Addiction A-Z

Celebrity overdoses

John Belushi – Comedic actor and musician John Belushi was known for living life to the extreme and never practicing moderation. On February 28, 1982, Belushi checked into Bungalow 3 at the Chateau Marmont Hotel in West Hollywood, CA to review a new movie script with Robin Williams, Robert De Niro and writer Nelson Ryan. Belushi had long established a dangerous alcohol and drug abuse habit throughout his career, and developed an affinity for cocaine. During a party later that evening Canadian drug dealer Candy Smith injected a mixture of heroin and cocaine (a “speedball”) into Belushi. Belushi’s physical trainer, arrived around 12pm the next day and discovered his lifeless body in the bedroom. The toxicology report concluded that Belushi died of acute drug combination intoxication.

Lenny Bruce – Comedian Lenny Bruce became an icon, but suffered constant legal and moral scrutiny for his daringness and revolutionary exercise of free speech. As his career progressed, so did his ever-growing accruement of criticism, rejection, and arrests—all of which compounded his drug addiction. At the height of the counterculture movement, Bruce fell from a two-story window where he and others were experimenting with alcohol, LSD, cocaine and heroin. He survived the incident, yet continued his abuse. On August 3, 1966, Bruce (at the age of 40) was found dead in the bathroom of his Hollywood Hills home from acute morphine poisoning by accidental overdose.

Corey Haim – Actor Corey Haim was pronounced dead of an apparent drug overdose on March 10, 2010. He was 38 years old. Haim had spent a number of years battling addictions to drugs and alcohol, having tried marijuana for the first time in the 1980s, followed by cocaine which eventually led to crack addiction. After trying to get clean through rehabilitation programs 15 different times, Haim suffered a stroke. Prescription medications followed and Haim turned to “downers”, claiming they were much better than always feeling like a nervous wreck. His attempts to alleviate the high strung side of him escalated out of control when he built a tolerance to his medication. What started out as a prescription for one pill as needed to control anxiety turned to 85 a day to maintain normal functioning.

Janis Joplin – Janis Joplin was a singer/songwriter who rose to fame during the 1960s, but died at the age of 27 after overdosing on heroin. In 1965, Joplin’s friends described her as “skeletal” due to her amphetamine habit, and persuaded her to return to Texas, where she changed her lifestyle, avoiding drugs and alcohol for a time. In 1969 she became addicted to heroin, reportedly injecting up $200 worth of the drugs per day. Her last public performance was on August 12, 1970, at the Harvard Stadium in Boston, Massachusetts. The official cause of death was ruled an overdose of heroin.

Heath Ledger – On January 28, 2008, actor Heath Ledger was found dead in his Manhattan apartment. After the police investigation, Ledger’s death was determined to be caused by accidental overdose of prescription drugs, including oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam and doxylamine. Ledger’s doctors were discovered to have legitimately and in good faith prescribed Ledger sleep aids and anti-anxiety medications for his insomnia and anxiety symptoms. Although each drug was consumed at individual safe levels, their combination caused a lethal effect and shut down the brain, heart and respiratory system.

Marilyn Monroe – During the early hours of August 5, 1962, Marilyn Monroe was found dead in her Brentwood home. The 36-year-old silver screen icon died after overdosing on barbiturates. During her last years, Monroe had regularly been seeing her doctor, Dr. Hyman Engelberg and psychoanalyst, Dr. Ralph Greenson. Both doctors were working together to combat her dependency on sleeping pills and other drugs. Although many mysteries surrounding her death have been debated over the years in regard to the time of death, cause of death, who was present and the involvement of foul play, the autopsy officially ruled her cause of death as being from “acute barbiturate poisoning—ingestion of overdose”.

Jim Morrison – Born James Douglas Morrison, the former lead singer of The Doors was a legend. Unfortunately, his untreated mental illness, multiple physical conditions, alcoholism and drug abuse all contributed to his untimely death in 1971 aged 27 in Paris, where he was evading a U.S. jail sentence. The details of his overdose remain unclear, unconfirmed, and even convoluted due to multiple controversies. France’s Police Commission reported his passing as a natural death involving heart failure aggravated by the abuse of alcohol. The star is buried in Paris’s Père Lachaise Cemetery’s most visited grave.

River Phoenix – In 1993, the highly acclaimed 23-year-old actor and musician River Jude Phoenix fell into convulsions outside Hollywood’s Viper Room nightclub. Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the coroner’s office confirmed that his death was accidental and involved no foul play. River succumbed to acute multiple drug intoxication involving heroin, cocaine marijuana, Valium and methamphetamine. An outspoken animal rights activist, the charismatic young celebrity was a dedicated vegetarian and monitored his food intake. The extent of his drug habit was mostly unknown to others, especially to the public.

Anna Nicole Smith – On February 8, 2007, model Anna Nicole Smith was found dead in her hotel suite at the Seminole Hard Rock Café and Casino in Hollywood, Florida. The Chief Medical Examiner confirmed Smith’s death to be accidental due to the combination of multiple legal drugs in her system. She had nine different prescription drugs in her system at the time of death; but no evidence of illegal substances in her system despite her public use of alcohol and substances such as methadone. Although each prescription medication was not taken in overwhelming amounts, their presence along with the injection of the sedative chloral hydrate became a lethal combination. The chloral hydrate was the primary cause of her overdose.

Sid Vicious – John Simon Ritchie, better known as Sid Vicious, was the infamous bass player of the Sex Pistols and antihero to the British punk movement during the 1970s. Vicious’s overdose death at the age of 21 incited plenty of media attention following the earlier murder of his girlfriend Nancy Spungen and suicide attempts. On February 1, 1979 he attended a party celebrating his latest release from a detoxification facility. At the party he allegedly received a supply of heroin from his mother and was taking intravenous dosages throughout the night. He was found dead the next morning after suffering acute heroin overdose.

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