Since the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman many people have come to realize just how often we hear that the cause of a celebrity’s death was due to drugs. Like Hoffman, these individuals were successful, earning a wonderful living and were known and praised for their art. The life they choose is a very public one. So of course this kind of behavior is something they keep very close to the vest. However, as surely the publicity of drug use is not good for their stellar careers the use of them privately alleviates the aid they need when they overdose and end up dying alone. Time and time again the story is the so very sadly, the same. Did these people ever give a thought to those who died due to drug use. Sadly, with so many like Hoffman it did not stop him from following the same lonely path.
Celebrities are not immune and some have been brutally murdered or died in car crashes. Witness the pregnant actress Sharon Tate who begged the crazed Charles Manson followers to no avail for her life and the life of her unborn child; or actor Bob Crane (star of the television show Hogan’s Heroes), bludgeoned to death in his bed as he slept. The accidental deaths of other celebrities in car accidents like the one that killed James Dean or decapitated Jayne Mansfield as her children (daughter/actress Mariska Hargitay and her brother) lie sleeping in the backseat (a fact that saved their lives). The heartbreaking stabbing of young actor Sal Mineo as he returned home late one evening or even the death of Isadora Duncan, whose long flowing scarf caught in the wheel of a departing auto dragging her to her death are other examples of how tragedy strikes everyone. These were all accidents out of their control. Here we examine ten examples of people who sadly passed from the use of drugs, prescribed and not.
Anna Nicole Smith, age 39 – Date of death: February 8, 2007
A Playboy model and also a Reality television star. Anna Nicole Smith, won the 1993 Playmate of the Year and also modeled for clothing companies, including Guess jeans and Lane Bryant.
She was found unresponsive at a hotel in Florida and rushed to a hospital where she was pronounced dead on arrival. Ultimately her death was ruled a drug overdose of the sedative, chloral hydrate, lethal when combined with other drugs in her system: Klonopin, Ativan, Serax, Valium, Benadryl and Topamax.
River Phoenix, age 23 – Date of death: October 31, 1993
Partying at the Viper Room in Los Angeles, Phoenix was offered a hit of pure-grade Persion brown heroin. Immediately after snorting it, he began to tremble, shake violently and regurgitate. A friend gave him a valium to calm but soon afterwards he could not breathe and he then passed out. Phoenix was in full cardiac arrest and by the time he was rushed to Cedars Sinai Medical Center he was pronounced dead at 1:51am. The official cause of death was Acute multiple drug ingestion.
Heath Ledger, age 28 – Date of death: September 18, 2008
Heath Ledger was found in the afternoon by his housekeeper and his masseuse. He was lying unconscious in his bed in his fourth-floor loft apartment in the So Ho section of Manhattan. Paramedics and emergency medical technicians arrived but were unable to revive Ledger and pronounced him dead. Autopsy results state in part, “Mr. Heath Ledger died as the result of acute intoxication by the combined effects of oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam and doxylamine. It states definitively: “We have concluded that the manner of death is accident, resulting from the abuse of prescription medications.” Interestingly, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman once intervened to try and persuade Ledger to stop using heroin. Supposedly Hoffman told Ledger there was, “a life worth living outside of the hard drugs.”
Jimi Hendrix, age 27 – Date of death: September 18, 1970
Hendrix was an American musician, singer and songwriter and is regarded as one of the best electric guitarists in the history of popular music. He was found breathing but unconscious at a friend’s London apartment and was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. Apparently Hendrix had taken nine prescribed sleeping pills (Vesparax) which is 18 times the recommended dose and he choked on his own regurgitation.
Jim Morrison, age 27 – Date of death: July 3, 1971
Morrison was an American singer/songwriter and also a poet. He is best remembered as the lead singer of the Los Angeles rock band The Doors. He took up residence with his girlfriend in Paris. In his later life he developed an alcohol dependency; however he is alleged to have died from a heroin overdose. In either instance it is another case of substance abuse that took this man’s life.
Whitney Houston, age 47 – Date of death: February 11, 2012
Whitney Houston was found dead, drowned and face down in her bathtub at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Drug paraphernalia was found nearby. In earlier years she was seen as the, “good girl” of the music world. However in the late 1990s her behavior radically shifted and rumors spread about her drug use with her husband Bobby Brown. In 2002 she admitted to using cocaine in an interview with Diane Sawyer, but she dismissed talk about the use of crack cocaine. The coroner’s findings showed she died of drowning and the “effects if atherosclerotic heart disease and cocaine use.” Other drugs in the singer’s system were Benadryl, Xanax, marijuana and Flexeril.
Elvis Presley, age 42 – Date of death: August 16, 1977
One of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century, Elvis Presley defined early Rock and Roll, as a singer and a musician. He went on to have a successful acting career in films as well. Towards the end Elvis was hugely overweight and his mind was dulled from the many prescription drugs he took daily. He was supposed to fly out of Memphis to begin another tour and was discovered unresponsive on his bathroom floor. Attempts to revive him failed, and he was officially pronounced dead. Elvis Presley died of cardiac arrhythmia, that had caused his heart to beat irregularly and he had overdosed on prescription drugs, including codeine, valium, morphine, and Demerol.
Judy Garland, age 47 – Date of death: June 22, 1969
She was an American actress, singer and vaudevillian who Fred Astaire described as “the greatest entertainer who ever lived”. Garland was renowned for her unique voice. As an actress she attained international stardom throughout a career which spanned more than 40 years in musical and dramatic films. As a recording artist Judy Garland was respected for her versatility and awarded numerous Grammys, Golden Globes as well as a special Tony Award. She was found dead by her husband Mickey Deans in the bathroom of their rented house in Chelsea, London. The coroner’s report listed the cause of death as “an incautious self-overdose” of barbiturates and stressed that the overdose did not appear to be intentional. Garland’s autopsy showed that there was no inflammation of the stomach lining and no drug residue, which would mean that the drugs were taken over a long period of time and not in one dose.
Michael Jackson, age 50 – Date of death: June 25, 2009
The singer was lovingly referred to as MJ by his fans. Michael Jackson was always at the top of all the music charts in th 1980s and he is considered to be one of the most successful entertainers of the past century, having sold an estimated 750 million records and having 13 Grammy Awards to his name. At the time of his death, Jackson was getting ready for a comeback concert series called This Is It. Jackson died of acute propofol and benzodiazepine intoxication after suffering from cardiac arrest. The Los Angeles County Coroner ruled his death a homicide, and his personal physician, Dr Conrad Murray, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served a two-year prison sentence.
Marilyn Monroe, age 36 – Date of death: August 5, 1962
She became an American icon. Monroe had a career as a model, a singer and an actress who became a sex symbol, starring in numerous motion pictures during the 1950s and early 1960s. She was found dead at her home in Brentwood, Los Angeles, California. The autopsy said she died of office recorded cause of death as “acute barbiturate poisoning”, resulting from a “probable suicide”. Many theories were written about the death of Marilyn Monroe, including murder and conspiracy involving both John and Robert Kennedy and even the CIA being involved in her death. Or like many of the actresses of her time perhaps it was simply that Marilyn became so dependent upon the pharmaceuticals she used just to function and may simply have taken too many.