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Famous Faces of Addiction

by Legacy Staff

October is National Substance Abuse Awareness Month in the United States. As we pause to remember a few of the many celebrities who have died as a result of alcohol or drug addiction, it’s important to keep in mind that substance abuse doesn’t discriminate based on gender, race, social status, or profession. Drug or alcohol addiction is a complex disease that continues to claim lives across the U.S. Opioid abuse is on the rise, and countless individuals, families, and communities are struggling to combat this deadly problem. Often addiction goes hand in hand with mental illnesses and disorders such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder, and quitting takes more than good intentions and a strong will. If you believe you or someone you love may have a substance dependency, call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Dolores O’Riordan (1971 – 2018) 

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Dolores O’Riordan (1971 – 2018) helped put Irish music on the map when her band, the Cranberries, scored hits including “Zombie” and “Linger” in the 1990s. O’Riordan was candid about her struggles with drugs and alcohol. The singer died by drowning after excessive alcohol intake, according to official reports.

View Dolores O’Riordan’s obituary


Chuck Mosley (1959 – 2017)

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Chuck Mosley (1959 – 2017) was the front man for rock band Faith No More, singing vocals on the hit song “We Care a Lot” before moving on to join Bad Brains and other bands. His family’s statement after his death noted that Mosley died “due to the disease of addiction.” It went on: “We’re sharing the manner in which he passed, in the hopes that it might serve as a warning or wake up call or beacon to anyone else struggling to fight for sobriety.”

View Chuck Moseley’s obituary

Carrie Fisher (1956 – 2016)

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Actress Carrie Fisher (1956 – 2016) became famous thanks to her unforgettable role as Leia in the “Star Wars” saga, but it was as a writer, speaking frankly about her struggles with addiction, that she became treasured to a whole new group of fans. When she died of a heart attack, her daughter, actress Billie Lourd, released a statement saying that Fisher “battled drug addiction and mental illness her entire life [and] ultimately died of it. She was purposefully open in all of her work about the social stigmas surrounding these diseases… I know my Mom, she’d want her death to encourage people to be open about their struggles.”

View Carrie Fisher’s obituary

Prince (1958 – 2016)

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When pop superstar Prince (1958 – 2016) died in April 2016 at 57, fans and colleagues were shocked, and the world went purple in mourning. Initial reports were that Prince had died of pneumonia, but the coroner’s investigation revealed a different cause: accidental overdose of the opioid fentanyl.

View Prince’s obituary

Scott Weiland (1957 – 2015)

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As the frontman for Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver, Scott Weiland (1957 – 2015) found phenomenal success. But his struggles with addiction were no secret, and he was in and out of rehab and jail. Weiland was once described as “an enormously talented, personable, terrific guy who’s got an enormous problem.” That problem eventually consumed him. He died of an accidental overdose of cocaine, ethanol, and methylenedioxyamphetamine.

View Scott Weiland’s obituary

Philip Seymour Hoffman (1967 – 2014)

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Philip Seymour Hoffman (1967 – 2014) was one of the most acclaimed actors of his generation before his death of a heroin overdose in 2014.

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Peaches Geldof (1989 – 2014)

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Peaches Geldof (1989 – 2014) was 11 when her mother, Paula Yates, died of a heroin overdose. Over the years, Peaches had spoken frequently of her devastation after her mother’s death, making it clear that she wanted to give her children a happier childhood than she had. When Peaches died of a heroin overdose, it was another sad chapter in an incredibly sad family saga.

View Peaches Geldof’s obituary

Cory Monteith (1982 – 2013) 

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Canadian actor Cory Monteith (1982 – 2013) charmed audiences as a quarterback turned show choir star on “Glee.” A deadly combination of heroin and alcohol caused his death at 31.

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Whitney Houston (1963 – 2012) and Bobbi Kristina Brown (1993 – 2015)

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Before Mariah and Celine and Gaga and Adele, there was Whitney Houston (1963 – 2012). In the decades following her meteoric rise to pop superstardom, Houston’s personal struggles played out in the spotlight. Her death in 2012 was attributed to drowning as well as the effects of cocaine use. Three years later, Houston’s only child, Bobbi Kristina Brown (1993 – 2015), would die in a similar fashion.

