Does excessive alcohol consumption mask or reveal our true selves? Is the demon rum a truth serum that strips away our pretensions and delusions and reveals our real essence, or does getting drunk distort who we really are? Those questions are of the utmost importance when pondering the notorious viral video of a shirtless, deeply inebriated, and often incoherent David Hasselhoff trying and failing to eat a sloppy Wendy’s cheeseburger while rolling around a Las Vegas hotel room floor in a state of profound, drunken despondency. The Hasselhoff found on the video, which was recorded by his horrified teenaged daughter, is a borderline feral mess of a human being belligerently and nonsensically insulting a daughter whose mortification is as palpable as it is understandable. He’s angry, sad, incoherent, and drunk as he lashes out against the world and his two daughters, who, judging by the video, are far better than he deserves. The video broadcast Hasselhoff’s bottoming-out to the entire world. Since his breakthrough role as William “Snapper” Foster Jr. on The Young And The Restless, Hasselhoff’s highs have been public, so there’s a certain sad symmetry to his lows being agonizingly public as well. Is the bleary, self-pitying, and out-of-control shell of a man in the video the true Hasselhoff, or is the liquor speaking through him, and none too coherently at that?
Who can say, ultimately? It’s achingly apparent, however, that the man in the video is nowhere to be found in Don’t Hassel The Hoff, the actor/musician’s 2006 autobiography. Where the man in the video looks like a creature of pure id, Don’t Hassel The Hoff is the product of pure ego; it’s a book-length fan letter to himself powered by a strange combination of self-delusion and self-confidence. In Hasselhoff’s mind, he’s not the pathetic guy rolling around the floor. He’s a real-life hero. He’s an opera-quality singer. (While preparing for a lead role on Broadway in Jekyll And Hyde: The Musical, Hasselhoff’s vocal coach told him that with training he “would have made a great opera singer.”). He’s a great improviser. (Of his ad-libbing on Baywatch he crows, “I had the reputation for being one of the greatest improvisers on TV. I would look at a scene and realize that it wasn’t good enough, so I would improvise.”) He’s a guardian of family values, a selfless benefactor of terminally ill children, and, as the sleeve for Don’t Hassel The Hoff modestly argues, “a caring father, a star of blockbuster movies, a talented triple-platinum musician, an Internet phenomenon, and a megastar with a heart of gold.”
We consequently have two slightly different filters though which to view Hasselhoff: pathetic drunk and “megastar with a heart of gold.” As is invariably the case, the truth lies somewhere in between, but Don’t Hassel The Hoff does Hasselhoff no favors by depicting its author in such a maniacally positive light that merely describing him as a “megastar with a heart of gold” dramatically undersells Hasselhoff’s comically inflated sense of his own innate awesomeness and Christ-like compassion.
To Hasselhoff, playing the Knight Rider on the show of the same name was no mere gig, but rather a sacred calling. In a signature bit of grandiosity, Hasselhoff writes, presumably with more than a little help from ghostwriter Peter Thompson, “I truly believe that I got the role of Michael Knight for a reason. I was given a power that could be used in a positive way, far greater than anyone could imagine, to help sick and terminally ill people, mainly children who watched the Knight Rider program and believed in its hero.” Hasselhoff goes on to explain, “I felt it was a spiritual calling and maybe it explained why I had been chosen as the Knight Rider. It was a much bigger responsibility than playing the hero in a TV show; I actually had to be a hero.”
Hasselhoff wants readers to know that it’s not easy being a hero. In the introduction, he writes that everyone thinks Baywatch is a dream job, but that’s only because “nobody knew that the sand was hotter than hell and the water was toxic; that every week we had to bow to the dictates of what was perceived as a horribly sexist show that was becoming more and more popular around the world. Every week we had a girl coming to work with a different breast size, or a different tattoo that had to be covered up, or a different personal crisis that had to be resolved.” I hope you will join me in weeping for Hasselhoff’s travails while I play the world’s smallest violin. Hot sand? Women with breast implants? Employees with emotions? Coal miners everywhere should be grateful they don’t have to deal with problems like that.
Those aren’t the only trials of the damned faced by Hasselhoff. He insists that everyone assumes he’s had sex with every women on Baywatch, when the truth is, “Being married to [second wife] Pamela enabled me to enjoy the beauty of women on the set, to respect them and to let them know it wasn’t okay to come by and throw themselves at me. This happened a lot and it was sad to see girls use their sexuality to further their careers.” Hasselhoff writes that he’s had sex with countless beautiful women from all over the world, but he could have had even more sex if he wasn’t such a faithful, devoted husband to his two ex-wives. Even Hasselhoff’s sordid confessions feel like obnoxious bragging, like when he boasts that he totally scored the highest blood-alcohol level record when he checked into the Betty Ford Clinic.
