Benzodiazepines and Celebrities
Celebrity benzodiazepine stories range from physical dependence, paradoxical reactions, akathisia, benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome and central nervous system harm, to suicide, overdose, addiction and abuse. Benzodiazepines have been suspected or confirmed to play a role in multiple celebrity deaths.
Saoirse Kennedy Hill*
Philip Seymour Hoffman*
Anna Nicole Smith*
Eddie Van Halen*
In a 2019 Vogue interview Canadian pop star Justin Bieber shared about his Xanax misuse:
I found myself doing things that I was so ashamed of, being super-promiscuous and stuff, and I think I used Xanax because I was so ashamed. My mom always said to treat women with respect. For me that was always in my head while I was doing it, so I could never enjoy it. Drugs put a screen between me and what I was doing. It got pretty dark. I think there were times when my security was coming in late at night to check my pulse and see if I was still breathing.
In 2014, Bieber detoxed in pastor Carl Lentz’s home and hasn’t used the drug since. His wife, Hailey Bieber, celebrates his success:
I just wanted him to be happy and be good and be safe and feel joy. But I’m really proud of him. To do it without a program, and to stick with it without a sober coach or AA or classes—I think it’s extraordinary. He is, in ways, a walking miracle.
Kurt Cobain, American singer-songwriter, leading the band Nirvana, died in April 5, 1994 at the age of 27. His death was ruled a suicide with heroin and traces of diazepam (Valium) found in his system.
On the morning of March 4, in Rome, Cobain’s wife, Courtney Love woke to find her husband unresponsive, having overdosed on champagne and Rohypnol. Nirvana’s management claimed that the overdose was accidental, but Love revealed that it was a suicide attempt, telling Rolling Stone that Cobain “took 50 f*cking pills” and had written a suicide note. In the note Cobain wrote that he would “rather die than go through another divorce.”
On March 18, a domestic dispute escalated into a near disaster. Police officers were called. Love told them that Cobain had locked himself in a room with a 38-caliber revolver and said he was going to kill himself. The officers confiscated that gun and three others, along with a bottle of various unidentified pills.
On March 25, Cobain friends and family surprised him with an intervention. Cobain was angry and indigent, In response, Courtney Love threatened to divorce him, and his bandmates threatened to quit. The next day, Cobain visited a friend, and asked him for help in buying a gun. Together, they drove to Stan Baker’s Sports, where Cobain bought a shotgun and ammunition.
On March 30 Cobain flew to Los Angeles to spend four weeks at the Exodus Recovery Center in Los Angeles. He escaped after two days, scaling a six-foot brick wall. On April 2, Cobain returned to Seattle and bought shotgun shells. On April 8, 1994, Cobain’s body was discovered by an electrician. A note was found.
Whitney Collings, star of the reality TV show ‘Bad Girls Club’, died December 3, 2020. Collings’ immediate cause of death was acute intoxication by the combined effects of fentanyl, cocaine, alcohol, and clonazepam, according to her death certificate.
In 2017, American rock musician Chris Cornell died of suicide by hanging in his MGM Grand Detroit hotel room. His family has spoken out, however, stating that he was not suicidal and instead blame the adverse effects of Ativan (a benzodiazepine) for causing his death. The Soundgarden and Audioslave frontman had a previous drug and alcohol addiction problem. He had been in recovery for 4 years. Cornell had a prescription for Ativan and, according to his wife Vicky, he was slurring his words when she spoke to him on the phone just prior to his death. In that conversation, he admitted to his wife that he had taken more than his prescribed dose of his Ativan.
We know that benzodiazepines are proven to cause suicidal thoughts and actions in some people. Ativan’s FDA package insert warns that it may worsen or cause new-emerging depression and a possibility for suicide should be “borne in mind” for those patients. We also know that, of all the benzodiazepines, Ativan carries the strongest FDA language on its package insert about the risks of physical dependence and withdrawal, stating:
In general, benzodiazepines should be prescribed for short periods only (e.g., 2-4 weeks). Extension of the treatment period should not take place without reevaluation of the need for continued therapy. Continued long-term use is not recommended. Withdrawal symptoms (e.g., rebound insomnia) can appear following the cessation of recommended dose after as little as one week of therapy. Abrupt discontinuation of product should be avoided and a gradual dosage-tapering schedule followed after extended therapy.
