Cracking Down

updated 08/07/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/07/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

On June 26 the Pointer Sisters, who hadn't performed together since January, were briefly, joyfully reunited. The venue wasn't a stage, however, but a rehab facility. Two weeks before her release from Promises West L.A., June Pointer finally received a visit from big sisters Anita and Ruth. "We hugged and cried," says June, 46, who was released July 7 after a monthlong treatment for addiction to crack cocaine and the antianxiety drug Xanax. "They were like, 'Oh, you look so good!' It was really uplifting."

Says Anita, 52, the only family member willing to comment: "We're just anxious to have June back. It's been a long road for all of us."

With plenty of desperate moments. In May a strung out and practically homeless June Pointer contacted PEOPLE, saying she wanted to talk publicly for the first time about the hell of her addiction and her fight to quit. "I'm tired of trying to hide my pain," she said. "My soul is broke." She said that she had struggled with a series of addictions for 30 years—before and through the golden days of the '70s and '80s when she, Anita and Ruth, 54, with their wild costumes and jazzy harmonies, won three Grammys and earned millions with hits including "Neutron Dance," "Jump" and "I'm So Excited."

Unfortunately, substance abuse provided too many of June's thrills. "The drugs have been there almost every day since I was 13," says Pointer, who grew up in Oakland with five older siblings and her minister parents, Elton (who died in 1978) and Sarah, 78 (currently gravely ill with diabetes). She started with pot and over the years added cocaine, alcohol, Valium and Xanax. Pointer says that in one typical incident, while on tour in the '80s, she was so droopingly fatigued that someone else had to dab the cocaine under her nostrils. "He said, 'Breathe,' " she recalls. When the trio's star was unveiled on Hollywood's Walk of Fame in 1994, June was drunk. "It was like, 'Celebrate!' " she says, "And you celebrate with booze."

Pointer finally lost control of her life with her discovery of crack cocaine about two years ago. She calls it "a fast, cheap high," although she estimates that she blew a total of $20,000 on her habit. Her Spanish-style 4,800-sq.-ft. spread near L.A.'s Sunset Boulevard began to approximate a crack house infested with drugged-out hangers-on who pilfered Tiffany lamps, the TV and a Grammy statuette. Late last year the bank foreclosed on the house; Pointer had been too befogged to bother keeping up with the mortgage. "She lost a million-dollar home to a pipe," says her longtime friend, Santa Monica restaurateur Mindy Lymperis.

June realizes now she nearly wrecked the Pointer Sisters too, "through my own selfishness." On a cocaine kick in 1996, she missed so many dates of their traveling production of Ain't Misbehavin' that the tour was cut short. Over the last two years, as she fueled her high with crack, her behavior on the road was even more erratic. "I'd fly in alone and get there," says Pointer, "and they'd already be performing. I'd turn around and fly back home. They went on without me."

In the past her sisters tried to help, says her business manager William Wine, 34, "but the girls don't necessarily get along." Offstage, says June, they rarely socialize. Back in the 1980s, Ruth, who has spoken publicly about her own past troubles with drugs and alcohol, did persuade June to attend Alcoholics Anonymous. "But it was like a pickup joint to me," says June, who stuck it out for only a few meetings. "Coffee and doughnuts and a lot of people lookin' at each other."

Last winter Anita and Ruth had-had enough. They bumped June from the group with the stipulation, backed by their lawyers, that she could return only if she cleaned up. They hired a substitute and simply called themselves the Pointers. "I was in denial," says June, "so I was all, 'The nerve of them!' "

The drug-related deaths of close friends in the past year finally frightened her into wanting to take action. "This isn't a Billie Holiday story," she told PEOPLE not long before starting rehab. "I want a good ending." But she stalled for weeks, resisting the imploring of her ex-husband, computer programmer William Whitmore (they were wed in 1978 and split in 1991), Lymperis and business manager Wine, who tried to get her into a program at L.A.'s Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Instead, says Wine, "she said, 'I'm going to do it on my own!' "

Continuing her recovery, she'll still need plenty of backup, including 60 days of outpatient counseling and the same AA meetings she once avoided. For now, she's living in Santa Monica with Mindy Lymperis. "I'm so proud of her," says Lymperis. "If people could see her compared to how she looked even a month ago, they wouldn't believe it."

June's dream is that fans will soon see her back onstage with Anita and Ruth. "That's my favorite high," she says. "It's going to be very exciting, that first show—like my first show for real. I can't wait."

Tom Gliatto
Mark Dagostino in Los Angeles

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