Former CBS46 anchor Brandon Lee Rudat comes clean about drug addiction, being molested as a child

Originally posted Friday October 4, 2019 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Brandon Rudat - also known as Brandon Lee - came to Atlanta from Los Angeles nine years ago as a new morning anchor for CBS46. Unbeknownst to anyone at the station, he had almost died just two months earlier due to a crystal meth overdose. 

“I lived a double life,” Rudat said. “My family didn’t know. I was nine months away from making amends to them. When I was in the hospital, I told them I had no family. If they were called, the gig would have been up. I would have been exposed.”

The man - known in Atlanta for his tattoos - kept that secret for many years but has now come out with a self-published book “Mascara Boy.” In it, he lays out a litany of dark secrets in hopes he can help others with his testimony now that he’s been clean for nearly a decade.

After losing his gig at WGCL-TV in Atlanta, Rudat worked at Phoenix station CBS5 (KPHO-TV) and 3 TV (KTVK-TV) for a few years, left and just came back last month.  (He is known as Brandon Lee in Phoenix.)

He said he loves Atlanta and applied for the evening anchor job last year after Ben Swann was fired, but Thomas Roberts (who just left after 14 months) got the gig instead. 

While at CBS46, from 2010 to 2013, his tattoos became part of his shtick. The station even did a billboard campaign where the other hosts wore fake tattoos while he showed off his real ones.

Rudat, who met with me at a Starbucks down the street after being interviewed by his former “Better Mornings” co-host Tracye Hutchins, said he was thrilled that so many media outlets were interested in his story, that there is this thirst for “a conversation about the opioid problem and addiction in general.”

As a child growing up in Orange County, Calif., he said he was sexually abused by both a piano teacher and a soccer coach. By 15, he was snorting cocaine and having anonymous sex with men in their 40s and 50s in Laguna Beach. 

“I felt numb,” he said. “It felt good at the time.”

He never said anything to anyone about being gay, draped in shame while attending a local Catholic school. He’d get home from his sexual escapades and “stand in front of the bathroom beating myself until I had bruises, saying I’d never do that again.” 

Throughout his 20s, he was a heavy drinker, inveterate partygoer and drug addict. He managed to keep his career going, working at the “Today” show as a producer in New York before moving to a TV station in Los Angeles. For a time, he said he even tried to purposely get HIV .”I was a bug chaser,” he said. “It was proof how much I hated myself.”

When he was in that hospital in Los Angeles in early 2010, getting out of a coma, his only support was an empathetic nurse. “She took my hand and said, ‘We all make mistakes. Do you believe in God?’ I said no. She goes, ‘That’s okay because God still believes in you.’”

He said he had $10 in his pocket and was at a true rock bottom. She asked him to promise to go to an AA meeting at her church every Thursday. He did and it worked: “I never went to rehab or treatment. I only needed 12 step.” He later met a therapist to help process his childhood traumas and make sense of them. 

The therapist made him understand that his teenage sexual promiscuity with older men was rape and that knowledge alone has been healing. “But the hardest part has been dealing with my family,” Rudat said. He understood why so many women in the #MeToo movement didn’t say anything, sometimes for decades.

His mom, he learned once he told her everything, knew about the piano teacher at the time because Rudat apparently told her (yet he didn’t recall doing so.). He said she didn’t call the cops or get him help. Instead, she simply told the teacher to stop coming. 

And when she found out about his near-death experience with crystal meth, she said she had seen a psychic who told her that Rudat was exaggerating. 

“I know my mom loves me,” Rudat said. “She can’t see that she needs to help Brandon and that she loves him unconditionally. Instead, she sees me as a poor reflection on her.”

For his first year in Atlanta, he said he was a “hermit.” He went to AA meetings and work and little else. “I probably wasn’t all that pleasant,” he said. But he stayed sober. He said he eventually great to enjoy his time here in sobriety. 

Rudat is now 39 and looks much thinner than he was earlier in the decade. He no longer takes steroids that made him appear beefier. 

A couple of years ago, he was inspired to write the book after reporting a piece on a heroin needle exchange program. While the image of folks who use heroin might be of mentally ill homeless men, he saw plenty of working class and professional people show up for needles including a pre-school teacher and moms in SUVs. 

After reporting the story, “I cried in my living room. That was me. All those people used to be me. I had been anonymous up to that point through my recovery.” 

And what about the tattoos? He used them, he said, as a “border wall, to keep people away, from getting them to know the real me. I was like a character from ‘Prison Break.’ I wanted to portray this image of toughness and strength. I was still this little boy who was gay and bullied as a kid. I didn’t want anyone to see me as weak.” 

(The title of his book “Mascara Boy” comes from a childhood taunt. He always had dark eyelashes that made it look like he was wearing mascara.)

Now he just wants to help others break themselves from the throes of addiction and shame. He is speaking at mental health conferences and doing motivational speeches. He has his own website called “Escaping Rock Bottom.” Though AA means he can’t reveal others in the meetings, it doesn’t stop him from being open and public about himself. 

“When I die and I meet my higher power,” Rudat said, “she’s going to look at me. She will say to me: ‘I saved you from death umpteenth times not so you can make a big paycheck or live a glamorous life but as a news anchor so you can save others.”

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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