HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — It’s easy enough to find Johnny Knoxville’s soft spot.
Talk about coming back home for a visit or his family and his voice begins to break. Reflecting upon the “Jackass 3D” screening at the Regal Cinemas Pinnacle 18 at Turkey Creek recently, he mentions his reaction when speaking to the audience.
“I got choked up,” he says.
As he ages, though, the celebrity once known as PJ Clapp of South Knoxville, who has made millions and earned a worldwide reputation for being foolhardy, is in transition in more than one way.
To the world, his legacy, undoubtedly, will be “Jackass.” Beyond that, he’s embracing maturity and a new attitude toward living.
“He has different concerns now,” says childhood friend Alan Fry. “He’s going to make sure his family is taken care of.
“I used to think PJ wanted to have (a) James Dean-like legacy. I’m not so sure he wants that now. I can tell a difference in him.”
The celebrity life has been alluring for Knoxville, who acheived fame at age 29 when “Jackass” became an instant hit on MTV. A year after it premiered, he shut down the show and focused more on a movie career.
His star was rising and so did the temptations to live hard. Rumors spread about Knoxville’s extracurricular activities, sparking headlines about affairs with Jessica Simpson, Kate Moss and Drew Barrymore.
At the time of the Simpson stories, Knoxville addressed what was being written. “All the rumors — I just kind of take it in stride. But it’s kind of hurtful to the families that are involved,” he told GQ magazine.
In 2008, his 12-year marriage to Melanie Clapp ended in divorce.
On top of it, the endless stories of late-night partying, drinking and drugs were all part of the tabloid reports.
“I am different from what I used to be years ago,” he says now. “I was all over the place. I was really battling myself.
“It’s part of (screwing up) and realizing that (that kind of behavior) is not the way. I’m no saint ... but there is thought before action.”
In the past 12 months, Knoxville’s personal life has gone through two major changes: the birth of his son, Rocko, in December, and he married again.
Ask how these things changed his life and he says, “I feel more blessed. I feel like the same person, but I feel like I have more things to be thankful for.”
Still, he’s perceived by some media as still being the same — pardon the pun — jackass of yesteryear.
“Some guy asked me yesterday, ‘How can you do everything you do in the (‘Jackass’) movie and still think you’re a good parent?’
“I said, ‘What are you talking about, man?’ I do what I do in the movies. I am not jumping off jet skis at home.”
Knoxville’s daughter, Madison, is 14 years old, and that’s hard for him to accept. “I spent years in fear of her turning 14,” he says. “I didn’t even like to hear her talking about growing up, because then I’d get real emotional.
“Part of me wants her to stay little.”
Having not seen the first “Jackass” movie and only pieces of the second, Madison wanted to watch “Jackass 3-D,” which is rated R. Knoxville obliged her with many conditions attached.
He brought along a piece of cardboard to cover her eyes and asked her to plug her ears during certain scenes.
“There were certain things she couldn’t see,” he says, “but she loved the parts she could see.”
She’s in two scenes of “Jackass 3-D.” In one segment, she’s playing with a Hula-Hoop. During the ending credits, she sneaks up on Director Jeff Tremaine and socks him with a boxing glove.
“She knocks (the stuffing) out of him,” Knoxville says with a laugh.
Next spring, Knoxville turns 40. The benchmark has not gone unnoticed.
“It bugs me to get older,” he says. “It’s weird. I used to be the young guy going to the bars with the older guys and girls. I was always the baby in my family. Well, baby turns 40, and it’s weird.
“I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it, but when I do, I realize time is passing.”
© 2010, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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