By Terrance Turner
March 23, 2021
Note: This article was written before Demi Lovato came out as non-binary on May 19.
Two hours ago, “Dancing with the Devil”, a searing documentary about singer Demi Lovato, premiered on YouTube. The first two parts of the four-part documentary have been released today; the third and fourth installments will follow in coming weeks. In the film, Lovato explains the causes and events leading up to her near-fatal overdose in July 2018.
The doc begins with footage of Lovato’s 2018 “Tell Me You Love Me” tour, titled after her album of the same name. The footage was originally filmed as part of a documentary around the tour — a film that was never finished. Filming halted after her overdose.
“The US tour was absolutely a dream come true, obviously, professionally,” says former choreographer Dani Vitale. “But emotionally, it was miserable.”
Demi admits that she wasn’t being totally forthcoming in the film — “I wasn’t showing them what I was doing behind closed doors.” In a chilling moment, her mother Dianna de la Garza congratulates Demi on a great show, unaware of the turmoil behind the scenes.
“I think this was the best show you have ever done, and you know what? It’s just only going to get better from here,” her mother says, one month before Demi’s overdose. Demi was hospitalized on July 24th; the 2018 documentary was permanently shelved. Then she stepped away from the spotlight and all filming was halted…until now.
“This is the first time where we’re really telling the truth,” says Sirah, Demi’s best friend and former sober companion. And Demi Lovato does just that, with a series of searing revelations that expose the truth behind her near-lethal OD.
“Any time that you suppress a part of yourself it’s going to, like, overflow at some point,” Demi says. “And that’s ultimately, like, what happened to me in a lot of areas of my life, and it was what led to my overdose, for sure.”
“Dancing with the Devil” began filming in spring 2020. Accordingly, we see a “Temperature Checkpoint” sign on the premises, along with masked crew members sanitizing the stations. Even Demi and her parents are shown wearing masks, as the project began filming just as the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning. Demi later remarks that it took until quarantine for her to confront her traumas.
Part of that “trauma work” starts with untangling her relationship with her late father. He was bipolar and struggled with alcoholism, which ruined his marriage and his relationship with Demi. “We had an estranged relationship, so we weren’t close. And growing up my whole life I longed for that relationship with him, and then I resented him because he was an addict and an alcoholic and was abusive to my mom,” Demi says. “I cut him out because I felt like, you know, it was causing more harm than good to have him in my life.”
“His death was very complicated, because we don’t actually know the exact day that he died,” Demi says in the film. “All we know is that by the time he was found, his body was too decomposed to have an open casket. He’d been laying there, I think, for about a week and a half. And during that was Father’s Day. So every summer now that rolls around, I spend it kind of thinking, ‘Was today the day that my dad died? Or is it tomorrow?’ And also knowing that by the time Father’s Day rolls around, he was just laying there rotting. And that was the fear that I always had for him is that he would end up alone. And he did. He died alone.”
Sadly, Demi Lovato found herself repeating the same behaviors as her father. “Mental health is something that we all need to talk about, and we need to take the stigma away from it,” an emotional Lovato says in 2018 concert footage. “Six years ago, I was drinking vodka out of a Sprite bottle at 9:00 in the morning, throwing up in the car. And I just remember thinking, “This is no longer cute; this is no longer fun, and I’m just like my dad.”
“I definitely think that she had some things that were underlying that she was trying to self medicate, just like I was trying to do when I was kicking Xanax. I was trying to self medicate,” says her mother, Dianna de la Garza. “You know, she was around for some of the abuse from my first husband, and sometimes I feel like that stayed with her for many years[…] I didn’t know that she probably needed to work with a professional to work through some of that.”
“I also felt a lot of guilt over the years,” Demi says, “because I’ve been such an advocate for mental health. Yet here was my father who had bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and then on top of that the disease of addiction, and I didn’t help him the way I would have helped other people — or the way that I’ve been preaching about. And that really ate up at me. But ultimately, I know that he was kind of too far gone at that point; he needed to realize that he needed help himself.”
