“If I was still on drugs and still living the life I lived three years ago, I’d be a failure.”

We meet Eminem in a midtown New York hotel under semi-siege by fans. Brian grazer, the producer of 8 Mile, told that when they met, Mathers initially threw him off guard by sitting in glowering silence for minute on end.

The new Eminem is straightforward, earnest almost to a fault, always in direct eye contact and glad to answer any question without hesitation (or any handlers in the room). He doesn’t offer a single canned anecdote of the type stars tend to recycle in repeated interviews.

We ask him to square the present Mathers with the shady Eminem who barely escaped jail for his gun-toting misbehaviour of three years before.

“Fame hit me like a ton of bricks,” he says.

“I was being pulled in every direction; two shows a day, touring constantly, non-stop radio interviews, and I just got caught up in the drinking and the drugs and fighting and just wilding out and doing dumb things I shouldn’t have been doing. But I came out of them and conquered it. Something really bad could have happened to me. I could be in jail. I could have been killed. And I’m proud of myself now, not only for my accomplishments but for pulling through all that – my criminal cases, my divorce. If I was still on drugs and still living the life I lived three years ago, I’d be a failure.”

It looks like Eminem’s current drug of choice is work. When he occasionally gets into trouble now, it’s in a lyrical battle or a slight to ex-girlfriend Mariah Carey. But if the congenitally wary Mathers is still quick to lash back at any person he feels my be dissing him, the blows are all verbal, and most reports of his behaviour are glowing.

Last summer America’s People Magazine celebrated him as an ideal join-custody father to his daughter, Hailie, six, who is the one angelic female object (and occasional vocal participant) in his canon, and as a model neighbor who attends community meetings, no less, in his gated community in the northern Detroit suburbs.

“My daughter is growing up, and I’m trying to set an example for her,” Eminem says, warming to the only subject besides hip-hop that lightens him up.

“She has a fairly normal life. I love her so much. And she’s a character, man. She’s got such a personality. She runs around the house and she makes up little sayings and phrases.”

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