They were talented singers, painters, and actors who burned out too early. While their unfortunate deaths will forever be attributed to excessive drug or alcohol use, their lives, work and legacy are too important to be overshadowed: 10 artists who died from substance abuse.
Sources: biography.com, franksreelreviews.com, washington.cbslocal.com, nytimes.com, themedicalbag.com
The great American actor of his time, Oscar-winner Hoffman was found dead in his Greenwich Village apartment on Feb. 2. The autopsy reported a mix of heroin, cocaine, benzodiazepines, and amphetamines. He was 46.
The “Pearl” of the revolutionary ’60s, her voice of growling genius vanished far too soon. On Oct. 3, 1970, the “Me and Bobby McGee” singer finished a daytime recording session in Los Angeles, had a few drinks at Barney’s Beanery on Santa Monica Boulevard, and went back to her Room 105 at the Landmark Hotel to shoot up her last syringe of heroin. She was found dead the next morning by band member John Cook. She was 27.
He was like a young Marlon Brando, handsome, raw, and talented. His roles in “Brokeback Mountain” and “The Dark Knight” are relegated to film history. Three months after playing the Joker, the Australian actor was found naked and unconscious in his Manhattan apartment by the cleaning lady. The autopsy pointed to a mix of prescription pills. Ex-girlfriend Michelle Williams, the mother of his daughter, fought to keep his final hours private. Ledger was 28.
There is simply no icon, no woman, no actress and no presence that has beat Norma Jean Baker. How would her legacy have changed if she hadn’t been taken so young? There’s no one adjective to describe Marilyn, but there are sad facts about her death at age 36, on Aug. 5, 1962. The official cause of death was suicide by “acute barbiturate poisoning.” However, mystery, speculation, and conspiracy theories continue to haunt generations of fans to this day. Conflicting toxicology reports make it seem like her death was not as cut-and-dried as it’s been made out. Crime Library has a compelling essay.
The famed neo-expressionist New York street artist turned painter (and Andy Warhol collaborator) was the toast of the underground art world in the 1980s. As his popularity grew, a relentless drug habit and depression began to drag him down. After a rehab stint in Hawaii, Basquiat returned to New York and died of a heroin overdose in his NoHo art studio on Aug. 12, 1988. His legacy is an impressive, explosive meditation on race, cultural alienation, and class struggles. He was 27.
When “Rehab” — the single — came out in 2006, the deep-voiced British crooner became an overnight sensation, nabbing five Grammy wins. Her ensuing years became a mess of drugs, drinking, and erratic public behavior, compounded by the persecution of tabloid attention. On July 23, 2011, the 27-year-old was found dead in her North London home. Alcohol was said to be the cause. Some say two vodka bottles were found. Others including her father claim she had been sober for a while. It seems her lifestyle got the worst of her.
The sweet-voiced singer of “My Funny Valentine” and jazz trumpeter had a career of ups and downs starting in the 1950s, interspersed with drugs, alcohol-fueled violence, and jail time. On May 13, 1988, Baker was found on the street under the second-floor balcony of his Amsterdam hotel, dead from head wounds. Medical reports later revealed cocaine and heroin in his blood, and evidence of the drugs were found in his hotel room. He was 59 years old.
The death of the King of Pop happened on June 25, 2009, in Los Angeles, California. His body was found in his home by his personal physician, Conrad Murray. An autopsy pointed to an inherently healthy man with a lethal cocktail of drugs in his system–including lorazepem, propofol, ephedrine, and diazepam. The propofol especially was concerning on account of it being an extremely strong anesthetic. Rumors of foul play surfaced. In November 2011 Murray was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for administering the drugs to Jackson that led to his death. Michael Jackson died at age 50.
Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” Liza Minnelli’s mom, the first kid star–whatever she means to you, she was a brassy and talented legend who often turned to alcohol and pills. Her career was marked with erratic stage behavior and nervous breakdowns. As she aged and her life became a roller coaster — like many Hollywood stars — her intake level became more and more destructive. On June 22, 1969, her husband Mickey Deans found her dead in her London apartment. The toxicology report found 10 seconal pills in her system, although the succession in which she took them ruled out a suicide–instead, her death was called an “incautious self-overdose.” (Crime Library). Garland was 47.
Elvis Presley, the most sensational recording star until that time, was found unresponsive on the bathroom floor of his Memphis compound Graceland on Aug. 16, 1977. His death: cardiac arrest. However, in a turn of events which are hauntingly reflected in Michael Jackson’s death almost 30 years later, it was revealed that his physician, Dr. George Nichopoulos, had prescribed Presley more than 10,000 doses of sedatives and narcotics in only the first eight months of 1977, which caused his heart and colon to enlarge. The physician disputed this charge, even when his license was revoked in 1995. Presley was 42.