“Sobriety has to be your choice, and no one else’s,” her mother says. “If it is someone else’s choice for you, then it won’t last. I tried to get him to get help and I wasn’t able to make that happen; he just — he wasn’t ready.”
Demi Lovato inherited many of her parents’ issues — drug and alcohol addiction from her father, an eating disorder from her mother. As Demi explains: “My mom has dealt with substances and an eating disorder, so I didn’t know any different. Then I was put in beauty pageants, where it’s extremely competitive and it’s all about your looks and your talent. My self-esteem was just completely damaged from those beauty pageants. I remember actually making a pact with myself saying, ‘If I don’t win this pageant, I will never eat again.’ Then you put me in front of a camera and on stage, and it’s just like, of course I’m going to be super-competitive and try to be the best at everything that I do.”
In an effort to keep her demons at bay, Lovato surrounded herself with professionals who could help her stay sober and maintain a healthy relationship with food. But that created an environment in which she felt stifled and controlled. “My team has consisted of assistants, a wellness coach, a dietitian, nutritionist, therapist… I’ve got all these people in and out of my life. I feel like decisions have been made for me more so than I’ve made decisions for myself,” Demi says in the unreleased 2018 documentary footage.
“It wasn’t until the last few years that I really fully realized the impact that even disorders have had on her. We had to be very careful what we ate around her, which sounds insane. But maybe some control that she had with her last team was put in place to help her so she wouldn’t relapse in her eating disorder. But it totally backfired,” says her friend Matthew Scott Montgomery. “The control and restriction was way too toxic for her. She was miserable.”
“There were times I had to spend the night because she, like, had a cookie,” says former assistant Jordan Jackson. Former choreographer Dani Vitale adds, “I felt like I was always walking on eggshells no matter what: what I was eating around who, what we had in our dressing room, what kind of food…”
“It was very intense. Everybody around her had to be drug-tested,” says Sirah. Jackson adds, “There were times where I just felt like, ‘She’s miserable’.”
In a telling moment from the 2018 doc, Demi complains about not feeling comfortable with her body after having gained a small amount of weight. She says that the costumes for the tour are an issue, as are the costume sketches: “I don’t wanna go onstage every night in things that are showy[…]Everything looks good on a sketch because it’s a 10-foot, 90-pound model with a five-inch waist.”
“There’s just so much pressure as a female in the industry to look a certain way and to like, dress a certain way,” Demi says, her voice breaking, in the clip. “That s–t’s really triggering.”
In addition to the pressure from the industry, Demi felt enormous pressure to be sober — and be the poster child for recovery. Dallas Lovato recalls: “It was hammered into her head, ‘You have to be sober. You have to be this icon, this role model,’ that my sister never claimed to want to be in the first place.”
Demi echoes that sentiment: “Because I’ve been so open and honest about the things that I dealt with, I felt like I had to be this perfect role model,” she says. Her sober companion adds, “I think to be the poster child for perfection and mental health and all these kind of things, it’s just such a dangerous slippery slope.” Matthew Scott Montgomery, her best friend, says that Demi’s next moves were about agency for herself, but he also describes them as “a major act of rebellion.”
The issues with food and control slowly gave way to a relapse: first with the eating disorder, then drinking, then drugs. The result was a spiral that nearly turned deadly.
“I started relapsing in my eating disorder,” Demi confesses. “I was already relapsing in it with over-exercising and extreme dieting, and I also had people around me that were really policing my food intake and the things that I was eating. I was miserable, and I, like, snapped.”
Demi Lovato began to unravel. Footage from a March 16th 2018 concert shows DJ Khaled emphatically celebrating Demi for marking six years of sobriety. “God bless you,” he says. “Don’t ever give up.” The audience cheers as Demi breaks into tears.
Demi relapsed a month after the show.
“I had a photoshoot, and I just remember being at the photoshoot thinking to myself: ‘Like, I don’t even know why I’m sober anymore. Like, I am so miserable; I’m not happy; I have all this stuff that I’m dealing with…’ I picked up a bottle of red wine that night, and it wasn’t even 30 minutes before I called someone that I knew had drugs on them. I’m surprised I didn’t OD that night.”
