By LYLE R. FRIED, CAP, ICADC, CHC In Social Issues
Posted January 9, 2018
Because they’re under such an intense spotlight, it sometimes seems that celebrities abuse drugs and alcohol at higher rates than the average population.
According to Dr. Drew Pinsky, of “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew,” however, “the addiction rates [among celebrities] are exactly what you’d see in society at large.” The difference is that a neighbor or coworker may keep quiet about their struggles with addiction, but a celebrity’s drug or alcohol abuse becomes front page news.
Like other addicts, many celebrities seek treatment and recover. Others continue to struggle, and some tragically die of drug overdoses. As society grapples with a severe drug epidemic, these celebrity deaths put a more public face on the quiet heartbreak of families across the nation.
Here are several celebrities who have died from drug overdoses over the last decade.
In 2008, Australian actor Heath Ledger, perhaps best known for A Knight’s Tale and The Dark Knight, died of a prescription drug overdose at age 28.
Drugs in his system included opiates like OxyContin and Vicodin, two insomnia drugs, Xanax, and Valium.
Amy Winehouse, a five-time Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter, publicly battled addiction throughout her career.
In June of 2011, Winehouse was pronounced dead of an alcohol overdose at 27. Her blood alcohol content (BAC) was over five times the legal driving limit, with this fatal amount leading to her accidental death.
Whitney Houston, best known as a singer, was also an actress, model, and producer. In 2009, she was named the “most awarded female act of all time” by the Guinness Book of World Records.
Beginning in her early 20’s, Houston began using drugs, reportedly to cope with the pressures of her career. It was also a form of rebellion for the young star, who was constantly told what to do or wear by those managing her career.
Houston entered rehab multiple times, but drugs did contribute to her death in 2012, at the age of 48. The singer was found unresponsive in her bathtub, with accidental drowning ruled as the official cause of death. However, contributing factors included heart disease and cocaine use.
At the time of her death, Houston had cocaine, Xanax, marijuana, the muscle relaxant Flexeril, and the allergy medication Benadryl in her system.
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Philip Seymour Hoffman was an actor, producer, and director known for his eccentric characters and work in films such as The Big Lebowski, Almost Famous, Charlie Wilson’s War, and Capote.
On February 2, 2014, Hoffman was found dead on the bathroom floor of his apartment with a syringe in his arm. The cause of death was ruled acute mixed drug intoxication, with amphetamine, benzodiazepines, cocaine, and heroin in Hoffman’s system.
Legendary singer-songwriter Prince was found dead in an elevator at his Paisley Park home in 2016. He was 57.
An accidental overdose of the opioid fentanyl was determined as the cause of death. Prince had long suffered from hip pain. It’s speculated that this is where an addiction to opioids originated, with witnesses saying Prince had recently been going through withdrawals “as a result of abuse of prescription medication.”
Investigators found prescription medication like Vicodin and Percocet throughout Prince’s home, but they did not find fentanyl. It’s unclear how Prince obtained fentanyl or whether he was aware that he was taking a substance containing fentanyl.
Carrie Fisher, an actress and writer best known for her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars, died in December of 2016 at age 60.
Fisher went into cardiac arrest on a flight and was rushed to the hospital. Her cause of death was listed as sleep apnea, along with other factors such as heart disease and drug use. The coroner’s statement also stated, “How Injury Occurred: Multiple drug intake, significance not ascertained.” Drugs in Fisher’s system included cocaine, methadone, alcohol, opiates, and MDMA.
Fisher’s daughter, Billie Lourd, released the following statement: “My mom battled drug addiction and mental illness her entire life. She ultimately died of it. She was purposefully open in all of her work about the social stigmas surrounding these diseases.”
Few celebrities died from overdoses in 2017, but these tragedies will likely continue as long as drug addiction plagues society.
In some cases, family members of these celebrities express hope that their deaths will draw attention to the dangers of addiction and encourage people to seek help.
As Billie Lourd further expressed in her statement, “[Carrie Fisher] talked about the shame that torments people and their families confronted by these diseases. I know my Mom, she’d want her death to encourage people to be open about their struggles. Seek help, fight for government funding for mental health programs. Shame and those social stigmas are the enemies of progress to solutions and ultimately a cure.”