Music and drugs have always shared a troubled history. Musicians have long turned to certain substances in order to give their live performances some added intensity, as well as trigger their creative impulses. Drugs are also a popular topic of song. Over the past few decades, there has been a greater expansion in the use of recreational drugs, and we can see how this has created a deeper bond and connection between music and drugs.
Unfortunately, addictive and destructive drugs like cocaine, heroin, speed and ecstasy have been used just as much as relatively benign substances like marijuana. All of these are substances that have given rise to musical movements and shaped performers. However, while these drugs may have flamed some incredible performances, they have demanded excessive sacrifices of their hosts.
And some performers would fall so deep into the addiction that death would be the only way out. In this list, we look at some performers whose bands died out when they passed of drug overdose.
Kurt Cobain, Nirvana
The death that sent shockwaves of grief across the world.
On April 8, the body of Kurt Cobain body was found, six days after he had been reported missing. Another charismatic 27 year old singer had ended his own life with a shotgun. According to the medical examiner’s report, Cobain’s bloodstream contained a high concentration of heroin, as well as traces of Valium.
In Kurt Cobain’s case, we see the devastating effects of drug abuse as it pertains to individuals with depression and other mental health issues. His parents had divorced when he was very young, and while that does not necessarily lead to issues, an incident like this could trigger depressive impulses in very young children. He was also allegedly suffering from bipolar disorder, and had battled a number of health issues throughout his life. In his younger days, he got addicted to heroin.
The stigma of drug abuse, compounded by the stigma of mental health issues can make it extremely difficult for victims to speak up and get the help they need. That said, Cobain did go to a drug rehabilitation center in 1992, but his sobriety didn’t last for long. (Relapse is common among victims of drug addiction, but so is recovery.)
Cobain relapsed a few months after his rehabilitation, but managed to survive an overdose. Two years later, he overdosed again. He agreed to go to a detox facility after family members and friends set up an intervention for him, but he left the center shortly after the arrival. And finally, he was found dead in his apartment, leading to the breakup of Nirvana.
Jim Morrison, The Doors
Enigmatic and charismatic, Jim Morrison was a distinctive personality. His unique voice and poetic lyrics would have been enough to place him on a list of most influential lead singers. Sadly, his musical prowess is not the only reason behind his iconic status. He went on to join the 27 Club where he died of a heart attack, presumably caused by a heroin overdose in 1971. Since he was found in his apartment in Paris, there have been a slew of theories surrounding his death. The one thing all these theories have in common, however, is that there was definitely some heavy substance abuse. Surviving members of The Doors later confirmed the heavy abuse of drugs and alcohol by the band. The Doors disbanded shortly after the passing of its compelling front man.
Sid Vicious, Sex Pistols
As names go, Sid Vicious was definitely a well chosen one, because Sid was…quite vicious. In October of 1978, Sid’s girlfriend Nancy Spungen was found dead in the bathroom of their hotel room – she had been stabbed in the abdomen. John Simon Ritchie, stage name Sid Vicious, was charged with murder. However, the case never went to trial, because while Sid was on bail, he died of a heroin overdose in February 1979.
Sid’s excessive intravenous heroin use led to his hospitalization due to hepatitis during the recording of the Pistols’ only studio album. He went to drug rehabilitation on Riker’s Island. After the program, his mother threw a party in his honor to celebrate his release from prison. However, at this party, he was able to successfully procure some heroin, and died in his sleep following an overdose.
Bradley Nowell, Sublime
American ska punk band Sublime may not enjoy the same name recognition as some of the other bands on this list, but this was a successful band in its own right. Forming in 1988 in Long Beach, the band’s lineup never changed, until the death of their vocalist and guitarist Bradley Nowell in 1996. He was only 28 years old when he died from a heroin overdose, leading to the dissolution of the band. Mike Tracy, a friend of the band, talked in some depth about the culture of partying that had taken over the band: “It was sex, drugs and rock and roll. Then it was drugs and rock and roll. Then it was just drugs.”
Unfortunately, after that came death.
Mike Tracy’s statement uncovers a truth about drug usage: even though artists may partake of drugs to boost the creative process at first, over time, the drugs become what they revolve around, to the point that they even forget about their music.
Bradley’s death, sadly, did not serve as a wake-up call to the remaining band members. If anything, it was the exact opposite, according to Dave Donaldson, another friend of the band. Sublime members attempted to numb the pain of Bradley’s passing using whatever substance was handy. Even Bradley’s son, Jacob, tried the addictive substances. After fighting his own substance abuse battles, however, Jacob is clean today.
Addiction and mental illness are often stigmatized, to the extent that addicts are seen as outcasts and those mental health problems are advised to simply get over it. This means that these people are less likely to reach out for help or to receive it. The first step to helping these people is by putting an end to the stigma attached to these problems.
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