When most people hear the name Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino, they likely think about his famously chiseled abs or those infamous nights at sweaty Shore nightclubs alongside pals Snooki, Pauly D and JWoww. Or fans might find themselves repeating the crew’s ever-present catchphrase, “Gym. Tan. Laundry.”
Those glory days of MTV’s Jersey Shore, which premiered in 2009 and skyrocketed Sorrentino to immediate international stardom, seemed like a 20-something party boy’s dream come true—and it was for Sorrentino, who had been trying to break into showbiz for years. But behind that shiny exterior of newfound fame was a drug addict desperately battling to hold onto his life.
In recent years, Sorrentino, now 41, has gone public about his struggles with substance abuse and his rocky road to sobriety. But not until now, in his new memoir, Reality Check, has he delved so deeply into the dark ride on which fame took him, marked by years of debilitating prescription drug abuse, wild sex parties with strangers, mounds of financial debt, and an eight-month stint in federal prison for tax evasion.
“At a certain point, when I was down to the rock bottom of rock bottoms, I would sometimes think to myself, What’s worse? Never going for your dreams, or achieving them?” Sorrentino tells New Jersey Monthly. “Obviously, in the earlier years, it was like gasoline to fire, you know? All the excess money, the excess fame, no one ever saying no to me for anything. Everybody wanted a piece of me. But then there was an obvious cost to that.”
The reality star, now eight years sober and a married father of two with a third on the way, has called New Jersey home since the age of six, when he moved from Staten Island to Manalapan in Monmouth County. Growing up in a big Italian family, Sorrentino was surrounded by people—his mother, a homemaker; his father, an electrical engineer; two older brothers, Frank and Marc; and a younger sister, Melissa—and a lot of delicious home-cooked meals, as anyone who watched Jersey Shore will remember.
The family planted their roots in the Garden State, Sorrentino writes, because of “the Mafia lifestyle” in their old Staten Island neighborhood, even though that very lifestyle “was romanticized in my household,” with movies like Goodfellas on repeat.
“That’s partially why we ended up leaving Staten Island—to get away from that life,” Sorrentino writes. “My dad knew all the made guys from the neighborhood, and lots of the kids he had grown up with ended up in that line of work.”
As a teen, Sorrentino was a popular class-clown type and troublemaker, but he never crossed the line to bully, he writes in the book. His antics, as he describes them, “meant no harm”—like the time he drove across the front lawn of Manalapan High School instead of waiting for traffic to clear up, or the time he thought it would be funny to cartwheel across the stage at graduation but ended up kicking the school’s principal in the face.
Between the pranks, the parties and, yes, some schoolwork, substances were starting to creep into Sorrentino’s life. The first time he drank alcohol, at Hawkins Park in Marlboro, he got arrested.
Writing of his attitude back then, Sorrentino remembers, “If you told me not to smoke weed, I was going to sell coke. If you told me to drive carefully, I would do donuts in the parking lot. In fact, right after I got my license, I smoked angel dust on the way to homecoming in [my brother’s] hand-me-down Pontiac Sunfire that our father gave me…and wrecked it after hitting a sewer grate and bottoming out.”
Nineteen was a pivotal age for Sorrentino, but not in a positive way. That’s when what he calls his “love affair” with “the devil,” prescription opiates, began, starting a downward spiral that would only intensify as his public persona grew.
By the time Jersey Shore came into his life a couple of years later, through an open casting call held at an Atlantic City nightclub, Sorrentino had all but given up on his dreams of fame. He’d worked as a server at Main Street Bistro in Freehold, a stripper at Club Abyss in South Amboy, an underwear model, and, yes, a drug dealer. He’d failed out of Kean University, yet earned his associate’s degree in business management from Brookdale Community College, where he also met his future wife, Lauren, in a math class.
In his memoir (out December 19 from Ballast Books), Sorrentino could have easily glossed over the difficulties he’s experienced and the mistakes he’s made, as many celebrities do, hiring crisis-management teams and avoiding the truth at all costs. For a long time, Sorrentino did attempt to hide his drug problem from his employer, MTV, as well as his castmates and the world. But now, after putting years of failed attempts at getting clean behind him and looking forward to a life of sobriety ahead of him, he has no reason to hold back any longer.
In the book, he candidly describes the lengths to which he went to score drugs while MTV’s cameras were following him around. He gets frank about the seemingly endless string of orgies he’d have with strangers while out on the road for public-appearance tours.
