen in "Jackass 3D," still taking the kind of risks that make you want to cover your eyes and hold on to your stomach.

He is thoughtful, if a bit groggy from the aforementioned nap and a night spent posing for photos with adoring fans, as he discusses his mistakes and his motivations for returning to the franchise that made him a cult superstar.

"It's not easier doing it all sober," Steve-O says. "It was important to me to prove to myself and everyone that sobriety hasn't made me lame and boring. So, while it wasn't any easier, it was more important to me. I was more apprehensive yet also more eager."

Though it would be a stretch to tag any of his "Jackass" cohorts as choir boys, Steve-O acknowledges that he had been a nightmare to deal with for a long time and was eager to work with his friends as an "improved version" of himself.

The repair work he's done seemingly extends to all aspects of his life. The former circus clown who gained notoriety for swallowing and regurgitating a goldfish now adheres to a vegan diet.

"Being vegan has benefited every area of my life, for sure," Steve-O says. "It's healthier for me. It's healthier for my body. Emotionally, spiritually, physically \u2026 across the board, it's something I really benefit from."

It momentarily feels like we've entered Bizarro World, where a man known for stapling his genitals to his leg can ruminate thoughtfully about the decline of our society. Then, in almost the same breath, he acknowledges how our culture's fascination with the freak show pays his bills.

"I'd be homeless if that wasn't the case," he says.

Though his destructive days of drugs and booze are behind him, the one addiction Steve-O seems unwilling to eradicate is the attention he has recklessly courted his entire life.

"I've always been a real hound for attention, and that hasn't changed," Steve-O says. "When 'Jackass' first came out, I was at this night club in Panama City, Florida. I was sitting at the bar next to a professional wrestler from the WWF or whatever, and I said, 'Man, one more picture, one more autograph, I'm gonna freak out, I can't take it anymore, I've had enough.' And this professional wrestler shook his head and he said, 'Dude, stop and imagine a time when nobody ever wants another autograph or a picture.' And that got through to me. So that's kind of my attitude. That's all I've ever wanted was all the attention, so it's kind of lame to (complain) about something you've always wanted."