The Comeback of Harvey Martin

Eighteen months ago, the former Cowboys hero was drinking and drugging his way to disaster. Now he's clean, sober, and planning to stay that way.

It's the smile of a very lucky man--and a sober one--who has a job for the first time in years, who picks up his 13-year-old daughter Chase at school, who's there when his 26-year-old son Devincent needs some fatherly advice. It's the smile of a man who was this close to going to jail and knows all too well about last chances.

Martin says he has been straight for 17 months, by far the longest stretch in more than 15 years. A few years ago, he was clean for a week--then had a drink to celebrate his sobriety. But that was the old Harvey Martin, he now insists, referring to himself in the third person, especially when talking about what happened before rehab saved his life. He keeps saying that Harvey is gone, dead and buried "beneath the wreckage of my past."

"I don't see him anymore. He was a nice guy; he just didn't like himself. It's a different deal now. I think Harvey's pretty cool," he says, walking along the South Oak Cliff sidelines.

From his right wrist dangle two bracelets: One is made of gold, with HARVEY spelled out in diamonds. The other is made of blue rope. Martin made it in rehab. He wears it as a reminder of his time in the treatment center, and to remind him that he can actually complete something if he sets his mind to it. For years, the only thing he could finish was a bottle.

Just outside the doors leading into the office of his attorney, Randall Isenberg, hangs a handful of newspaper clips documenting Martin's tumultuous 1996. They are framed, preserved for posterity. Isenberg's name is mentioned prominently in each, and he no doubt hangs them there to advertise his association with his famous client, although their headlines scream of drug busts, psychiatric tests, assaults, and jail time.

These articles are embarrassing black-and-white reminders of what Martin had become, and each time he walks into Isenberg's office, they taunt him a bit. He says that they do not bother him anymore, that he is no longer the same man those articles are about, yet he declines to talk about the specific incidents themselves.

"You gotta understand, the life I live today, I'm not afraid of the wreckage of my past," he says of the framed newspaper clippings. "I've had my wreckage, and I've dealt with my wreckage. It's gone. If I held on to that, it would drag me down. I wouldn't be able to go forward. I'm just human...I look at those things, and it doesn't bother me. First time I saw it, I went, 'Wow, wow,' then I said, 'Well, what the hell?' It's gone, man. I mean, I don't go there no more."

It is two days before Christmas, and a week before Martin walks the South Oak Cliff sidelines with a photographer in tow, and he sits in Isenberg's office to talk about how he's a changed man. Wearing faded jeans and running shoes and a denim-and-leather jacket, with a baseball cap covering his bald pate, Martin spills out of a leather chair. He's an enormous man, still looking every bit of the 6-foot-5, 255 pounds he was during his playing days. Behind his prescription glasses, his eyes are alive and alert.

For almost three hours, he preaches the gospel of rehab. He talks of the chances God has given him--the talent God bestowed upon him, and how Harvey screwed it all up. He apologizes for what he had become, takes responsibility for what he has done, and swears he will never again touch the booze or the drugs that nearly ruined his life and the lives of those around him.

"I feel great today," he says in that deep, fluid voice once so familiar to anyone who ever heard him on radio or television. "I don't need to have a beer to feel like this. I don't need to smoke a joint to feel like this. I don't need any cocaine to feel like this. And tonight, when I go to bed, I'll feel just like this."

He sits in the very chair where Isenberg told him in August 1996 that he was out of chances--where his lawyer reminded him of the high price of growing up and screwing up in public, and where he offered Martin a shot at redemption. Isenberg recalls telling Martin: "This town will forgive you if you straighten yourself out, if you can pick it all up." Martin refers to his attorney's words as an intervention, the first moments when he realized his life was in ruins.

If Martin wanted Dallas to forgive his indiscretions, he had much to atone for--especially in 1996.

On March 29 of that year, Dallas police hauled Martin to jail for beating all hell out of Debbie Clark, his 37-year-old girlfriend and, at the time, also an addict. The two had been at Martin's home on Buena Vista Street when they began arguing; Clark and Martin had been dating for almost two years, and she had recently moved in. Martin was high on cocaine and drunk, and he began bruising her ribs and forehead and wrists and pulling clumps of hair from her head. He threw her to the floor, striking her again and again. She told police she was convinced he wanted to kill her.

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