Why Cornell took more Ativan that he was prescribed can only be speculated. Dr. Drew Pinsky, a famous addiction specialist, told 95.5 KLOS that, as a recovering addict, Cornell “should never have been exposed to” Ativan. He added that (hear audio below):
Benzodiazepines can make people suicidal. It’s the hidden epidemic. People have gotta remember – we’re getting awareness about opiates. Benzos, over a long term, particularly – and by long term, I mean more than two weeks – are a very dangerous class of medications, and extremely dangerous if you have a history of addiction.
In May, 2021, Cornell’s family settled a lawsuit with the doctor who prescribed lorazepam. The terms of the settlement are confidential. Chris’ death marks another senseless, tragic and preventable loss of a talented man to the irresponsible prescribing of benzodiazepines.
Australian Designer Aurelio Costarella was prescribed benzodiazepines by his doctor for anxiety. Aurelio, in an ABC interview, recalls his doctor’s advice and prescribing:
I went from one benzo to two benzos, to three benzos and you know, twice daily, three times daily, and I didn’t question it because I felt that I was being looked after. You shouldn’t be on a benzodiazepine for longer than two to four weeks. Well, I was on three benzodiazepines for three to four years.
Despite believing he was safe, Aurelio Costarella was harmed by prescribed benzodiazepines. He described his “hellish battle” stopping benzodiazepines in a Perth Now interview:
The suicidal thoughts I’ve had over this last year are worse than when I was going through my darkest days with depression and anxiety.
I get paranoid and feel hypersensitive to light and noise so even a trip to the supermarket is a nightmare for me. I tend to run in, grab what I need and get out as fast as I can.
Jonathan Davis, an American singer best known as the lead vocalist and frontman of metal band Korn, has spoken up about his own struggles with the benzodiazepine Xanax. Davis, who has struggled with alcohol and other addictions in the past, started off on prescription Xanax 0.25 mg per day for anxiety. He ended up, from tolerance, taking up to 2 mg daily (one Xanax bar) for two years. He shares, in a 2018 Forbes interview:
I was doing a bar a day, and I slowly weaned down. Which, you cannot function. And if you don’t do it correctly, if you just stop cold turkey off of it, you can go into seizures and die.
Davis, on his anxiety progressing from panic attacks to generalized anxiety and stopping Xanax:
Then my anxiety started to become generalized. It wasn’t just panic attacks. I would wake up and be panicked all day, for 24 hours at a time. Then I started taking Xanax and was like “Ah, this helped.” But before I knew it, I didn’t want take it no more. When I stopped, I started shaking. I was like, “What the f***?” I called my doctor and he gave me the directions of how to wean off. When I weaned off the first time myself, it was not fun.
Davis, on his final stopping of Xanax after reinstating due to insomnia:
The last time, in 2013, I just had to come off. It was taking over my life. I quit cold turkey and went into the hospital. They gave me phenobarbital to keep me from going into seizures. It was a week of severe shaking. I couldn’t talk. I don’t wish that on anyone.
He explains his experience with Xanax:
Yeah, I was in constant detox. I needed to take a pill to be normal for a little while, but once it wore off, I started to get edgy and weird and not think correctly. It messes with the GABA in your brain. Coming off of it, your brain has to learn how rewire itself. I was in this giant boggy cloud.
It got to the point where I’d rather have anxiety than deal with having a f***ing leash around my neck to these f***ing pills. Or having to go on the road and make sure I have enough pills, because if I don’t, I’m gonna start shaking. It was such a burden.
An interview with Davis where he speaks of his Xanax experience:
Adam Michael Goldstein, known professionally as DJ AM, was an American DJ. He was first known as a member of the group Crazy Town After leaving the group in 2001 he became well known for his solo work, performing weekly at Caesars Palace in Vegas and at private celebrity parties. He died in 2009 at age 36. He had recently relapsed after 11 years of sobriety. His death was ruled as an accident by the the New York medical examiner. It was caused by “acute intoxication.” He died from an accidental overdose due to the combined effects of cocaine, Oxycodone, Vicodin, Ativan, Klonopin, Xanax, Benadryl and Levamisole, a drug used to cut cocaine. Goldstein had recently survived a deadly plane crash in 2008. He had appeared on MTV’s docuseries Gone Too Far, where he tried to help others overcome addiction. The show aired after this death.
