Clean, but still amped

Times Staff Writer

When personal trainers and fitness instructors give advice -- get two more hours of sleep a night, cut out caffeine, exercise with a hula hoop -- people take it to heart. After all, they’re the buff, in-shape gurus to the lesser mortals, and they must be living it 24/7.

Unless the dispensers of such wisdom are actually strung out on drugs and alcohol, having blackouts, and going for two, three days without sleep or food, rendering the advice as worthless as a huckster’s pitch.

Absurd as such a scenario may seem, for Barry Jay, it was reality.

Jay, 43, is co-founder of Barry’s Bootcamp, renowned since its inception in 1998 for grueling workouts consisting of uninterrupted cardio and strength training. It’s where Hollywood execs, used to screaming at their minions, get screamed at, where celebrities flock when they need to drop poundage ASAP, and where throwing up has always been rewarded with a T-shirt. And although the West Hollywood and Sherman Oaks studios have numerous instructors, for the craziest fitness die-hards, Bootcamp has always been about Barry.


But even as he was cementing his reputation as an L.A. fitness icon for his strenuous, nonstop workouts, Jay was indulging in drug-fueled binges, starting on weekends and bleeding into the week, consuming various combinations of Ecstasy, cocaine, crack cocaine, crystal meth, Quaaludes, GHB, acid, alcohol and pot, resulting in convulsions, chest pains, blackouts and depression. At the time, he was also teaching three daytime exercise classes, starting in the wee hours of the morning, putting his loyal followers through their paces.

Most people didn’t suspect his decade-plus-long problem, he says, because he missed only one class. One.

“I got myself through it with a kind of amazing autopilot,” Jay says. As soon as classes ended, he’d crash.

Jay is 18 months sober now, with the Alcoholics Anonymous medallion dangling from his keychain to prove it. He’s so enthusiastic and secure in his sobriety that he unselfconsciously sends sentences like, “I had done an entire mixture of Quaaludes and acid and pot and coke and alcohol,” reverberating around the walls of the West Hollywood cafe where he’s eating breakfast.

It’s just past 9 a.m. and he’s been teaching since before 5 a.m. As he grabs a piece of bacon, he reflects on the differences between teaching now versus only two years ago. Classes are different now, better, he says, as are relationships with his students.

Jay is grateful for the students who stuck with him, knowing that the abuse he sometimes doled out was more than they deserved. He also feels like a stronger teacher now, one who can offer his clients a little perspective.


“I try to help them realize that if the hardest thing in your day is doing legs, that’s a gift,” he says, chowing down on a piece of bacon. “I hope that’s the hardest thing in their day, and sometimes it’s not, but sometimes it helps get them through the hardest thing in their day.”

He’s already flown through three back-to-back classes with a trademark blend of high-voltage energy, jokes and bellowed commands. Leading some 25 people through speed walks on the treadmill, plus lunges, squats and squat-thrusts done with weights, he did his thing, running through the packed room, cajoling some students, yelling at others, singing (badly) along with the up-tempo pop music that booms from the speakers.

“Presspresspresspresspress!” he shouted, seconds before plopping down on the floor and placing his hands on one woman’s quads, urging her to go lower into her squats. “That’s it!” he screams, jumping up again to check in with a young man who was sitting on his step bench, obviously exhausted. So much sweat accumulates in an hour that the floor has to be wiped down twice during class.

Foray into addiction

Jay says he never touched drugs or booze until he moved here from New York in 1983 to become a songwriter. But as he describes it, he was an addict waiting to happen, with a more-is-more personality that made him do everything to the extreme. His initial foray into substance abuse lasted five years and coincided with the peak of the drug-drenched ‘80s club culture. Waking up from the aforementioned Quaalude cocktail “and not recognizing myself” led him to his first round of sobriety in 1988 and to immediately join a gym.

Fitness was going to be his way of getting healthy, and he threw himself into that like he had into drugs. Suddenly the skinny, nerdy kid who was picked on was buff and drinking weight-gain shakes. “I discovered I loved working out,” he says.

He eventually started teaching classes at the Martin Henry Fitness Studio in West Hollywood. Rachel Mumford was one of his students, and the two became friends. When Henry closed his studio, Mumford knew that with Jay’s unique style, Bootcamp would be a hit. She persuaded him to join her and her husband John in starting a gym, which happened to be in Henry’s old spot.


But by the time it opened, Jay was battling his old demons, his sobriety lasting only two years. He thought he could handle pot, and often taught classes stoned. “To me it was not a big deal,” he says. “I could function, so it wasn’t a problem.”

As he added Ecstasy and cocaine to the menu, Mumford grew worried. She began to see a hard, angry edge to his teaching, which often took the drill sergeant persona too far. “He would sometimes curse at people,” she says, “and there was a lot of turnover, a lot of people wanting their money back.” A few would leave class in tears.

Still, the fitness and celebrity magazines couldn’t get enough, loving the Bootcamp gestalt and noting the attendance of celebs such as Sandra Bullock, Christopher Noth and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Jay would wolf down coffee and junk food on the way to the studio to take the edge off the downside of a cocaine high. His own workouts had stopped, the Ecstasy taking away any desire to push his body, and he was losing weight.

But an absence of body fat isn’t exactly a red flag in this town. Although some students were becoming aware, others rationalized his alternately erratic and belligerent behavior. Ruth Zalduondo came to the studio when it first opened, and still commutes daily to the West Hollywood studio from her home in Toluca Lake. The 52-year-old actress says she chalked up Jay’s mood swings to a broken heart.

“I don’t think anyone really knew about his personal life,” says Zalduondo, who adds she has 20 years of sobriety.


Julie Magbojos knew something about it. The 39-year-old L.A. software company owner had developed a friendship with Jay, making her privy to his forays into drugs. Why she and others decided to stick it out speaks to the devotion many Angelenos have to their fitness instructors, despite the worst behavior: “Even when he was being a little abusive, I felt so good and I loved the workout,” she says.

Shortly before giving up drugs, Jay blacked out while driving down Highland Avenue. He only recalls feeling sleepy, then waking up in an ambulance, miraculously not crashing his car in the process. He convinced paramedics he was OK and went home, where he did more drugs. But the gravity of that event weighed on him, and Jay realized that alienating friends and being broke and lonely wasn’t the life he wanted.

Back in shape

Since becoming sober, Jay has resumed working out, mostly at night at a small L.A. gym with fellow AA members.

Teaching no longer includes yelling to induce tears, and Jay says he has greater compassion. “I understand now that everybody has something, and whether it’s drinking or drugs is not even the issue,” he says. He still teases his students, calling out one young woman for her turquoise leopard-print tank top, and noting in a booming voice that Zalduondo is “the oldest chick in class.”

Jay says he wants to continue teaching, taking a one-day-at-a-time approach for now. Bootcamp is his salvation. “Today,” he says, “I truly realize how blessed I am to have Bootcamp and the people who go there, and my partners....This is a very competitive world, and you walk through the doors of Bootcamp and everyone wants you to succeed. Everybody just wants everyone to do well. I never take that for granted.”