The fight, the girlfriend, the coke bust: what happened to Canada's most lovable pop star?
NICHOLAS KöHLER AND CATHY GULLI | July 23, 2008 |
Last February, in the days following a Caribbean cruise hosted by the Barenaked Ladies — a kind of floating music festival with ports of call in the Cayman Islands and Jamaica — Internet message boards dedicated to the annual event came alive with questions about Steven Page, who along with singer and guitarist Ed Robertson fronts the pop band. "I had no idea before the cruise that Steve was no longer married," wrote one 37-year-old fan. "Last year I saw his wife. This year, I was not on the boat five minutes when I saw him walking holding hands with someone completely different, and it threw me."
Up until about a year ago, when the couple quietly separated, Page had been married to Carolyn Ricketts, with whom he has three sons. Their split allowed Page to pursue a relationship with 27-year-old Christine Benedicto, a Syracuse, N.Y., mother of two who he met through the social networking site MySpace. "I feel for his children," posted another fan from the cruise, adding of Page's new companion: "That explains the weight loss, the beard, etc." Wrote another: "This is one thing that I loved about the band, that they were still with their high school sweethearts. Oh well, if he's happy!!"
Very likely, Page is happy no longer. Earlier this month, police in the Syracuse suburb of Fayetteville arrested the singer, Benedicto, and her 25-year-old roommate, Stephanie Ford, slapping various drugs charges on all three. Police say they peered through a window to see Page sitting at a kitchen table with a capsule of what allegedly proved to be cocaine in front of him. Specifically, Page faces a charge of criminal possession of a controlled substance in the fourth degree, for cocaine, a potential felony. "Yeah," court documents quote Page as saying, "it's cocaine."
His mug shot, complete with protruding lower lip and 3-o'clock-in-the-morning shadow, is the very picture of forlornness. But a police statement taken from Ford otherwise suggests dissipation: Page is accused of having kept the cocaine in a plastic bottle labelled calcium, and to have snorted the drug using a rolled up Canadian bill. Indeed, Ford's accounting to police of the hours leading up to the arrests is a sordid tale of barroom flirtation, outdoor squabbling and of Ford herself sitting on Page to prevent him from drinking and driving. "Yes," police say he told them. "I play the guitar and sing."
But while these developments shocked fans and even those closest to the band, a look at Page's history of depression and strained relationships suggests he's no stranger to personal struggle — that he has always been aloof, uncomfortable with his own success and prone to melancholy. His most recent difficulties appear to have begun when he and Ricketts went their separate ways. Though the reasons for the split remain a matter of conjecture, evidence of Page's new relationship with Christine, a new-fangled Internet romance, started appearing long ago, for all to see, on the young woman's Flickr photo-sharing site. The words, "His voice was so beautiful, it was like cocaine or caffeine, it was my addiction," are scrawled across one photograph posted to Flickr and reproduced by a blogger last week before Christine retired the page in the wake of her arrest.
In a wide-ranging interview, Christine's husband, Gregory Benedicto, spoke candidly to Maclean's regarding Christine's relationship with Page and its origins. "She's not some girl that he picked up," says Gregory. "I think that there's a genuine connection there." Indeed, Christine's husband was as surprised as anyone by the drug charges. Christine and Page, he says, did "all the normal stuff that couples do — from what I saw there was nothing dark about it."
The revelations surrounding the arrests have already had serious consequences for the Barenaked Ladies. In the midst of promoting Snack Time, a recording of children's songs, the band had been scheduled to perform as part of a charity show organized by Disney, not known for its tolerance for rock 'n' roll indulgence. Last week, the Barenaked Ladies withdrew its participation rather than endure unilateral ouster.
Page and his bandmates have resisted speaking to media, issuing only simple press releases vowing to fight the charges. Faced with a media horde, Page hired the controversial, high-priced Los Angeles public relations firm Sitrick And Company, whose hard-nosed founder, Michael Sitrick, reportedly handled Paris Hilton's post-jail rebranding as a Bible reader. Sitrick's high profile prompted Variety to describe it as "Hollywood's most prominent crisis specialists." Tammy Taylor, the Sitrick operative working Page's case, had the unnerving habit of often knowing within minutes exactly who Maclean's had spoken to in reporting this story.