American actress Lena Dunham struggled with benzodiazepine cessation after taking the benzodiazepine Klonopin she was prescribed for anxiety. According to a 2018 Chicago Tribune interview, every doctor Dunham saw believed she was suffering from anxiety and needed medication, while none of them told her how horrible it would be to detox when she stopped medicating. Lena recounts:
When you try to get off this, it’s going to be like the most hellacious acid trip you’ve ever had, where you’re … clutching the walls and your hair is blowing off your head and you can’t believe you found yourself in this situation.
In a 2018 Vogue interview it is revealed that while Dunham felt that Klonopin was a fruitful tool for her in the beginning, it ultimately wasn’t quelling her suffering—but she was too afraid of the withdrawal symptoms, which range from headaches and fatigue to thoughts of suicide in more extreme cases, to come off of it. She laments:
Nobody I know who [is] prescribed these medications is told, ‘By the way, when you try and get off this, it’s going to be like the most hellacious acid trip you’ve ever had where you’re f*cking clutching the walls and the hair is blowing off your head and you can’t believe you found yourself in this situation,’ Now, the literal smell of the inside of pill bottles makes me want to throw up.
Eminem suffered from an addiction to Valium, amongst other prescription pills. For much of the period from 2002 to 2008, he was addicted to a dangerous cocktail of prescription medication, including Ambien, Valium and extra-strength Vicodin. Now sober over a decade, he has been quite open to the media about his struggle with prescription drugs. His exposure to Valium started early, when Marshall was a child. In his song “My Mom” he raps about his mother putting Valium in his food:
My mom loved Valium and lots of drugs
That’s why I am like I am ’cause I’m like her
Because my mom loved Valium and lots of drugs
That’s why I’m on what I’m on ’cause I’m my mom
My mom, my mom, I know you’re probably tired
Of hearin’ ’bout my mom, oh-ho, whoa-ho
But this is just a story of when I was just a shorty
And how I became hooked on Va-aliu-um
Valium was in everything, food that I ate
The water that I drank, f*ckin’ peas in my plate
She sprinkled just enough of it to season my steak
So every day I’d have at least three stomachaches
Now tell me, what kind of mother would want to see her
Son grow up to be an undera-f*ckin’-chiever?
Beyond My Mom, benzodiazepines appear often in Eminem’s lyrics. In his hit 3 A.M. he raps:
Contemplating my next plot again
Swallowin’ a Klonopin while I’m noddin’ in and out on the ottoman
In Eminem’s Darkness video, he takes on the role of Stephen Paddock, the 2017 Vegas Shooter. Paddock also took Valium. The lyrics mention Valium:
I’m so much like my father, you would think that I knew him
I keep pacin’ this room, Valium
Then chase it with booze, one little taste it’ll do
Maybe I’ll take it and snooze, then tear up the stage in a few
Commando with extra clips, I got ammo for all the hecklers
I’m armed to the teeth, ‘nother Valium fall off the bed
Hit the ground and crawl to the dresser
Alcohol on my breath as I reach for the Scope
I’m blackin’ out, I’m all out of meds
With them benzodiazepines gone
Now it’s just magazines sprawled out on the floor
F*ck the media, I’m goin’ all out, this is war
(Hello darkness, my old friend)
According to a biography Not Afraid: The Evolution of Eminem by Anthony Bozza, Eminem was taking taking between 40 to 60 Valium pills per day. He recalls:
Some days I would just lay in bed and take pills and cry… I needed pills in my body just to feel normal, so I would be sick. It was a vicious cycle.
The Valium was taking a toll on his health. Eminem recalls in Men’s Journal:
The coating on the Vicodin and the Valium I’d been taking for years leaves a hole in your stomach, so to avoid a stomachache, I was constantly eating — and eating badly.
When you’re an addict, you find ways. In the beginning, there were doctors who gave me prescriptions – even after I got out of rehab.
My everyday regimen would be, wake up in the morning and take an extra-strength Vicodin. I could never take more than one and a half, because it tore up my stomach lining. So I’d take the one and a half, and it’d kind of be Vicodin throughout the day. Then, as the evening crept up, around 5:00 or 6:00, I’d start with a Valium or two, or three, or four. And every hour on the hour, I’d pop four or five more. The Ambien would put me over the top to go to sleep.
Toward the end, I don’t think the shit ever put me to sleep for more than two hours. It’s very similar to what I’ve read about Michael [Jackson]. I don’t know exactly what he was doing, but I read that he kept getting up in the middle of the night, asking for more. That’s what I was doing – two, three times a night, I would get up and take more.
