Actress Dedee Pfeiffer opens up about recovery journey ahead of Betty Ford Center 40th anniversary

Actress Dedee Pfeiffer will be the keynote speaker at the Betty Ford Center's 40th anniversary.
Actress Dedee Pfeiffer will be the keynote speaker at the Betty Ford Center's 40th anniversary.
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One of the last places actress Dedee Pfeiffer ever wanted to find herself in was the Betty Ford Center.

In fact, it was "one of the many places I was scared of," she said, when she was battling alcoholism. "You don't want to hear anything about Betty Ford or anything to deal with sobriety."

But after four-plus years of being sober, Pfeiffer has a whole new mindset about the space as she will share her recovery journey as the keynote speaker at the Betty Ford Center's 40th anniversary celebration, taking place Friday through Sunday at the Rancho Mirage campus.

"I'm so honored and so proud," the actress said of the opportunity. "In my world, I won the Oscar."

Throughout 2022, the Betty Ford Center has celebrated its four decades of helping thousands of people in recovery in the Coachella Valley and beyond. Events this weekend will include a serenity hike, Native American celebration and blessing of the land, alumni gatherings and various presentations. More information on events, as well as registration, can be found at

The Rancho Mirage site is also undergoing a $30 million, multi-year campus transformation that is expected to be complete in 2025. The center will increase from 184 to 240 beds, including many more at the day treatment level of care.

Read more: Betty Ford Center celebrates new entrance, first part of $30 million campus expansion

Putting the monkey in the trunk

Pfeiffer, 58, has been in a number of films and television shows throughout her career, including "Murder, She Wrote," "Seinfeld," "Ellen" and "Friends."

At the same time, though, she was battling alcoholism, which she said started as early as her teenage years. She decided to step away from acting about 10 years ago and attend the University of California Los Angeles to study social work, which all eventually led to her "rebirth."

"People always want to know what your bottom looks like. Were you in the gutter sitting there with a wine bottle hanging out of your mouth?" Pfeiffer said. "My answer to that is which one? In my 50s, I hit a lot of bottoms."

Pfeiffer knew she had an addiction and that she was "slowly dying," but didn't know how to ask for help. She even wrote down the 1-800 numbers that she saw on television for alcoholics anonymous, but couldn't actually follow through on a call.

When her family wanted to hold an intervention, she told them they didn't have to. She was ready, as long as her family could take care of her children and pets. Days later, she started her recovery journey, which included intensive in-patient and out-patient programs in Los Angeles treatment centers.

"I took a year off my UCLA graduate program because I went to Alcoholics Anonymous every day, some days two times a day," Pfeiffer said. "I was trying to peel back the onion, work on the trauma, figure out what my sober life will look like and reincorporate myself back into the world again. This is why I always call it a rebirth."

The journey was not an easy one. But as she continued on the path, she gained a new perspective on life and what mattered most, and discovered new things about herself. Most importantly, she wanted to show her children what recovery looks like and help others.

Initially, she thought sobriety would mean having a boring life. But she soon found dopamine through different avenues — though she does have some boring nights, she admits — and she advises those currently on the path to recovery to give themselves time to discover what will give them that as well.

"You're not going to be in that weird limbo state forever. You're going to find sexy again, you're going to find crazy again, you're going to find more on the sober side," the actress said. "I wasn't even tapping into near my full potential of what I can do because of that big-ass monkey on my back, which is my alcoholic driving my car, until I said, 'You're going to the trunk, I'm driving this car."

Since working on her sobriety, the possibilities have been endless, she said. She graduated from UCLA with her degree in social work and worked with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health and people experiencing homelessness. Pfeiffer is also currently starring in the crime drama series "Big Sky" on ABC created by her brother-in-law David E. Kelley.

Pfeiffer said it took her a long time to say the words, "Hi, I'm Dedee, I'm an alcoholic," because of the stigma surrounding it in society. Today, she tries to put a spotlight on addiction and recovery so that others know they are not alone and that it's OK to talk about. Many individuals on set tell her about their sobriety, albeit quietly.

"I get a lot of people coming up to me whispering about their sobriety still, and that's even more why I know what I'm doing is the right thing," she said. 

Recently, she had an opportunity to share her experience in a new way with her sister, Michelle, who played former first lady Betty Ford on the Showtime series "The First Lady."

Pfeiffer said she couldn't think of a "more classy, incredible actor and compassionate person to play one of us." She told her sister she'd be happy to help her with her preparation and answer any questions, although she didn't think Michelle would follow through.

When she did, Pfeiffer said it was the first time her sister asked her for advice on a role, and she was "never more flattered and honored," but also a little nervous in case she steered her wrong. In the end, the two had a "beautiful conversation" about Pfeiffer's vulnerabilities, shame and internal struggles during her journey. Michelle also shared that she advocated for Ford's storyline to focus on more than just her addiction, which Pfeiffer appreciated.

"I haven't watched it yet because it's a little close to home, but I will," Pfeiffer said.

Actress Dedee Pfeiffer will be the keynote speaker at the Betty Ford Center's 40th anniversary.
Actress Dedee Pfeiffer will be the keynote speaker at the Betty Ford Center's 40th anniversary.

Helping others

The 58-year-old actress said she was shocked when she was asked to speak at the Betty Ford Center's anniversary, but it will give her an opportunity to "recover out loud" and do what she loves most: helping others.

What she hopes to share with people, like she has in other interviews, is that they are not alone in the journey.

"There's going to be days where it's not easy, but it's OK," she said.

There's also plenty to look forward to when someone is able to find the help they need.

"When you learn to stay in your lane, remain humble, gracious and grateful ... constantly keep peeling that onion even though it's painful, you get closer to the authentic self, and all of a sudden your purpose is so clear why you're here."

Ema Sasic covers entertainment and health in the Coachella Valley. Reach her at or on Twitter @ema_sasic.

This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Actress Dedee Pfeiffer opens about recovery journey ahead of Betty Ford Center 40th anniversary