Her seeming imperfections didn’t stop her ambition. After Aliens, she was as determined as ever, churning out half-formed star vehicles for herself in notebooks and on typewriters. In “Half Hour Pilot,” she plays herself, wearing “fabulous, sexy outfits” in a show that deals with sex “in a balls-out, absurd, comical, funky way.” In “Carson and Griffin,” an X-Files meets Austin Powers sci-fi sitcom, she casts herself as a “beautiful martial-arts expert with a genius IQ and a problem with authority.” “City Girls,” which Margaret called Ab Fab meets Romy and Michele, had her cast as Maggie, an aspiring fashion designer who everyone thinks is half-crazy.
None of these dream projects materialized, and Margaret was not exactly the office-temp type, so when money was tight, she read tarot cards in strip clubs such as Stringfellows and Scores. The skin industry seemed to have a strange draw for her: Margaret adored the tiny outfits and the attention from men. Even though she was in her mid-thirties—almost old enough to have given birth to some of the strippers, “it gave her constant reinforcement that she was still young and gorgeous,” says Susie. “Some of the strippers were teenagers, but Margaret could still get as much attention as they could, and she loved it,” says Holmberg. Margaret’s mother thinks that these jobs played a role in her demise, particularly when it came to her eating disorder, which she maintained while pursuing her surgical makeover. Few industries are as notoriously brutal on women as the sex industry, where a paycheck depends solely on how well one titillates customers. “She made so much money in those places. There was such an emphasis on being young and beautiful. Of course, she thought that that was the most important thing, and it may have made her eating disorder worse.”
While she was great at getting male attention, however, she was not great at keeping it. “All of her relationships followed the same pattern,” says Holmberg. “She’d meet a guy, become completely obsessed with him, he’d dump her in two weeks, and she’d twist herself into knots wondering what went wrong.”
Dave Juskow, a comic turned writer, has firsthand knowledge. He and Margaret were together in the mid-nineties. “I saw her at a taping of Caroline’s Comedy Hour. She was wearing this red dress and had this big sexy J.Lo ass. She was the most gorgeous girl I’d ever seen.”
So enamored was Juskow that he brought her to his family’s Passover Seder. “I should have known better. She had trouble in situations that required decorum. She wore this crazy long dress and formal gloves and stuck her breasts in my father’s face. She was such a diva,” he remembers, laughing. “Her behavior in the bedroom was even wackier. She’d dress up in a Catholic-schoolgirl costume and ask me to pretend I was her uncle. Then she’d say, ‘Uncle David, I can’t sleep. Will you put me to bed?’ Then when I said yes, she’d call me a pervert and give me the finger.”
Ultimately, the two split, says Juskow, “because you couldn’t have a conversation with her. It was all about her, how she could succeed in the industry, how she looked. After we broke up, I’d see her prowling around my street, and I just know she made dozens of phony phone calls to me.”
But the big unrequited love of her life was actor Justin Theroux, who co-starred with Trigg in an indie film called Dream House. “Margaret believed that Justin was her male counterpart,” says Holmberg. “She thought he had the same in-your-face sensibility. One night, she and I went to the bar where he worked, and all she could do was ask if she looked good and whether or not he was looking at her, if he was into her. But she never got him to have sex with her.”
“She started fabricating projects so people would think she was working. She’d say she was doing a movie with an actor who’d been out of the spotlight. For a while, it was Julian Sands.”
Holmberg pauses. “She scared the hell out of men. As smart as she was, she had a very adolescent sense of what a love relationship should be like. She honestly thought that dressing in tiny outfits was what attracted men and what got you ahead.”
For several years, Margaret’s life followed a pattern: She wrote and produced her shows, she worked at Scores, and slowly, still using laxatives, she continued to starve herself. Her behavior, once delightfully wacky if a bit off-kilter, became strange and shrill. “The fact that she was getting sick was so apparent in her work,” says Prichard. “I’ve watched tapes of her shows. Toward the end, she just rambled manically. It was like watching her brain unravel.” She lost all of her theatrical representation, through bad behavior or bad luck. First she was fired from Gersh, and then went through a series of dubious talent agents, many of whom asked for sex in return for representation. “She even started fabricating projects so people would think she was still working,” says Holmberg. “She’d say she was doing a movie with an actor who’d been out of the spotlight for years. For a while, it was Julian Sands.”
But April of 2002 marked the beginning of her first serious downward spiral. She’d damaged her rectum from the laxative abuse, and her doctor told her she had to stop. She called friends, hysterical. “I can shit into a bag when I’m 72, not when I’m 37,” she howled tearfully, according to Holmberg.
In May of the same year, she returned home to Bastrop to kick a sleeping-pill-and-Xanax habit. Her friends and family were shocked: Margaret had always been scrupulous about staying away from drugs—she didn’t even drink.
“Margaret stepped off the plane and was just bones, just this frail little body in a minidress,” Susie remembers wistfully. Minifred took her to two Texas psychiatrists, both of whom diagnosed her as bipolar; a third, back in New York, would say she had borderline personality disorder.
“At first, she romanticized the diagnosis,” says Susie. “She said that all these famous actresses were bipolar, and it was just a normal thing for an actress to be.” But the family questioned whether that was a correct diagnosis. The doctors prescribed all sorts of pills: Geodon, an antipsychotic; lithium, for bipolar disorder; bupropion, for depression. Then Margaret began pursuing her own diagnoses. She was sure she had adult attention-deficit disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. On top of all of the prescription drugs, she was taking herbal diet remedies and abusing laxatives. “She made sure she did plenty of research so that none of the drugs were ones that caused weight gain,” Minifred says. “But she seemed to think there was some kind of magic pill she could take and everything would be all right.”
After about a month, she returned to New York, but a few weeks later, in the summer, she wound up in the psychiatric ward of Bellevue Hospital. Minifred says, “She was walking home from Scores with a friend, and she started scratching herself and yelling that the drugs she was taking were making her feel awful. The friend realized that she needed help and asked Margaret if she wanted to go to Bellevue, and she said yes.”
Thus began a campaign of phone calls begging friends to convince her doctors—and her mother—that there was nothing wrong with her. “Please call the doctors and tell them I’m fine,” she pleaded. “I don’t have any psychological problems. I just need to stay thin.” According to Minifred, it was during her stay in Bellevue that Margaret found her miracle pill, Adderall, a highly addictive amphetamine traditionally prescribed for attention-deficit disorder. Her appetite plummeted, and it kept her awake during those long nights at the strip clubs. However, though Margaret received many diagnoses, she rarely stuck with one doctor’s treatment plan, and aside from her continuing eating disorder, her true diagnosis remained unclear.