Eminem survived and celebrated over a decade of sobriety in 2019.
American actor Corey Haim died in 2010 at age 38. Haim was known for his work in 1980’s films License to Drive and The Lost Boys. California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown, Jr. revealed in a press conference that the month leading up to his death, Haim illegally obtained a massive amount of prescription drugs through “shopping doctors,” and using fraudulent prescriptions. He possessed at least 149 tablets of Vicodin, 195 tablets of Valium, 15 tablets of Xanax and 194 tablets of Soma.
Los Angeles police initially stated that Haim’s death appeared to be an accidental overdose, but Haim’s agent discounted the possibility of an overdose, citing his recent drive toward clean living and affirming that he had been completely drug-free for two weeks. The coroner ultimately ruled that Haim died of pneumonia.
Josie Harris, actress and mother of three of Floyd Mayweather’s four children, died March 10, 2020. The specific cause of death — “mixed drug toxicity” — stemmed from Fentanyl and alprazolam, according to the Medical Examiner-Coroner. Fentanyl is an opioid and alprazolam is sold under brand names such as Xanax.
Saoirse Kennedy Hill
Saoirse Kennedy Hill, granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy, and daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., died in 2019 and age 22. Her death was ruled accidental, with methadone, fluoxetine, norfluoxetine, diazepam, nordiazepam, and alcohol found in her system. Her father shared on Instagram:
We’ve lost our daughter and our children, their sister. Saoirse was fierce, both in her love for her family and yearning for justice. A fearless adventurer, she inspired curiosity and daring in her friends. But her greatest gift was to find humor in everything and to give us all the gift of her laughter – and our own. The gaping hole that she leaves in our family is a wound too large to ever heal.
Philip Seymour Hoffman
The combination of heroin and benzodiazepines, a class of drugs that includes Valium and Xanax, presumably was what killed him, since both depress respiration. The stimulants may have masked the effects of the depressants, leading Hoffman to consume more than he otherwise would have.
Whitney Houston’s autopsy found Xanax in her system. According to a 2012 CNN article, the role of benzodiazepines in her death has been debated. Dr. Drew Pinsky, suggested, after examining the autopsy report, that she may have suffered a seizure brought on by the use of cocaine possibly combined with a withdrawal from alcohol and a prescription sedative (Xanax). Henry Spiller, a toxicologist and director of the Kentucky Regional Poison Control Center, said the level of Xanax found in Houston’s blood was not low enough to trigger a seizure. According to Spiller the level found in Houston’s body would indicate she took four to six pills several hours before she died.
Robert Iler, an cctor best known for playing A.J. Soprano on The Sopranos, appeared on the Joey Diaz podcast. On the podcast he shared about his experience stopping Xanax:
Quitting opiates to me was a joke compared to quitting Xanax. Opiates felt like it was willpower, Xanax felt like I was going to die.
American pop singer Michael Jackson died in 2009 at age 50. His death was attributed to acute propofol intoxication. A 2011 BBC report covered the drugs found in Michael Jackson’s system, including benzodiazepines: lorazepam (Ativan), midazolam (Versed), and diazepam (Valium). Conrad Murray, M.D., who served as Jackson’s personal physician, told the police that he prescribed the benzodiazepines, and, when they no longer worked, Jackson demanded the anesthetic propofol. Benzodiazepines losing their effect over time is a phenomenon called tolerance, which tends to occur once physical dependence has developed.
American author Stephen King struggled with an addiction to alcohol and other drugs in the 1980s. In his 2000 memoir On Writing he acknowledged that he can barely remember writing Cujo. After Cujo’s publication, an intervention was staged. King’s family and friends staged an intervention, dumping on the rug in front of him evidence of his addictions taken from his office, including beer cans, cigarette butts, grams of cocaine, Xanax, Valium, NyQuil, dextromethorphan (cough medicine) and marijuana. The intervention worked! King has remained sober since the late 1980s.
Acclaimed Australian actor Heath Ledger, died in 2008 from an accidental overdose as the result of acute intoxication by the combined effects of oxycodone, hydrocodone,diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam, and doxylamine. Ledger died at age 28, during the height of his career, leaving behind his young daughter, Matilda Rose. His father, Kim Ledger, released a statement through Heath’s publicists Mara Buxbaum:
While no medications were taken in excess, we learned today the combination of doctor-prescribed drugs proved lethal for our boy. Heath’s accidental death serves as a caution to the hidden dangers of combining prescription medication, even at low dosage.