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Thomas Kinkade (1958 – 2012)

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It has been estimated that one in every 20 American homes owns a copy of a painting by Thomas Kinkade (1958 – 2012). The self-described “painter of light” died of acute intoxication from alcohol and tranquilizers. He was 54.

View Thomas Kincade’s obituary

Amy Winehouse (1983 – 2011)

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The BBC has called singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse (1983 – 2011) “the pre-eminent vocal talent of her generation.” Just as her talent was undeniable, her death seemed sadly inevitable. In 2011, Winehouse – whose 2006 song “Rehab” documented her refusal to seek treatment for addiction – died of alcohol poisoning. She was 27.

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Andy Irons (1978 – 2010)

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World champion surfer Andy Irons (1978 – 2010) died of a heart attack with a secondary cause of death attributed to an “acute mixed drug ingestion.” Drugs found in his system included alprazolam, methadone, benzoylecgonine (a metabolite of cocaine), and traces of methamphetamine.

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Corey Haim (1971 – 2010)

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When former child star Corey Haim (1971 – 2010) died of pneumonia at 38, longtime friend Corey Feldman said, “I always feared this day would come.” The Canadian actor, who had struggled with drug addiction throughout much of his adult life, was reportedly addicted to prescription painkillers at the time of his death. And though drugs did not contribute directly to his death, years of abuse had certainly taken a toll.

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Michael Jackson (1958 – 2009)

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As the world witnessed the extreme physical transformation of Michael Jackson (1958 – 2009) over the decades, it wasn’t hard to imagine an intense emotional pain beneath the carefully crafted façade. His death at age 50 of acute propofol and benzodiazepine intoxication was just one more chapter in the King of Pop’s strange journey.

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Heath Ledger (1979 – 2008)

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When Australian actor Heath Ledger (1979 – 2008) died of an accidental drug overdose, his star was still on the rise. He would win an Academy Award for his performance as the Joker in “The Dark Knight” one year after his death.

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Anna Nicole Smith (1967 – 2007)

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From Playboy magazine and movie roles to real-life courtroom dramas and her own reality TV show, Anna Nicole Smith (1967 – 2007) was in the public eye for much of her adult life. She died of an overdose of sleeping medication just months after her son, Daniel, died of a drug overdose.

View Anna Nicole Smith’s obituary

George Best (1946 – 2005)

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George Best (1946 – 2005) is generally regarded as the most talented football player of his generation, even though he never played in a World Cup. After leaving Manchester United in 1974, Best’s career quickly went downhill as he bounced around soccer clubs in South Africa, Australia, and the United States. Best hung up his cleats for good in 1983 and would struggle with alcoholism for the remainder of his life. Alcohol eventually led to his death in 2005. He was 59.

Curt Hennig (1958 – 2003)

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The son of a wrestler, Curt Hennig (1958 – 2003) catapulted to wrestling fame in the late 1980s and early ’90s as “Mr. Perfect.” Outside the ring, though, things were not so perfect, as became apparent when Hennig died of a cocaine overdose at 44. His father has said that steroids and painkillers also contributed to Hennig’s death. More than a decade later, devastated fans continue to leave messages in Hennig’s Guest Book.

View Curt Hennig’s obituary

Stuart Adamson (1958 – 2001)

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With Big Country, Stuart Adamson (1958 – 2001) became a rock star on both sides of the Atlantic. But during the 1990s, Adamson’s personal problems came increasingly to the fore. After he and his first wife had divorced, she detailed his struggle with alcoholism to the tabloids. Despite joining Alcoholics Anonymous and achieving short-term sobriety, he still struggled with relapses. He disappeared for a time in 1999, failing to show for a series of gigs. It was while watching a soccer game on TV at an Irish pub in Atlanta that Adamson enacted his final disappearance. He stood up and walked out of the bar. Days later, he was found in a Honolulu hotel room, dead at 43. His death was ruled a suicide by hanging, and the autopsy showed a blood alcohol level of 0.28.

