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Hell Hath No Fury Like a Showbiz Father Scorned

In New York, a motorist’s physical altercation with a sanitation worker does not normally rise to the level of news. Nor does a story about a man passing out in a strip club and getting ejected by the bouncers. Someone didn’t pay a hotel bill? You don’t say. Even an in-law-versus-in-law brawl at a First Communion party, however unseemly, is ordinarily discussed in hushed tones rather than headlines. But Michael Lohan finds himself so illuminated by his glowing daughter that he can’t shove a garbage man, pass out at Scores, forget about a hotel bill, or attack his brother-in-law in front of the entire family without winding up in the news.

Then again, Lohan was getting into trouble long before his daughter became a teen queen. Three prison stints rendered him a sporadic presence in his family’s home in Laurel Hollow, on the North Shore of Long Island. In 1990, when Lindsay was 5 years old, he went away for four years in a stock-fraud case: “My real charge,” he says, “was criminal contempt for not talking,” which in his view is an honorable reason for serving time. Then he violated his probation by leaving the state to visit 10-year-old Lindsay on the set of The Parent Trap. In 2000, he was again “violated,” as he puts it, for his role in a domestic dispute he says was blown out of proportion, but which impressed authorities enough to jail him for more than a year.

His recurring absence left his wife, Dina, in control as sole stage-parent of the family. All four Lohan children are actors, but it’s Lindsay whom Dina has turned into a superstar. With three box-office hits under her belt (Parent Trap, Freaky Friday, and Mean Girls), another half a dozen movies set to come out in the next two years, and a debut album that has her making regular appearances on MTV, Lindsay has an oxygen-like presence, and a stratospheric income to match.

“All my life, I supported them. Then, when Lindsay finally hit, I could see it coming.”

The golden-goose dynamics of families who pawn their children off as entertainers remain inscrutable to those of us who grew up awaiting allowances rather than sliding mom a percentage. And the volatile mixture of love, greed, parental pride, and vicarious fame rarely stays stable for long. Just as Lindsay’s career was going into overdrive, the chemical reaction between her success and her father’s need for attention combusted.

“All my life,” Lohan says, “I supported them, I took care of them. All of my life. And then, when Lindsay finally hit, I could see it coming: how Dina was starting to mold, get all her friends around her, have her family around her, and start siding with them.” Lohan reacted by misbehaving in such a loud and public manner that his name frequently made the papers, a situation he professes to abhor even though he clips and saves his press. His downward spiral brought him to the point of allegedly threatening his family, prompting Dina to obtain an order of protection against him last October, and file for divorce in January.

Lohan doesn’t get it. “It’s just a shame, honestly, that my wife is putting my kids through this by not letting them be with their father,” he says. “That’s the part I regret.”

Post–protection order and pre–divorce filing, I meet Michael Lohan at Rothmann’s, the midtown steakhouse where he regularly holds court with a rotating cast of friends and business partners who take the place of the family he can’t see. They greet him warmly, often with Gandolfini hugs, and are eager to vouch for his integrity. (Out of earshot, though, several ask not to be named in print, as if they fear being on record as his associates.)

Lohan is a charismatic pitchman for his vehicles of fame and riches: Big deals are in the works, each one worth “multi-multi-millions” and attracting interest from “major, major” companies. At 44, he is articulate, passionate, and indignant—a flashy dresser who wears a Long Island dose of cologne, and sometimes a cowboy hat and shit-kicker boots. His briefcase and wallet are Louis Vuitton. Tattooed on his arm is a Celtic cross surrounded by the names of his children.

He relishes the opportunity to defend himself before a friendly audience. For every report about this or that infraction against paternal good judgment or the law, he has an explanation: The garbageman hit him first; the hotel bill was sent to his wife’s house by mistake; and he didn’t pass out at Scores because he was drunk, but because of a bad interaction between his anxiety medication and a couple of innocent drinks. His family issues are murkier, as family issues often are, but it’s clear that there’s no love lost between him and Dina’s clan. Still, he denies threatening his wife and insists he would never harm his children.

“If all of it was so true,” he asks, “why would Dick Cook, the chairman of Disney, pick up my phone call? Or Sherry Lansing? Or Nina Jacobson? If I was a bad guy, why would they see me?” He blames the influence of Lindsay’s publicist, Leslie Sloane, one of “a handful of people feeding off Lindsay—like parasites,” for much of his bad rap. He is the victim of a “campaign,” he says, that twists statements and incidents in order to portray his relationship with his daughter as hopelessly tattered, and means eventually to make it so. (Sloane’s response to my inquiries seems to refute the allegation: She declined to comment.) If it’s true that Sloane and the rest of Lindsay’s entourage are systematically trying to smear him in the press, what’s their motivation? “I have made enemies with them, and now they all want me out, because if I’m back in the picture, they’re going to be gone. Bottom line. And they know it.”

Ranting like this, Lohan might be channeling any number of wise-guy movie characters; his posture and mannerisms are reminiscent of performances by James Caan. When he harnesses all that eye-popping energy in support of his projects, he travels about halfway toward success. When that energy gets the best of him, he winds up back at square one, or in the back of a police car, or both. The week before the Lowdown taping, Lohan called, sounding elated, to let me know—great news!—that after weeks of not being allowed to speak with Lindsay, he had just seen her at his son’s soccer game. The call was brief, short on details, but Lohan sounded so thrilled that I could only imagine a pleasant reunion.