American rapper Gustav Elijah Åhr , known professionally as Lil Peep, died in 2017. The rapper’s death was ruled as accidental overdose of fentanyl and alprazolam (Xanax) from the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner. Instagram videos of the rapper hours before his death. In one video he said:
El Paso, I took six Xanax and I was lit. I’m good, I’m not sick. Imma see ya’ll tonight.
An Instagram video moments before his death shows Lil Peep dropping a Xanax bar into his mouth.
View this post on Instagram
Lil Pump, an American rapper known for glamorizing Xanax, including celebrating his musical success with a Xanax bar cake, shared on his instagram:
I don’t take xanz no more f*ck Xanax 2018
The post has since been removed.
Lil Xan, one of the stage name of Nicholas Diego Leano (aka Diego) is an American rapper. His name Xan is short for Xanax. In a 2017 Genius interview, Lil Xan shares:
I was painfully addicted to Xans for, like, two years of my life. Anyone trying to tell me I’m a poser can shut the f*ck up. I know what it’s like to be addicted to that. I was lucky enough to get off that sh*t.
The full Genius interview can be found here:
The lyrics to his Billboard top 100 song Betrayed include lyrics about Xanax.
Xans don’t make you / Xans gon’ take you / Xans gon’ fake you / And Xans gon’ betray you.
In 2019, Lil Xan relapsed, taking Xanax with opiates. Opening up to TMZ, he shared that he was experiencing seizure from withdrawal:
Back when everybody was like, ‘Diego’s M.I.A., where’s Diego at’ and stuff, I was in the hospital cause I had stopped taking drugs cold turkey, cause I didn’t want to be on drugs no more, but the withdrawals actually gave me seizures.
Demi Lovato, an American Actress and singer, has had a public struggle with drug addiction. She shared on her Instagram:
I have always been transparent about my journey with addiction. What I’ve learned is that this illness is not something that disappears or fades with time. It is something I must continue to overcome and have not done yet.
I look forward to the day where I can say I came out on the other side. I will keep fighting.
In the YouTube documentary Simply Complicated, Lovato shares that a mix of cocaine and Xanax had near fatal consequences:
I started to choke a little bit, and my heart started racing. I remember thinking, “Oh my God, I might be overdosing right now.”
The American Actress, known best for her roles in Clueless, Girl, Interrupted, and 8 Mile, died in 2009 at age 32 from pneumonia and a multiple drug accidental overdose that included, amongst several other medications, the benzodiazepines Ativan and Klonopin.
As the former lead singer of Fleetwood Mac Stevie Nicks has been very public about how prescribed benzodiazepines, taken as directed after becoming sober from her cocaine addiction, were devastating to her health, life, and career. Nicks says the last time she used cocaine on stage was during a concert at Red Rocks in 1986. It was a turning point for her. Afterward, she went straight to the Betty Ford Clinic. But in an attempt to help herself, she encountered a problem far worse than her cocaine problem—she became physically dependent on a benzodiazepine prescription. Fresh out a rehab, she reluctantly saw a psychiatrist:
I went to see a doctor just to check in with somebody and let everybody know that I was OK. I guess when most people go off Klonopin they have a very hard time. I wasn’t one of those people, but he didn’t know that. So he suggested that I go on this drug for my nerves, and I just said OK to get everybody to leave me alone. Well, what a big mistake. I really wonder where I would be now, what I would have done if those eight years were full of creativity and love, and good things instead of full of nothing.
That psychiatrist would be the one to put Stevie on the benzodiazepine called Klonopin.
Nicks has described Klonopin as a “horrible, dangerous drug,” and said that her eventual 45-day hospital detox and rehab from the drug felt like “somebody opened up a door and pushed me into hell.”
The only thing I’d change [in my life] is walking into the office of that psychiatrist who prescribed me Klonopin. That ruined my life for eight years,” she said. “God knows, maybe I would have met someone, maybe I would have had a baby.”