Don’t Hassel The Hoff is devoid of the humility necessary for alcoholics to conquer their addiction. It’s devoid of humility altogether. Hasselhoff’s less a mortal man than a cheesy Jesus presiding over a worshipful flock with a wink, a smirk, a rescue can, and a souped-up robo-Trans Am. Hasselhoff frames his alcoholism and multiple relapses (which continued after the book was published) as a minor part of a triumphant narrative that finds the author overcoming a drinking problem and two failed marriages to achieve his wildest dreams, to the orgasmic delight of his international army of super-fans. Hasselhoff doesn’t concede his powerlessness over his addiction. He does not humble himself before a higher power. In his mind, he is the higher power, and all it takes is a little willpower to kick alcoholism’s ass.
Hasselhoff is a big believer in willpower (and also in David Hasselhoff). Early in the narrative, he’s given a book called The Power Of Your Subconscious Mind that changes his life with its five step program: “Five-you’re here for a reason; four-take it easy; three-believe in yourself; two-you can do this; one-let go, have fun.” The author uses those simple steps to score his first big role as a sensitive doctor on The Young And The Restless. Hasselhoff becomes a breakout star and earns the undying adoration of Young And The Restless super-fan Sammy Davis Jr., who is so overwhelmed by the young actor’s talent that he later tells Hasselhoff’s mother that one of his greatest regrets in life is that he never got to sing with the Knight Rider star.
Davis isn’t the only legend to all but prostrate himself before the author. Over the course of Don’t Hassel The Hoff, Muhammad Ali tells Hasselhoff he’s pretty, Paul and Linda McCartney ask to be on Baywatch, Sidney Poitier asks Hasselhoff for tips on looking young, Princess Di flirts with him, President Clinton asks him questions about Baywatch, and Russell Crowe tells the author that Knight Rider was his favorite show growing up.
The Young And The Restless made Hasselhoff rich and famous, but he was destined for a higher calling: proving to the world that, as he writes over and over again of Knight Rider’s ultimate message, one man can make a difference by pretending to be a mysterious crime-fighter with a fancy computer car. Hasselhoff writes of this calling:
The person who made me realize that helping others was my purpose in life was Randy Armstrong, a 15-year-old leukemia patient who visited the Knight Rider set at Universal Studios in 1983. After his death, I received a letter from him begging me to help other sick children forget their pain. The letter came with a photograph of Randy in his casket dressed in the Knight Rider hat and jacket that I had given him as mementos of his visit. From that moment on, I felt that it was a spiritual calling and maybe it explained why I had been chosen as the Knight Rider. It was a much bigger responsibility than playing the hero in a TV show. I actually had to be a hero. My quest, my calling, had begun. From then on, we opened the doors of the Knight Rider set to any suffering child.
Hasselhoff spends much of Don’t Hassel The Hoff campaigning for sainthood on the grounds that letting sick children visit the set of Knight Rider and maybe have their picture taken with him represents the apogee of real-world heroism and not basic human decency.
Everywhere he goes, children treat Hasselhoff like he’s the character he plays on Knight Rider and not an actor. At some point, something appears to snap in Hasselhoff and he begins to think he’s Michael Knight as well. At the height of Knight Rider’s success, for example, Hasselhoff disobeys sanctions against performing in South Africa (“I don’t believe in sanctions against my freedom to go places” he writes), where he allows the suffering black underclass to bask in his radiant presence. “I walked on to a segregated bus,” Hasselhoff writes, “even though people warned me not to. I said to myself, ‘Hasselhoff can’t go on that bus but Michael Knight can!’ To the consternation of the security guards, I boarded the bus. Every passenger was black and they began hugging and kissing me; everyone wanted to shake my hand.” Those fortunate bus riders under Apartheid weren’t the only South Africans Hasselhoff blessed with his/Michael Knight’s presence. He later writes, “I put the power of Michael Knight to work at the SANTA Tuberculosis Hospital in Johannesburg. The child patients sang, ‘Thank God you’re here.’”
Hasselhoff has a deep, abiding love for South Africa (though he’s too modest to argue that he singlehandedly brought down Apartheid by uniting black and white people in their shared love for him), but he has an even stronger connection to another troubled country once wracked with internal discord: Germany, where he is a huge pop star who famously performed at the Berlin Wall. Hasselhoff considers himself such an important part of German history that he writes, “In 2004 I visited a museum in Berlin and told Germany’s Spielfilm magazine that I was a bit sad there was no photo of me singing at the Berlin Wall among the museum’s extensive photographic collection.” On a personal level, nothing bums me out more than visiting a museum that petulantly refuses to acknowledge my historical importance. When I visited The Smithsonian, for example, I stormed around for over an hour yelling, “Where’s the Nathan Rabin exhibit? Where’s the wing just devoted to me! After all, I’ve arguably done stuff, maybe. Where’s the elaborate golden shrine to me, me, me?”
Knight Rider did God’s work by bringing Hasselhoff into contact with sick children who worship him even more than he worships himself, but eventually Knight Rider joined Baby Jesus in television heaven, so the author found his next calling in a serious lifeguarding drama for children and families called Baywatch. In Hasselhoff’s revisionist take, Baywatch is a family show about important social issues, and it appealed primarily to a female audience interested in the romance between lifeguards played by Billy Warlock and Erika Eleniak, and the father-son dynamic between Hasselhoff and onscreen progeny Jeremy Jackson. Seriously. For Hasselhoff, the success of Baywatch came from its “heart, humor, and action.” He thought of it as a water-cooler show people would not only admit to watching, but actively debate the next morning, and he grew dismayed when he sensed the show was no longer water-cooler fodder.
