The Talented Artists Addiction Stole

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It’s happening right now, somewhere. There’s a wonderful talent who is becoming a slave to addiction and who will squander his or her God-given abilities and may even die from the disease. We won’t know until it’s already too late.

When the public does find out, we act surprised and shocked. But with about one in 10 Americans with a substance abuse problem, it’s certain we only see a small percentage of the damage actually done.

When they die

The story is a familiar one: A talented artist dies from an overdose. There’s the splash of news reports – we all want to know the lurid details – followed by television doctors who try to explain addiction, and life goes on. Until the next time.

Michael Jackson, whose doctor administered the anesthetic propofol, without which Jackson couldn’t sleep. Dead at 50.

Brittany Murphy, actress, died from pneumonia and a combination of prescription drugs, including hydrocodone. Dead at 31.

Whitney Houston, found submerged in a bathtub in her hotel room. The cause of death was drowning with the additional elements of a weakened heart from chronic cocaine use. She had marijuana, cocaine, Xanax, a muscle relaxant and Benadryl in her system at the time of death. Dead at 49.

Heath Ledger, just peaking in a major acting career, his autopsy report says, "We have concluded that the manner of death is accident, resulting from the abuse of prescription medications." In his system at the time of death: oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam, and doxylamine. Dead at 28.

Anna Nicole Smith, model and actress, abused prescription drugs and was killed by a combination of tranquilizers, pain medications, sleeping pills and anti-anxiety drugs – eight different medications in all. Dead at 39.

When they don’t die

Less newsworthy, but still tragic, is when artists lose their capacity to function. They slip away from the spotlight and stop creating or performing. Or their personal problems with substance abuse erode what might have been.

Stevie Nicks, singer for Fleetwood Mac, came out last year and told a heartrending tale of how her addiction to cocaine led to a second addiction to Klonopin and ruined her chances of living out her dreams of marriage and children, despite a successful career. She spent eight years on the drug.

Lindsay Lohan has had a series of what the industry describes as “career interruptions” since 2006. These consist of repeated arrests and stints in rehab centers, leading to cancellations or replacement on several movies and putting her music career on hold. In 2010, she told Vanity Fair, "I want my career back," and, "I know that I'm a damn good actress." But her struggles continue; her latest arrest was in November 2012 for assault.

Charlie Sheen, who famously fought his critics by claiming his drug and alcohol abuse was under control, became a Hollywood pariah as insurance companies refused to insure him. Sheen has been hospitalized more than once for cocaine overdoses. He lost his role on the top television comedy and, after several stints in rehab, looks to be on the upswing.

Who’s next?

When the Globe magazine published a cover story asking the question, “Who’ll Die Next,” the list included some elderly celebrities, but also those with apparent substance abuse problems: Heather Locklear, Demi Moore and Nick Nolte were mentioned, but Linsay Lohan, Paris Hilton and good old Charlie Sheen were in the running.

In one of the saddest examples of the downward spiral, Macaulay Culkin (child star in Home Alone), has steadily deteriorated since his arrest in 2005 on drug charges. His appearance at 32 is shockingly pale and anorectic. The rumors are heroin addiction and possibly suicidal tendencies.

It’s a gruesome game. No matter whose name becomes the next headline, we can bet there will be a next headline. A DUI car crash? An overdose of prescription drugs? When it comes down to it, being rich and famous only changes the addiction picture a little – for awhile, there’s more money around to spend on drugs. For awhile, the police may look the other way. For awhile, fan-friends and publicists will cover up the missteps.

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