“I was really sick,” she says. Even though her years of cocaine abuse left a large hole in the septum of her nose, she claims that the Klonopin did far more damage:
It was not my drug of choice…I’m not a downer person. I was looking for things that made me want to clean the house and shop, write songs and stay up for four days. I was sad and I was sick. I didn’t really understand right up until the end that it was the Klonopin that was making me crazy. I really didn’t realize it was that drug because I was taking it from a doctor and it was prescribed. It just hit me really hard that that was the foundation for why I was completely falling apart.
Stevie says she took the Klonopin for eight years, learning way too late that Klonopin is a dangerous drug that can also carry adverse effects like depression and weight gain:
My woman’s vanity could not deal with that at all. After being a rock ‘n’ roll sex symbol for all that time, and then all of a sudden to be ‘little fat girl’ was just so unacceptable to me. I could see the disappointment in people’s faces when they’d see me walk in…
Writers do not thrive on drugs like Klonopin and Prozac. It takes your soul; it takes your creativity; it takes your love of running home at night and getting out a typewriter or getting out your paper and pencil and writing something that you love. It takes that away. You don’t care anymore. So Street Angel [the album] was all about just not caring. And that’s horrible to me. One of the few things that I’ve never not done in my life is not care. And I didn’t care for a long time…
Doctors are dying to put you on drugs: ‘Feeling a little nervous? Here, let’s mask everything so you don’t have a personality anymore.’…The overwhelming feeling of wellness and calm equals blah, nothing. My creativity went away. The fabulous Stevie everyone knew just disappeared. I became what I call the ‘whatever’ person. I didn’t care about anything anymore. I got very heavy. One day I looked in the mirror and said, ‘I don’t know you.’ And I went straight to the hospital for 47 days…
It took 47 days for Nicks to detox from the prescription drug, and longer to recover from the damage:
…and it was horrible. My hair turned gray. My skin molted. I couldn’t sleep, I was in so much pain. Legs aching, muscle cramps…The rock star in me wanted to get in a limousine and go to Cedar’s Sinai and say, ‘Give me some Demerol because I am in pain.’ And the other side of me said, ‘You will fight out this 47 days’…
That doctor – he’s the only person in my life I can honestly say I will never forgive. All those years I lost – I could have maybe met somebody or had a baby or done a few more Fleetwood Mac albums or Stevie Nicks albums.
Nicks told Rolling Stone:
So I’ll never forgive him. If I saw him on the street and I was driving – well, I don’t have a driver’s license and it’s good, because I would just run him down.
Dolores O’Riordan, Irish musician and lead singer of The Cranberries, died in 2018 at age 46. She died at the London Hilton in Mayfair. Her cause of death was ruled to be accidental drowning due to sedation by alcohol intoxication. Empty prescription bottles were found in her room, but toxicology found these drugs to only be at “therapeutic levels.” One of the drugs found was lorazepam (Ativan). Lorazepam increases intoxication when mixed with alcohol, even at prescription dosages.
In February 2020, the daughter of the controversial Canadian professor, clinical psychologist, and best-selling author Jordan Peterson announced that her father had been suffering horrific withdrawal effects for many months, after cold-turkeying from Klonopin at the suggestion of a psychiatrist. Mikhaila Peterson reported that her father was close to death several times in North America, where he developed pneumonia, suffered from the medication-induced torture of akathisia, and became suicidal. Unable to find help in North America, he was then flown to Russia, where he apparently underwent a rapid detox. After the detox, Jordan went to Florida and then Serbia for further treatment. In June, 2020, Dr. Peterson shared his experience on The Mikhaila Peterson Podcast.
In October 2020, Peterson released a video. In the video he shared that he had returned home to Canada and remained severely impaired by his use of and withdrawal from his benzodiazepine prescription.
American Musician Tom Petty died in 2017 at age 66. Petty was found unconscious at his home, not breathing and in cardiac arrest, in the early morning of October 2. He was resuscitated and taken to the UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica, California, where he died. The medical examiner’s news release said the autopsy found fentanyl, oxycodone, acetyl fentanyl and despropionyl fentanyl, which are opioids; temazepam and alprazolam, which are benzodiazepines; and citalopram, an antidepressant in Petty’s system. The cause of death was “multisystem organ failure due to resuscitated cardiopulmonary arrest due to mixed drug toxicity” and the manner of death was accidental.