For a man famous for talking to cars and presiding over a cleavage empire, Hasselhoff cuts a strangely judgmental figure. He writes that he was reluctant to have women who had appeared on Playboy on the show because, “I was completely opposed to telling girls that if they took their clothes off, they could get a job in television. Somewhere along the line somebody was going to get raped and they were going to blame Baywatch.” It’s hard to know where to begin when unpacking the wrongness of that statement.
In Don’t Hassel The Hoff, Hasselhoff watches sadly as Baywatch morphs slowly but surely from a family show that saved lives by illustrating proper lifeguard techniques to a salacious exercise in T&A, snorting derisively of a particularly offensive episode:
“’Baywatch O’Hana” opens with a long sequence of Jenna Avid (Krista Allen) working out in the gym to a suggestive song. The cleavage shots and the storyline in which Sean (Jason Brooks) sets up a dirty weekend with her destroyed any pretence that Baywatch was still a kids’ show. The cast comprised several impressive young actors, all talented, but the question was whether Greg and the writers could mould them into a group of people that audiences would care about, as they had with previous casts.
To paraphrase Claude Rains in Casablanca, Hasselhoff seems shocked, yes shocked to discover that someone has inserted an element of titillation into his wholesome kids’ show, because he wasn’t as closely involved in the production of that particular season of Baywatch as he had been in previous years.
The Knight Rider is such a force for good in the universe that sometimes all it takes is a nod and a smile from The Hoff to save a life. Late in the book, Hasselhoff is filming what he assures us “proved to be one of CBS’ most popular movie-of-the-weeks of all time” when he has the following encounter:
In the hotel elevator, I spoke to a mother and her teenaged daughter.
“Nice to see you guys.”
The daughter started freaking out.
“You’re her favorite star,” the mother said
“Why, thank you. I’ve got to go to work right now, but if you write down your name and address I’ll leave you an autographed picture.”
When I got back to Los Angeles, there was a letter from the mother saying,
“Thank you very much for the photographs. My daughter had attempted suicide that morning. She said she had nothing to live for. The only person in the world she believed in was you, David, and because you took a moment to say hello, you restored her self-esteem. She said, ‘I will never try to kill myself again because I believe that he was sent to me for a reason.’
God does send angels and sometimes we are his angels.”
Don’t Hassle The Hoff ends with the author dropping a megaton schmaltz bomb while once again singing his own praises under the guise of paying tribute to those precious little dudes who reminded him of how important he was with the worshipful look in their eyes when he’d pat their cancer-stricken heads and nobly deposit an autographed glossy in their trembling hands:
I know for a fact that people like Randy Armstrong, Michael Cuccione, and little Darren are angels who make the world a better place. Randy, the boy who showed me that my true purpose in life wasn’t fame or money but helping the less fortunate, is still my wingman to this day. He taught me that smiling at someone or taking time to speak to them is a spiritual experience that brings its own reward. The theme of Knight Rider was “one man can make a difference.” You can be that person, you can make a difference in someone’s life, but first you must make a difference in your own life. You must save yourself before you can save anyone else.
Hasselhoff ends the book by quoting his own signature hit, “Looking For Freedom.” For anyone else, that would be an appallingly egomaniacal gesture but not for Hasselhoff. Hell, he tops it with an epilogue all about how his career is now soaring majestically to still another giddy apex, writing, in a golden glow of infinite self-regard:
The late Joyce Selznick, my first manager, once told me, “David you’re not going to make it until you’re older.” Boy, was she right! I’m now doing the work I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve got the respect of my children and peers, and if you’ve got respect, then you’re on the right path. I’m back on stage in a hit show, I’m doing charity work, I’m making an album of love songs with composer Frank Wildhordn, there will be a concert in a medieval castle…
But that’s not all, folks! For reasons known only to Hasselhoff, the book then includes an “appendix” of a fan letter (complete with an autograph request) that a cerebral palsy-stricken motivational speaker sent Hasselhoff, which mostly focuses on the letter-writer’s own endeavors and only occasionally touches upon his pathological dedication to Knight Rider. I suppose it was included for passages like, “Your show, along with others like The Dukes Of Hazzard and CHiPs, made me understand that each of us can be heroes—in other words, ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances—like our favorite television characters did each week.”
Don’t Hassel The Hoff grows increasingly messianic and delusional as it goes along. If it continued for another chapter, I suspect the text would just consist of the phrase “HOFFF IS GOD! HOFF IS GOD! HOFF IS GOD!” repeated over and over again in a narcissistic delirium. Critics, the tabloid press and, let’s face it, pretty much the sum of humanity, has depicted Hasselhoff as a ridiculous caricature of a man, so he has taken the offensive and elevated himself to the level of a deity through his self-aggrandizing prose. He’s a cheesy Jesus, all right, even if that divinity exists solely in his own mind and myopic imagination.