There was a time not far into the alcohol-soaked, drug-clouded celebrity past when the word "rehab" was a cause for alarm, when those whose stars had fallen so low had no choice but to remove themselves from their own lives, often by way of intervention and a carefully worded statement. If they could recover their livers, what about their public images, their careers?
Now? Not so much. When LeAnn Rimes checked into a rehab centre last week, she did so alone and voluntarily, just days after celebrating her 30th birthday, and motivated not even by a whiff of a weakness for drink or drugs. "This is just a time for me to emotionally check out for a second and take care of myself and come back in 30 days as the best 30-year-old woman I can be," the singer said, with more excitement than any sense of shame.
After it emerged this year that Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino of Jersey Shore fame had checked into rehab, his agent explained: "He is not in rehab for substance abuse. He has spent the last several weeks at an undisclosed location for much-needed rest and recuperation after his extensive production and appearance schedule."
Since when had the lines between rehab and relaxation, healing and holiday become so blurred? We don't know where Rimes is recovering, but the regime there is reportedly far from rigorous. Other rehab centres in the US with positive-thinking names such as Passages and Promises advertise their spas and swimming pools as much as they do treatment and supervision, all for as much as £20,000 a month.
The Situation did his time at the Cirque Lodge, a hot-tub-heavy chalet retreat in the Utah resort of Sundance. He later admitted to a problem that involved more than yawning (painkillers, specifically) but whatever the issues that drive actors and pop stars to take time out, the nature of recovery has become as hard to define as celebrity itself.
Rehab is a CV staple for those with hard-knock images to burnish and song lyrics to lend truth to. Where would Pete Doherty be without his yo-yo drug problems? As an "insider" told the gossip columnist Perez Hilton of the Situation situation, "clubs aren't going to want him to promote while stone-cold sober. His out-of-control character… is what's appealing about him."
For those with cleaner images to protect, rehab has become a byword for penitence, a cushy alternative to prosecution. That's how it started at least for Lindsay Lohan, today's first lady of rehab (a title that used to belong to Betty Ford, President Gerald Ford's wife, who opened a clinic in her own name after recovering from a drink-and-painkiller problem). The actress first entered a recovery programme after a drink-driving charge in 2007. Since then, however, she has been the anti-advert for rehab, after clocking up more visits than film roles.
She appears to be following the example of Ronnie Wood, the Rolling Stone who has completed close to a dozen stints, including as recently as 2010. But perhaps his approach has more in common with Rimes's. As Keith Richards wrote in his memoir, "Ronnie's idea of rehab was mainly a strategy to get away from the pressure… just to get the day-to-day living off their back." Who couldn't do with a bit of that?