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02.28.11

Celebrity Dads Who Act Out

Billy Ray Cyrus, Michael Lohan, Jamie Spears—what do these controlling fathers who have profited from their daughters' fame have in common? Chris Lee on the showbiz dad phenomenon.

Last month, Billy Ray Cyrus' remarks exploded across the celebrity news cycle, briefly displacing Middle East unrest as the morning talk shows' lead story and immediately putting a thousand snark-bloggers on blast. In an interview with GQ magazine, the faded country star and father of one of America's most famous teenagers voiced his deep regret at ever having let daughter Miley appear in the blockbuster Hannah Montana TV and movie-musical franchise because of all the collateral damage in which her mega-stardom has resulted. "I'll tell you right now—the damn show destroyed my family," he says in the piece.

Gallery: Celebrity Stage Dads

The elder Cyrus went on to proclaim his fears about Miley meeting a fate similar to Kurt Cobain, Anna Nicole Smith, and Michael Jackson. This in light of several quasi-scandalous missteps: Miley starring in a lapdance video, being photographed in Spain clutching a beer, pole dancing at the Teen Choice Awards, holding her 18th birthday party in December in a bar, and having been photographed smoking salvia out of a bong.

"There's a train wreck happening and my daughter's in the middle of it," Cyrus said, later adding: "I'm scared for her. She's got a lot of people around her that's [sic] putting her in a great deal of danger."

On the surface, Cyrus' concern seems born out of the singer-actor's personal experiences as a hot-selling artist familiar with the Celebrity Industrial Machine's insatiable appetite and well-established practice of chewing up and spitting out young performers. But viewed another way, the Achy Breaky Cyrus—who compares himself to Jesus in GQ, metaphorically urging "OK, nail me to the cross, I'll take it"—seems to have stolen a play from the Michael Lohan self-aggrandizement manual by going public with his parental frustrations.

Lohan is credited with establishing the tell-it-on-the-mountain-now, grovel-at-home-later template that's also been taken up by Amy Winehouse's pere, Mitch Winehouse. With Cyrus, they represent a triumvirate of fathers of internationally prominent girls gone wild who repudiate their daughters' behavior and conduct family business in a way best kept private. Before, that is, making great shows of whatever fragile reconciliations result and going public all over again.

In the face of her various arrests, court appearances, and stints in rehab, Michael Lohan has invariably made the situation worse by speaking out.

To be sure, such grandstanding fleetingly injects the men into the public dialogue—which seems to be each of their goals—while also implicitly serving as a kind of referendum: If these guys are such great dads, what put their daughters on the highway to hell in the first place?

Since around 2004, disgraced Wall Street trader and reality-TV wannabe Lohan has made a cause célèbre—and, by extension, himself a "celebrity" at the furthest margins of that term—by publicly crusading against Lindsay's wayward ways whenever possible. And in the face of her various arrests, court appearances, and stints in rehab, he has invariably made the situation worse by speaking out.

On live radio recently, Michael Lohan accused his former wife Dina Lohan of having snorted cocaine with their daughter Lindsay, he lambasted the media attention given to Lindsay's entry into the Betty Ford Clinic by… garnering his own media coverage to discuss the situation and even went so far as to commission a club track entitled My Rose about his daughter that includes the couplet "The girl is like a rose garden/She falls back, springs forth and grows stronger with thorns."

Drafting off of Lindsay's court appearance for the alleged theft of a one-of-a-kind necklace a few weeks ago, Michael Lohan scheduled his daughter to appear on The Late Show With David Letterman to read the show's Top 10 list without first securing her permission (as evidenced by a tweet by Lindsay). "Anything positive I bring into her life… [her people] try to nix it," Michael Lohan complained to TMZ.

British pop chanteuse Amy Winehouse grabbed headlines as the retro-soul singing sensation responsible for the global hit "Rehab" before a later career incarnation: the crack-smoking, speedball slamming, fall-down drunk chronicled by so much tabloid fodder. But her straight-shooting former cab driver father, Mitch, became a media fixture in his own right by decrying Amy's behavior. Among other outspoken public statements, he reportedly threatened to kill Winehouse's former husband Blake Fielder-Civil for enabling her downward spiral and proclaimed that he was "sickened and wanted to die" in 2007 after seeing photos highlighting her apparent physical decline as a result of drugs. But that was before Amy's addictive behavior turned a corner and Mitch became his daughter's most stalwart public defender against Britain's legendarily rapacious press.

Now, Winehouse Senior has managed to parlay his raised public profile into several of his own pop cultural offerings including Mitch Winehouse's Showbiz Rant, an online series that has the former cab driver sounding off about various celebrities to passengers, and an album of jazzy standards, Rush of Love, that he released last year.

What Cyrus, Winehouse, and Lohan share is a common tactic: using the media to reach out and persuade their daughters that life in the fast lane is a one-way ticket to an early grave. But as evidenced by two other fathers' restraint in the face of similar predicaments, it doesn't have to be this way.

When Disney star Demi Lovato checked into a medical center in November for "emotional and physical issues" including self-mutilation, her father Patrick gave just one exclusive interview to Radaronline. Showing the kind of restraint Lohan, Winehouse, and Cryus have seemed incapable of, Lovato spoke fondly of his daughter, praised her resilience and blamed the pressures of Hollywood for her condition.

Any case study of how fathers can react to the vagaries of their wayward, globally famous daughters would be incomplete without citing Britney Spears' dad, Jamie Spears—a man with whom she claimed to "have never had a good relationship."

But in 2008, after the then-26-year old pop diva's second confinement to a hospital's psych ward, a judge set up a conservatorship that gave Jamie, a Louisiana native and former cook, and several lawyers in his counsel control of nearly every aspect of the Britney's personal life: oversight of her musical catalog and business interests valued at tens of millions of dollars.

Although appearing burdened by such responsibility during court proceedings, Spears' father has kept his personal thoughts on the matter out of the public domain and his daughter on the straight and narrow. That is, away from the people he believed to be bad influences on her, including Britney's paparazzo ex-boyfriend Adnan Ghalib and alleged one-time svengali Osama "Sam" Lufti. But also Jamie Spears limited the scope of Britney's social life by taking away a cherished pastime. "Sometimes she is allowed to use the cellphone and sometimes she is not," Jamie said in 2009 hearing.

And the upshot? Within a year, the assets controlled by the conservators swelled from $2.8 million to $27.5 million—mainly thanks to her father and the lawyers' management of Spears' Circus tour, the performer's first world tour in half a decade, TMZ recently reported.

In the aftermath of the inevitable fallout from Cyrus' GQ interview, he's been attempting to pick up the pieces by looking "inward."

Calling his comments "explosive and unintentionally so" in People magazine, the singer-actor pleaded for the kind of antediluvian peace that presaged his harsh condemnation of Miley.

"It is all a learning process, and we thank everyone for their support and respect for our privacy as we sort through very important family issues," Cyrus said.

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Chris Lee is a senior entertainment writer for Newsweek/The Daily Beast. He previously worked as an entertainment and culture reporter for the Los Angeles Times. His work has also appeared in Vibe, Premiere and Details magazines and has been plagiarized in The Sunday Tribune of Ireland and The Trinidad Guardian.