No Laughing Matter

updated 09/15/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/15/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

David Spade shot to fame in the '90s by mercilessly skewering celebrities on Saturday Night Live. Now he has another target: stage parents. While casting young actors for his new comedy Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star, in which he plays the washed-up title character, he was irked by the pushy parents who brought their kids to auditions and nagged them to do better. "They always said, 'The kid loves it,' " recalls Spade, 39. "Yeah, well, the kid also loves to play in traffic and eat a lot of candy. It's not good for them."

Spade is well-versed in both the perils and pleasures of Hollywood. He has a $4 million Beverly Hills home, prominent pals like J.Lo, Kid Rock and Demi Moore and a roster of exes including Kristy Swanson, Lara Flynn Boyle and Ed actress Julie Bowen. Still, nearly 20 years in the business have taught him that adults, too, need to proceed with caution—a lesson hard-learned by the drug overdose of his friend Chris Farley and Spade's brutal beating by a supposed pal in 2000. "You just don't know who's who," says Spade, whose most recent sting was the unceremonious cancellation of his NBC sitcom Just Shoot Me. "It's a tough town."

His early years weren't without troubles either. Spade—the youngest of three sons of Sam and Judy Spade—was 4 when his father, a businessman, left home. When he was 15 and in high school in Scottsdale, Ariz., a close friend died in a car crash. The next year his stepfather, a Vietnam vet battling depression, killed himself. Sarcasm "was a survival tool" for David, says his brother Andy, 41, who runs the accessories giant Kate Spade with his wife, Kate, 40. "His comedy came out of frustration." Stand-up led to Spade's big break on SNL in 1990. He became close to Farley, who in 1997 died from an overdose of cocaine and morphine. Says Spade: "I felt bad that he couldn't deal with it and got overwhelmed. [Being in Hollywood] was like pouring gasoline on that."

The loss of one friend was followed by a shocking betrayal by another. David Warren "Skippy" Malloy, 32, an assistant to the director of 1995's Tommy Boy, became friends with its costars, Spade and Farley. But on Nov. 29, 2000, for reasons that are still murky, the 6'2", 300-plus-lb. Malloy awakened Spade in his home at about 5 a.m. with his fists and the jolt of a stun gun.

"Before I could figure out why I am awake and why my friend is doing this, he's pummeling me again against the wall," recalls Spade, who escaped outside but was stopped by his locked gates. Malloy attacked him again, and Spade was only able to scare him off when he got back inside and grabbed his shotgun. "I almost died," says Spade, "but I didn't want anyone to know anything. It was too weird, too personal." Doctors stitched him up at home, and though he joked about the attack at an awards ceremony the next day, he began to suffer sleepless nights. In April 2001, Malloy pleaded guilty to assault and was sentenced to probation and community service". "I think he just snapped," says Spade. (Malloy's attorney said that his client was in a psychotic state due to cocaine use.) But the scars on Spade's arms are not the only reminders of the ordeal. "You just don't know who your friends are," he says. "It's harder to get tight with people."

Today, Spade's two best buddies are "just normal guys from high school," he says. "I'm getting older, seen a lot, been through too much. It's time to slow it down."

Karen Schneider
Michael Fleeman and Carrie Bell in Los Angeles

From Our Partners