Drew Barrymore Dishes to Howard Stern About Flashing David Letterman, Living With David Crosby, and Being Institutionalized at Age 13

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  • Drew Barrymore
    Drew Barrymore
    American actress
  • David Letterman
    David Letterman
    American comedian and actor
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Drew Barrymore (Getty Images)

Drew Barrymore is a lot of things — movie star, producer, mother — but before any of that, she was a wild child who had her share of (very public) ups and downs while navigating the Hollywood scene. During a visit to the The Howard Stern Show on Tuesday, Drew opened up to the shock jock about a variety of those high and low points, starting with the time in 1995 when she unexpectedly danced on David Letterman’s desk and showed him her breasts (which could be considered a high or a low, depending on whom you ask).

Despite what one might assume, Drew assured the host that the moment was not planned. “I mean, you see me up there as if I’m on a train and I don’t know where it’s going,” she laughed, noting that the experience was “completely out-of-body.” She went on to explain what led up to her yanking off her top for Letterman.

Apparently, she and a friend had performed a strip dance at a bar in New York City — and somehow Letterman’s producers found out and wanted her talk about it on the show. (Keep in mind, this was before the Internet.) Drew was 19 at the time and quickly agreed the topic was fair game. Her visit was going swimmingly until she crawled onto the host’s giant desk to perform an impromptu strip tease in front of a live studio audience, plus the rest of the country.

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Drew’s appearance on ‘Letterman’ (Getty Images)

“I didn’t even know what I was doing in the moment,” she admitted to Stern. “I got off and was like, 'Holy s–t, what did I just do?’” The Wildflower author recalled watching the episode with her friends when it aired that night. “I was like, 'OK, that was crazy, fun. I think the tone came off OK. Thank God David Letterman didn’t make me look bad in front of people.” In retrospect, Drew appreciated Letterman’s response. “He could have sent me off to a real bad place with disapproval in that moment, and instead he was charming and cute and let everybody know that this was OK — and it was OK and we got away with it.”

But that didn’t mean Drew didn’t come to realize maybe it hadn’t been the best idea ever. “That night I said to myself, 'OK, so next chapter you need to become a young lady. You’re still a teenager and so this is OK, but you’re about to be 20,” she explained, adding that she came to think of that moment as an end cap to her teens that forced her to figure out what she wanted her 20s to be. “I was like, 'Now I know what kind of kid and teenager I’ve been. What kind of woman am I going to become?’” she recalled. “It was a closing of a chapter. The symphony ended. I was like, 'a little less this; a little more that.’” (We assume she means a little less stripping on national TV and a little more poise, but Stern didn’t ask her to clarify.)

In almost an afterthought, the Miss You Already star, 40, added that two weeks after the incident, Letterman called her to say he wanted to do a bit with her where they got married in a church. Once again, she didn’t hesitate to oblige. “He even gave me a sweet kiss,” Drew mused. For some reason, a planned sketch of Letterman marrying a teenage Barrymore seems more unnerving than her taking her top off on TV — but maybe that’s just us.

Stern veered the conversation to more serious matters as well, like Drew’s strained relationship with her mother. Recalling when she was still a child and her mom, Jaid Barrymore, quit working to manage her career full time, Drew simply said she knew right away, “This is not going to go well.” Though Drew readily admitted her parents made plenty of mistakes, she insisted that at this point, she’s at peace. She did add, however, that her parents gave her a good blueprint for raising her own children — by showing her what not to do.

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Drew and daughter Olive (Instagram)

Speaking of what not to do, Drew also opened up about one of the most difficult times in her life, which happened when she was only 13 and desperately needed help. Fortunately, David Crosby (of Crosby, Stills & Nash fame) stepped in to care for her.

“I had to live with David Crosby for two months,” she revealed, calling him “an interesting character” and describing her time in his home as “pretty wild.” Though Drew was still a child, she admitted she “felt bad for them” because “they had to take in this kid and they weren’t parents themselves.” Strange as that living situation may have been, it was a step up from where she had been before that: institutionalized for a year and a half.

“It was a very severe lockdown” kind of place, she explained. “No Hollywood rehab 30-day Malibu beachside bulls–t — this was school of hard knocks in the most severe way and I’m 13 to 14, but I swear to God, it’s what I needed.” Though she didn’t enjoy her 18 months there, she realizes how crucial it was.

“There was no way I was going to be me without that year and a half,” she explained. “It was boot camp and you would get the boot all the time and I hated it at first. I had nothing but freedom up until that point — dancing on tables at Helena’s and Studio 54 and Limelight and every club on the planet, partying it up and doing whatever I wanted whenever I wanted” — which sounds amazing and terrifying for anyone, but especially a 13-year-old. “All of a sudden it was, 'You have no freedom. You will figure out your life and you have the best insurance policy ever so you’re staying here until we tell you you’ve changed.’”

And change she did. “I left there the most humble person you could ever imagine,” she shared. At this point in her discussion with Stern, the mother of two began crying and said, “They saved my life."