American actor River Phoenix, brother of Joaquin Phoenix, died on October 31, 1993 at age 23. Phoenix already had a promising career with an Oscar nomination and starring roles in the hugely successful films Stand By Me, Running on Emptyand My Own Private Idaho. His death was ruled an overdose. The actor drank a “speedball” of heroin and cocaine dissolved into a drink before chasing it with Valium at the Viper Room. Samantha Mathis, Phoenix’s girlfriend, was asked in a 2018 USA Today interview what River’s future could have held:
I think if River was still here, I think he’d be acting, directing, saving the environment, just living and hanging out. Oh gosh, wouldn’t that be nice?
English musician Dougie Poynter, bassist for the band McFly, shared in November, 2020, that he lost two years of his memory from taking Valium. He shared that he was taking “lethal doses” of Valium following his band’s hiatus in 2016.
American singer Elvis Presley died in 1977 at the age of 42 from a heart attack. The toxicology report found codeine, diazepam (Valium), methaqualone (also known by the brand names Quaalude and Mandrax), phenobarbital, ethchlorvynol and ethinamate in his system. A bottle of Valium, dated 1976, belonging to Elvis Presley sold at auction in 2015 for $6,562.
American actress Naya Rivera, best known for her role as Santana Lopez on Glee, died in 2020 at age 33. She drowned Los Padres National Park in California while on a boating trip with her son. According to her autopsy, she low levels of amphetamine and diazepam (generic Valium), caffeine and a blood-alcohol level of 0.016%. Her death was ruled accidental.
Australian singer Sia got sober in 2010 from both alcohol and prescription pill abuse. In 2013 she told the New York Times “I was in the back lounge, high on Xanax and alcohol, watching every episode of ER from the beginning.”
American stand-up comedian, actress, singer, producer, and writer Sarah Silverman shared in the documentary Laughing Matters that she was prescribed 16 Xanax per day Xanax at age 13. She shared that the psychiatrist who originally prescribed her Xanax hung himself. Silverman instead takes Klonopin.
Anna Nicole Smith
American model, actress, and television personality Anna Nicole Smith died in 2007 at age 39. She was found dead at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida. Her death was ruled an accidental drug overdose. Four benzodiazepines, Klonopin, Ativan, Valium and Serax, along with other prescription meds, were found in her system.
An investigation started against Dr. Sandeep Kapoor, Smith’s doctor, Dr. Khristine Eroshevich, Smith’s psychiatrist, and Howard Stern, Smith’s attorney and companion. The defendants were charged with conspiracy, excessive prescribing of opiates and sedatives to an addict, and fraudulently obtaining drugs by using false names.
Kapoor, who was acquitted, wrote in his diary, “I was making out with Anna, my patient, blurring the lines. I gave her methadone, Valium. Can she ruin me?”
Dr. Eroshevich and Stern were both convicted of conspiracy, but did not see jail time. In 2011 judge Robert Perry dismissed Stern’s conviction. Ira Freeman, a pharmacist, testified he refused to fill Dr. Eroshevich’s prescriptions for Smith, stating it was “pharmaceutical suicide.” Dr. Nathalie Maullin, Smith’s former psychiatrist, testified that she believed Smith was addicted to prescription pills and had cold turkeyed Xanax during her pregnancy, endangeringthe baby and herself. Dr. Maullin said she quickly resumed her medication and began tapering her off Xanax.
Mike Starr, former bassist of Alice In Chains, roommate said he was “mixing” methadone and anxiety medication before he died.
Eddie Van Halen
The late Eddie Van Halen, like Stevie Nicks, was prescribed Klonopin by a doctor when seeking treatment for an addiction. The prescription ended up harming him. A 2012 Esquire interview covers the story, stating:
But this time he went to stop drinking once and for all. The doctors put him on a horrible drug called Klonopin. Then while onstage, he took a nosedive and had to go to rehab to get off the Klonopin, and they put him on antidepressants. Ed’s system was in such shock that he became catatonic for about a year and spent most of 2008 watching television.
Eddie recounts this part of his life:
All I wanted to do was stop drinking. But instead I literally could not communicate. Yeah, I was gone. I don’t know what dimension I went to, but I was not here.
It was such a long process to come out of this. Just to be able to communicate, to talk, was a feat in itself. You know when you see homeless people and they’re literally not here, you know? I laid on the couch for a year. Just watching Law & Order. I was always in the studio making music, and now, nothing.
And slowly I came out of it, and the first thing I remember, really, was picking up a guitar, and my whole hand was locked into a fist. And I thought, “Okay, I guess I won’t be playing anymore.