Former Channel 3 anchor Brandon Lee pulls out all his skeletons in memoir 'Mascara Boy'

Bill Goodykoontz
The Republic |

Typically when a television news anchor leaves Phoenix, it’s to work in a bigger market.

Brandon Lee’s exit, from Channel 3 (KTVK-TV) in November of 2018 after about five years at the station, was different.

He left, in many ways, not to find a bigger or better paying job.

He left to find himself.

It’s been a long journey, one that Lee chronicles in his new book, “Mascara Boy.” He goes into great detail about being sexually abused as a child, and how that led to drug addiction — experiences he has shared with viewers and now, in a more personal way, with readers.

“Some people are like, I can’t believe you went that far,” Lee said on a recent visit to Phoenix. "But to me, it’s like, I need to, because I don’t believe in writing a memoir if you are not going to uncover every scar.”

That he does, from the start.

In person, it’s easy to see why Lee was a hit at Channel 3 and at other stops (New York, Atlanta) along the TV-journalism trail. He’s as handsome and charismatic as a movie star, and never breaks your (or the viewer’s) gaze while talking. He’s intense. And he is enormously committed to telling his story. It’s clearly one that he’s told a lot of times already, and plans to tell more — he hits some of the same notes in different interviews. But it’s compelling, and never sounds rehearsed. 

MORE:  Brandon Lee says why he's leaving Channel 3

“I grew up in Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, in Orange County, California — truly, I call it the eighth world wonder, it’s that beautiful,” Lee said. “I went to private Catholic schools, I was playing international soccer as a teenager overseas for some time, so from the outside world it looked like I had everything. My parents never drank, I never saw my parents use drugs. So the question I got was, how did someone like you end up using drugs?”

Lee, 39, started early. But it took a while for him to get to why.

His own 'Cruel Intentions'

“I started using drugs at the age of 15,” he said. “I was doing cocaine in Laguna Beach. Very similar to, like, ‘Cruel Intentions,’ for those who remember that movie, right? People ask, how did you get involved in that? And it really wasn’t until I came to Arizona and did some intense therapy about five years into my recovery — and I’m going on nearly a decade.

“And I realized it was the trauma I experienced as a young child, being repeatedly sexually abused by my piano teacher every Friday during piano lessons. Every time I would make a mistake, he would assault me. And my youth soccer coach. And that trauma went untreated. So by the age of 15, when I was given the opportunity to try a drug like cocaine to escape, I kept chasing that feeling. I kept chasing that escape.”

"God gave me a gift of being a pretty good public speaker," Brandon Lee says.

By the time Lee arrived in Phoenix he was sober — he got clean on Feb. 22, 2010. But he wasn’t at peace. It took him a while to come to terms with the sexual abuse, and to talk about it openly.

“As a victim of child-sexual assault, I carried that burden of shame and guilt, and I felt dirty as a victim that it happened to me, and I didn’t want to share that with the public,” he said.

Over time, though — and in part through reporting — he did. He had an epiphany of sorts after moving here.

Choosing to go public

“It happened while I was here in Arizona,” he said. “I went to my bosses and I said, ‘Listen, we’ve got an opioid problem right here in the Valley.’ As someone who’s in recovery, I had access to a needle-exchange program that was operating illegally, and they trusted me, being a reporter who is in recovery, that I wouldn’t put them on blast and, you know, hurt their organization and what they were doing.

“And we were at this needle exchange and I met this kindergarten teacher who was getting off her shift and was getting high for needles, and I witnessed these moms who were showing up with Range Rovers and Land Cruisers, who were showing up with children in the back seat of their car, who were showing up to get heroin needles.

Former TV news anchor Brandon Lee has written a new book, 'Mascara Boy.'

"When that documentary aired here in Phoenix, I was looking at the comments. People were calling these people trash, scum, homeless, and that broke me. I broke down crying in my house when that story aired, and I called my sponsor and said, ‘I’ve got to do something. I’m going to put a face to this disease. Because these people at home need to know that that is just a stigma and a stereotype of a drug addict. They need to know that they guy they tune in to for the nightly news used to be that junkie. And do they think of me that way?’”

Lee knows there was some risk in going so public with his struggles.

“There’s that level of fear that, because I’m a news anchor, there is this public perception and this stigma against addicts and recovered addicts even in the industry, even in and of itself,” he said. “So I had this fear that if I do this, I’m going to close a lot of opportunities in the news business. There are going to be some corporations and some CEOs and general managers of news stations who are going to look at this and say, ‘We’re going to pass.’

“But by putting this out there, my next employer — because I am going to jump back into news — my next employer is going to know everything there is about me. And if they embrace me and hire me, that’s the kind of boss I want to work for.”

That could be in Phoenix, a place Lee says he’d be interested in returning. Or it could be elsewhere. Or it could be a different kind of work.

“I’m going go on the motivational-speaking circuit, I’m going to go and speak at mental-health conferences, I’m going to go and share my story to a broader audience rather than just people who are in a 12-step recovery room,” Lee said. “I think it’s my responsibility. ... God gave me a gift of being a pretty good public speaker. So I need to use all the tools that my higher power has given me, along with saving my life multiple times from death, to realize, Brandon, you’ve got a bigger purpose out there. Sacrifice your name. Put a face to this, and help save people’s lives. And I can do that from the news desk, as well.”

Reach Goodykoontz at Facebook: Twitter: @goodyk.

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