“I ended up at a party. I just so happened to run into my old drug dealer from six years before and, like the odds of that happening was crazy. And he had like, a duffel bag, and I just went to town. I went on a shopping spree. That night I did drugs that I’d never done before. I’d never done meth before; I tried meth; I mixed it with molly, with coke, weed, alcohol, Oxycontin — and that alone should have killed me.”
“It was only like two weeks before I was introduced to heroin and crack cocaine. I started using recreationally, and obviously you can’t do that with heroin before you become addicted to it,” Demi says. “It wasn’t until I went on a trip to Bali a few weeks later that I realized I had become physically dependent on it, and it was on that trip that I actually wrote ‘Sober.'”
In the poignant single, Demi sings, “Mama, I’m so sorry, I’m not sober anymore/And daddy, please forgive me for the drinks spilled on the floor […] I’m sorry that I’m here again, I promise I’ll get help/It wasn’t my intention, I’m sorry to myself.”
People within her orbit sensed what was going on. In a remarkable bit of foreshadowing, a blonde woman hugs Demi during the tour and counsels her. “Hey, be careful on tour,” she tells Demi in the 2018 clip. “I don’t know why, but I just like, felt like I needed to tell you that ever since I was at your house.”
Okay,” Demi smiles.
“Be careful,” the woman reminds her.
“I’m always careful,” Demi responds. Indeed, she was careful — not to let anyone know what was really going on with her. But her sober companion soon found out the truth.
Sirah remembers a night at Demi’s house where Demi disappeared. Sirah went upstairs to the bathroom. “And she’s got tinfoil and she’s smoking… something. And so I walk over to her and I grab it and I’m like, ‘WTF are you up to, bro? Like, this is not it.” And she didn’t even notice I was there. And I was horrified and devastated. So I stayed there and just made sure she didn’t like, you know, kill yourself. The next day I just told her, “You need to go get help. I can’t do this anymore.”
But help was a long way away. Demi informed her inner circle of her plans to resume drinking. Her cool, controlled demeanor belied the danger of that plan. “So when she had texted in 2018 and was talking about deciding to drink again,” says Matthew, “I remember driving to her house running by her side, and I expected her to be face down, ass up, passed out on the floor…. And she was kind of sitting in bed, very aware of the decision that she’d made, and then she was drinking and fine… until it wasn’t fine.”
By the time Demi went on tour, she was already not fine. “I went away, went on tour to Europe. I stayed clean, kind of — like, wasn’t doing drugs, but was drinking a lot.” In Amsterdam on June 19, 2018, she’s seen downing a glass of wine and demanding a shot. “I want to get f—-d up!” she yells. A shot is poured in her mouth. “More!” she insists, right in the face of the pourer.
Demi remembers that the drinking eventually escalated to harder drugs. “When I came back to LA, after the tour, I picked up back where I left off, and I was very heavily using.” At the California Mid-State Fair on July 22, 2018, she begins performing ‘Sober’ and then pauses. “I forgot the words,” she admits, then turns and walks off stage.
The next day, Demi Lovato began a binge that would alter the course of her life. Demi remembers: “I went out to a friend’s party and none of my friends knew what I was using so I kept it very hidden from everyone. That is one thing that I was very good at, was hiding the fact that I was addicted to crack and heroin.”
“Demi is very good at hiding what she needs to hide,” her sister Madison says. “Demi’s good at making you believe that she’s okay,” adds her stepdad Eddie. But Demi’s spiral into dangerous drug use wouldn’t stay hidden for long.
“I had told some friends, ‘Hey, I’ve been sober since I was 18; I want to try this drinking/smoking thing. I just want to see if I can handle it. And I’ve been stir crazy… and I want to see if I can do it. So to them, I wasn’t doing these hard drugs; I was just ‘normal’ again,” she said, using finger quotes.
“I met up with some friends; we went to several different bars. We came back to my house, and around 5:30 in the morning, I said I was going to bed. But the reality was that I had called one of my dealers over.”
At 11:22 a.m., on July 24, 2018, a call was made to 911. We can hear the 911 dispatch call in the documentary and that’s how Part One ends.