He reveals that his accountants, while working on his financials in his tax-evasion case, estimated that he’d spent a staggering $500,000 on drugs during the height of his addiction.
Andy Symonds, his cowriter on the book and the president and publisher of Ballast Books, says Sorrentino could not fully remember some of the details and stories he wanted to include in the memoir because he had been high, so the star used old photos and new conversations with friends to help recreate the accounts for publication.
“The darkest years were probably from 2013 to 2015, before I went to rehab, the years I was experimenting with Adderall,” says Sorrentino. “I was, you know, hearing voices and seeing things that weren’t there. I’m sure if I would’ve went to a doctor, they would’ve diagnosed me with schizophrenia or some sort of mental disorder because of the self-medicating and all the mixing of substances I had put myself through.”
Eight years ago, after a terrifying wake-up call stemming from a drug score in New Jersey, Sorrentino got clean for good. He details his intense recovery process in the book.
Then came another setback: prison. In 2019, Sorrentino served eight months for tax evasion at Otisville Correctional Facility’s minimum-security prison camp (which has been called one of the best federal prisons to do time) in upstate New York.
But, clearly a changed man, Sorrentino seemed to almost thrive in prison. Newly married, he was popular among the inmates, making friends with guys with nicknames like Andy Cucumbers and Tony Meatballs; he even became buddies with Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s disgraced former lawyer, on the inside.
As a sober person with strong faith, Sorrentino maintained the strict routines in prison that he had created during his recovery. He exercised, read a lot, ate well. He also tried to be supportive of inmates who seemed to be in a worse mental state than he was.
“I was definitely helping a lot of guys in prison,” Sorrentino says. “Mental health is something that’s not necessarily talked about, and the guys in there—a lot of guys weren’t doing good.”
Sorrentino recalls seeing some fellow prisoners sitting in their bunks, alone and depressed, staring at the wall, not eating. “You could just see the life just draining from them,” he remembers. “And then the opposite was, you know, people like myself, who were constantly exercising and reading books and trying to better themselves and trying to help others, and having conversations and trying to make the best of a negative situation. A lot of guys really appreciated that mindset.”
These days, Sorrentino’s life is about as different as it could be from the one he had 15 years ago. He lives with Lauren and their two children, 2-year-old son Romeo and nearly 1-year-old daughter Mia, in a beautiful home in Holmdel, Lauren’s hometown. They are due to welcome their third child in March.
“All I’ve ever wanted my whole life is to have a big Italian family, and now I have it, and I worked hard to have it and keep it, and for us to thrive and grow together,” he says.
Sorrentino loves New Jersey and chose to raise his family in the Garden State, but as anyone who lives here knows, New Jersey hasn’t always loved Sorrentino back.
Jersey Shore became a phenomenon as soon as it hit the airwaves in December 2009, when eight strangers moved into a house in Seaside Heights for a summer of partying, hooking up and having fun. Over the years, critics have panned the show for its portrayal of Italian Americans as nothing more than party-hopping “guidos” and “guidettes,” for the antics its cast brought to Seaside Heights and the surrounding towns where they filmed, and for creating yet another Jersey punchline for the rest of America to laugh at.
But Sorrentino dismisses the backlash. “You know, once you get on such a mass scale of entertainment, where everybody knows you and you’re a household name, you’re not going to get a hundred percent approval,” he says.
During the heyday of Jersey Shore, the show did contribute to a boost in tourism in Seaside Heights, officials said at the time. Sorrentino also notes that, these days, he and his costars have “matured.” Many have families and run their own businesses.
Most of them, like Sorrentino, live in the state that made them household names.
For Sorrentino, part of evolving and getting sober was focusing on honesty and communication. That’s one reason why he wanted his wife to read his memoir as he wrote it, despite the emotional toll of learning about many of the more shocking moments from her husband’s past. “I’m so proud of him,” she says.
In the two decades she’s known him, Lauren has stood by the reality star through some truly difficult periods. They did break up at points, but when she was with him, she was his rock.
She says, “There was a point in time where all I had besides Mike and, of course my family, was my faith. So that’s really what I leaned into. At the end of the day, when you’re facing some really hard things, that’s the really best way to achieve it.”
In addition to being a father, a reality star and, now, an author, Sorrentino is an active member of the recovery community. He speaks to high schools and other groups in New Jersey and around the country. He sees his memoir as an extension of that outreach.
“Jesus Christ is my savior and he saved me. I believe that I was spared,” Sorrentino says. “[There were] many times I could’ve not been here. I was spared to share my story and to help others.”