When it comes to parents terribles, Michael Lohan, the father of actress Lindsay Lohan, occupies a particularly hallowed space. Last week, the erratic, and once imprisoned, Michael went so far as to show up at Lindsay’s house with a posse from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department for a “welfare check” on Lindsay’s 16-year-old sister Ali.
Following in the footsteps of Jamie Spears, another fallen star’s father, Michael is now attempting to establish a conservatorship over Lindsay, who seems to be going through a particularly troubled time, even in relation to other dark periods she’s been through in recent years. Last weekend, she was fired off the indie movie The Other Side. The film’s director, David Michaels, called her “not bankable.” (Lohan’s agency, CAA, has denied that she was fired.)
When Lindsay’s former agent Adam Venit said that Lindsay’s personal life was threatening to derail her career, Dina Lohan responded by yelling, “Why don’t you tell her! You need to act more like a father!”
The confrontation with her father prompted Lindsay to erupt in a slew of outraged tweets, including: “let’s not forget, that my father KIDNAPPED me from a COURT ROOM when i was 4 years old and is CRAZY.”
(Lindsay Lohan’s publicist, Leslie Sloane Zelnik, did not respond to an email from The Daily Beast regarding this story.)
Despite these vituperative fireworks, however, the Lindsay-Michael relationship is far less black and white than both father and daughter paint it. Although Lindsay and her mother, Dina, are seeking a restraining order against Michael, people who know the Lohans say that Lindsay has always been plagued by the absence of her father in her life, and has struggled with feelings of wanting to keep a safe distance and wanting desperately to bring him closer to be a true parental figure. (Dina, who shares her ex’s fondness for talking to the press, tends to operate more like Lindsay’s enabling BFF, much in the way she did with Ali on the short-lived reality TV series Living Lohan.)
Michael Lohan could never be confused for Ward Cleaver. A former stockbroker who recently took up celebrity boxing, he’s done time for criminal contempt in a securities case, racked up DUIs and convictions for assault and breaking a protection order, and been threatened with more jail time for not paying child support. These days, looking like a middle-aged greaser with bulging biceps in a wife-beater T-shirt, he and his 27-year-old fiancée Kate Major (Jon Gosselin’s former girlfriend and Lindsay’s former friend) are as ubiquitous as Lilo in the gossip press, which Michael regularly feeds with tawdry snippets and leaks.
Still, Lindsay has reached out to her father on several occasions. Damon Feldman, a friend of Michael’s who runs the Celebrity Boxing Federation (and is facing charges for fixing fights), recalls the time last year when he overheard Michael on the phone with Lindsay and “she was crying, saying she wanted his help and all that,” Feldman told The Daily Beast. “I just remember she was pretty upset and wanted him to be there for her.”
The discussion sounds eerily similar to the taped conversations that Michael gave—or, more likely, sold—to Radar last fall, featuring Lindsay sobbing and sputtering out incomprehensible cries for help.
Like many of Michael’s actions, the deed smacked of a blatant attempt at self-serving publicity, though in a conversation with The Daily Beast, Major denied this. “It hurts me when people say Michael [does this] for publicity. It eats him day in and day out. He’s not getting positive publicity from any of this.”
Lindsay trashed her dad to Vanity Fair in 2006, painting him as a destructive, violent, and very scary force with a drug and alcohol problem. But a filmmaker who has worked with Lindsay said that her fraught relationship with her father “anguished her.”
“She wanted it to be better, she wanted it to be good,” even as she aggressively kept him out of her life, on the advice of her management. “It was like, she could say bad things about him, but you couldn’t. Sometimes she’d be emotional about it, but often she’d be like, ‘He’s fantastic. He’s gonna do this. We’re gonna do this,’ and be defensive about him.”
Lindsay converted these conflicting emotions into lyrics when she wrote the 2005 song “Confessions of a Broken Heart,” which includes the lines “Daughter to father! Daughter to father! Tell me the truth. Did you ever love me?”
Later in the song, she croons, “I love you. I love you. I love you. I.. I.. I… I love you!”
The absentee father figure theme has even played into Lindsay’s professional life. While she was making Herbie: Fully Loaded, Lindsay was on a non-stop-bender of filming, recording an album, and partying—a combination that ultimately landed her in the hospital. Her agent at the time, Endeavor’s Adam Venit, staged an intervention with Dina, a former Rockette who was serving as Lindsay’s manager. According to a former executive at Disney with knowledge of the conversation, when Venit said that Lindsay’s personal life was threatening to derail her career, Dina responded by yelling, “Why don’t you tell her! You need to act more like a father!”
A few days later, Lindsay dumped Venit and moved to CAA.
(Lindsay has also sought out more role-model-like mother figures—when she first moved to L.A., she moved in with Nancy Meyers, who directed her in The Parent Trap, though Meyers ultimately got “a little fed up” by her guest’s active night life, according to a source.)
But her longing for a loving, protective father who—unlike everyone else in her sphere—might actually provide discipline, seems rather wildly misplaced. In 2008, Michael railed against Lindsay’s then-girlfriend Samantha Ronson, telling the press she was “dark, hideous, and a disgusting representation of humanity.”
One person who had dealt with Michael describes him as “the perfect con man”—someone who comes across as, relatively speaking, well-groomed and professional, but is at his heart an unsparing opportunist, particularly where his daughter is concerned. When Lindsay was at Endeavor, Michael would constantly set up meetings for himself where he would pitch hare-brained business ideas, such as a karaoke machine that could be set up in malls, and, somewhat more presciently, a Redbox-like, DVD rental machine. Michael would also use Lindsay’s name to get past the velvet ropes at clubs.
Unlike Dina, who received a 15 percent commission from Lindsay when she worked as her manager, Michael has never been an official beneficiary of Lindsay’s income—at her height, she was getting $7.5 million a movie. But when he and Dina filed for divorce in 2005, he sued (unsuccessfully) for half of Dina’s Lindsay-related earnings.
Nonetheless, Lindsay has always wanted “the approval and attention” of both her parents, said a source. “She wanted them to be proud of her.”
Whatever else is happening, Lindsay’s behavior—which is chronicled in real time by Perez Hilton, TMZ, and x17—does seem to be reaching a crisis point. She is reportedly out of money; has been pictured falling on her face outside of a nightclub; and this week, got into a late-night Twitter war with Ronson, which Perez also weighed in on. She also posted a photo of herself with a gun on Twitter, causing MSNBC’s Courtney Hazlett to ask on the air, “What is going on, and why isn’t somebody helping her?”
Michael would not comment for this story, but his newly hired attorney Lisa Bloom—daughter of outspoken lawyer Gloria Allred—spoke on his behalf, saying that Michael wants to get Lindsay back in rehab. She also said that she did not see the latest contretemps between Lindsay and her father as a “controversy.”
“Lindsay is not the enemy,” Bloom said. “Lindsay is Michael’s beloved daughter and he only wants to help her. If there’s an enemy, it’s alcohol and drugs.
“Anyone who looks at pictures or videos on the news knows that Lindsay appears to be in a downward spiral, and Michael hired me to take any legal steps necessary to help her. He wants to get her out of these problems, he doesn’t want to pick up the pieces after. He’s very passionate about trying to save his daughter.”
Nicole LaPorte is the senior West Coast correspondent for The Daily Beast. A former film reporter for Variety, she has also written for The New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times Magazine, The New York Times, The New York Observer, and W.