Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Pooh! Baby! Meet me at the Ivy!

"Oh bother!" With these words, the characteristically self-effacing Winnie the Pooh got his star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame yesterday, the latest sign of Pooh's steady return to good graces after a long decline in Tinseltown. The recipient of the 2,308th Hollywood star is a survivor in every sense.

Pooh began his Hollywood career late by the usual standards. He was in the public eye since the 1920's, appearing in a successful series of books with longtime companion Christopher Robin. Pooh came to southern California in 1966, working with Disney in its relative infancy as a motion picture company. The fortunes of both increased over the years, with Pooh the star of dozens of films, television specials and cartoons.

Once his generation's version of the King of All Media -- cuddly symbol of an empire of animation, publishing, motion picture and product merchandising -- Pooh fell out of favor in the late 80's, as a childhood public increasingly older than its years, and more and more infatuated with technology and eventually the Internet, ignored Pooh's more juvenile brand of adventure.

A long addiction to honey finally gave way to something worse. With few movie prospects and declining book sales, Pooh began to drink heavily, reportedly downing up to a fifth of scotch every day. In 1992, at the height of the crack epidemic, Pooh was arrested on Sunset Boulevard and charged with possession of crack cocaine.

Old friends, such as Eeyore and Pooh's bosom companion, Christopher Robin, turned away, busy with their own careers in Hollywood. Pooh consumed himself with drink, strippers and parties that got wilder with each passing year. He reached rock bottom in 1995 when, at the Oscar ceremonies -- and witnessed by millions on television -- he staggered into the red-carpet crowd, drunk, raving and disheveled, and vomited on the Oscar statue outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

After a brief stint in jail, and a highly public probation hearing, Pooh retreated to his estate, Hundred Acre Wood, in the Hollywood Hills. He began the slow process of rehabilitation, chastened, in part, by the death of his lifelong friend Tigger, killed in a 1996 auto-pedestrian accident in London. Pooh's personal therapy included Zen meditation, a change in diet and six weeks at the Hazelden alcoholism clinic. He was also helped by another lifelong friend, Rabbit, whose move-in intervention in 1997 helped Pooh turn the corner.

Eventually, other old friends began to return. In 2000, Pooh teamed up with Robin for an historic one-time joint appearance on "The Late Show with David Letterman." In 2003 Pooh and Eeyore got together to write a script that's now in development at Fox. Pooh is also now in talks to direct a film starring Mickey Rourke and Paul Reubens.

As Pooh dutifully held back tears, Disney CEO Robert Iger made plain at the Los Angeles ceremony the feelings of millions of readers and moviegoers around the world: "You really are a bother." Here's to Pooh bothering us for generations to come.

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