Tomorrow, July 27, Michael Floorwax is scheduled to return to the Denver radio airwaves for the first time in more than four years, after he took a leave of absence from the ultra-popular Lewis & Floorwax program on 103.5/The Fox because of unspecified health issues.
In advance of his appearance on Peter Boyles's 710 KNUS talk show, slated for 7 to 9 a.m. on Friday, Floorwax (real name: Michael Steinke) reveals that since vanishing from the public eye, he's been contending with clinical depression.
"It just gets on top of you," Floorwax says of the condition. "A lot of discomfort physically and mentally. It was bad. It was a great, great challenge."
Lately, though, Floorwax has experienced so much improvement as a result of a new and unusual treatment that he's ready to slide behind a microphone again: "Since I'm feeling better, I figure, let's have some fun. Let's keep taking more steps back toward my normal life."
For decades, Floorwax was a constant on the Denver entertainment scene. His team-up with partner Rick Lewis, which debuted on the Fox in 1990, was a hit from the beginning thanks to their gleeful dedication to not only pushing the edge of the envelope, but ripping it to shreds. They quickly became one of the most popular tandems in Denver radio history — and Floorwax supplemented this success with plenty of standup-comedy gigs and performances with the Groovehawgs, a band that also included Lewis.
But in early 2014, Floorwax suddenly went off the air, and Lewis's explanations about why were vague. He merely said that his cohort was going through a rough patch and might not be back for a while, but that he couldn't elaborate because of HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, whose wide-ranging privacy rules include provisions restricting employers from revealing information about an individual's medical history.
Greg Foster, vice president/programming for the Denver branch of Clear Channel, the Fox's owner, subsequently revealed that "Floorwax is currently taking a personal leave of absence. For privacy reasons, we will not comment further."
The situation dragged out for months, prompting speculation that Floorwax, who'd previously struggled with substance abuse, had suffered a relapse.
Finally, on October 1, Floorwax attempted to set the record straight via a letter Lewis read on the air. Here's the complete text:
To The Fox Family
I want to take this time to reach out to my radio family and let everyone know what's been going on this past year. I feel like I'm ready to talk about this and feel like you deserve to know. I also want to clear up some rumors that are going around about me. #1 I did not fall off the wagon, I have been clean and sober now for 30 years and very proud of that. I did not quit my job and iHeartMedia did not fire me.
As you know, if you have listened to the show at all for the past 24 years, I have struggled with certain medical issues. I've openly talked about it on the radio and have made many jokes at my own expense about the issues that have plagued me for many years. I know many of you have reached out to me over the years and have said that you struggle from similar conditions.
Some of you may know that with these types of conditions, doctors will experiment with many different drugs to see what will work. Some work for a while, some don't work at all and others can actually make things worse. This past year has been the biggest battle of my life as I continue to seek relief.
I know that many of you have sent out well wishes and prayers and believe me they are most appreciated. I want to thank Rick and Kathy and the Fox morning show for standing by me over the years and helping me get through some pretty tough days. I continue to battle and hopefully will get this under control. Unfortunately, I will not be coming back as I have to focus all my energy on regaining my health and well-being.
In the meantime, keep the good thoughts and prayers coming. Thank you!
Between then and now, Floorwax kept seeking a medical solution to his agonizing dilemma. In his words, "I tried everything there was to try. I'd go to doctors and talk to them and they'd give me some pills, and then they'd give me some more pills. I was taking pills, like, three times a day. I wasn't getting a lot of relief from them, but I was getting enough that they helped me survive."
Still, he continued to suffer from a wide variety of symptoms, including memory issues. "I was having to take Ubers because I couldn't remember how to go to the same place I was going every day," he recalls. "I would go to a couple of cigar shops and talk to the guys who came in there. I tried to stay out of the house and stay talking and stay around people, because if you don't, clinical depression can take you over — and when that happens, some people check out. But I promised myself I wasn't going to do that."
These interactions kept him going through the toughest of times, he acknowledges: "I would kind of get around the same few people every day, and they were supportive and funny and interesting and came from all different walks of life. People have been very kind to me." The backing of friends, family and fans "really helped me — that and saying your prayers. You've got to talk to the Big Cheese."
Then, about four weeks ago, Floorwax's physicians, led by Dr. Sara Markey, took a fresh approach to his treatment.
"It's called ketamine infusion," he reveals, "and it's turned out to be a real savior for me. You go into their office and you sit in a room and you get your headphones on, and they hook you up to this ketamine infusion thing and basically take a trip to Mars on this stuff — and when you come down, you're uplifted."
He admits that "it's kind of funny. I've got forty years of sobriety, but the way you get better is tripping your balls off for an hour. What could be more ironic than that? But that's what it is. When you come down from that stuff, you feel better — a little more each time."
Following his most recent trip to Markey's clinic, he goes on, "there was even greater relief. And I felt like maybe I wanted to go with the fellows down to New Talent Night and talk to Boyles to start doing some work and come out of it further."
To put it mildly, this notion marks a big change for Floorwax. "You know," he says, "I haven't listened to the radio at all" since taking his break from the medium. "It's part of the way that I can tolerate not doing it right now. The best, most natural things I do are performing or singing or being on the radio. So I haven't been listening, because I haven't been able to participate. It was better for me to be away from it."
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Now, however, he's looking forward to a return engagement.
"I feel good about it," he says, "because Peter is the best, and whatever we talk about is going to be fine. I figure a few laughs will come out, because I think he's funny and he thinks I'm funny. So I'm not worried about cratering. I think it will be fun."
He hopes his example will inspire folks dealing with clinical depression of their own.
"It's hard to describe what it's like to go through this — and there are times when this stuff is on you that you're not sure you can make it," he acknowledges. "But I just want to say to people who have this that if you keep working hard, keep battling, there are other things you can try. And you can make it."