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Chris Farley (1964 – 1997)

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Chris Farley (1964 – 1997) chose comedy as a career after watching his father “roar with laughter while watching John Belushi in ‘Animal House,’” according to People magazine. He followed in Belushi’s comic footsteps, starting out with Chicago’s Second City troupe. And, like Belushi, he found fame on “Saturday Night Live,” joining the cast in 1990. Sadly, also like Belushi, Farley became addicted to drugs, and, like his idol, died of an overdose at 33.

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Michael Hutchence (1960 – 1997)

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Michael Hutchence (1960 – 1997) was the founding member and lead singer of the Australian rock band INXS from 1977 until his death by suicide in 1997. Bandmates have traced his mental decline from a head injury in 1992, saying that he wasn’t the same person after that. Drugs and alcohol contributed as well; when he died, he had alcohol, cocaine, and other drugs in his system.

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Peter Cook (1937 – 1995) 

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Dudley Moore and Peter Cook (1937 – 1995) took the comedy world by storm in the 1960s and ’70s. Cook is regarded as one of the most influential comedians of his generation, inspiring Monty Python and others who emerged in his wake. He died at 57 of a gastrointestinal bleed, a direct result of severe liver damage caused by decades of excessive drinking.

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Mickey Mantle (1931 – 1995)

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According to Sports Illustrated, Mickey Mantle (1931 – 1995) “was the last great player on the last great team in the last great country.” He also was an admitted alcoholic. Well before he finally sought treatment for alcoholism, Mantle confessed that his hard living had hurt both his playing and his family. He checked into the Betty Ford Clinic Jan. 7, 1994, after being told by a doctor that his liver was severely damaged from almost 40 years of drinking. Diagnosed with cirrhosis and liver cancer, Mantle received a liver transplant but died soon after. He was 63.

View Mickey Mantle’s obituary

River Phoenix (1970 – 1993) 

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River Phoenix (1970 – 1993) shot to stardom in 1986 with his notable turn in “Stand by Me.” Two years later, at 18, he was nominated for an Academy Award for “Running on Empty,” the first of two Oscar nominations he would receive. Phoenix was only 23 and arguably at the peak of his career when he died of a drug overdose outside a Hollywood nightclub.

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David Ruffin (1941 – 1991)

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David Ruffin (1941 – 1991) joined the Temptations in 1964 and soon shot to the top of the charts with “My Girl.” But as his stardom grew, so did his ego, a situation not helped by his flirtations with cocaine (which would later blossom into a debilitating and lethal romance). He refused to travel with the band, insisting instead on his own fur-lined limo. He began missing rehearsals and demanded the band change its name to David Ruffin & the Temptations. The band kicked him out in 1968. In 1991, Ruffin died of a cocaine overdose after collapsing in a Philadelphia crack house. He was 50.

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Len Bias (1963 – 1986)

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Sometimes, it is just impossible not to close your eyes and wonder what would have been if Len Bias (1963 – 1986) had not died of a cocaine overdose two days after becoming the No. 2 player taken in the NBA draft. Bias, who had shown so much promise at Maryland, was targeted for years by Red Auerbach as the Next Great Celtics player, the one who would take the franchise past the Larry Bird era. Instead, he was a legend interrupted in the NBA, his death described by Bird as “the cruelest thing I’ve ever heard.”

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Phil Lynott (1949 – 1986) 

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As the lead singer of Thin Lizzy, Phil Lynott (1949 – 1986) had something unique, an otherness, an alien mystique that set him apart. Tall, black, elegant, always beautifully dressed, he was almost impossibly cool when, really, it was just not considered cool to be Irish. But as Lynott fell into drug dependency, his confidence in his own talent seemed to evaporate. Thin Lizzy broke up in 1983. His marriage collapsed. Three years later, he was dead of pneumonia and heart failure attributed to septicemia, brought on by years of heroin abuse.

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Garrincha (1933 – 1983)

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Ask most people who the greatest Brazilian soccer player ever is and they’ll almost certainly answer Pelé. But if you ask a Brazilian, you’re just as likely to hear about a player called variously the Angel With Bent Legs, Joy of the People, and the Little Bird. Garrincha (1933 – 1983) showed what it was to love the game, and Brazil loved him for it. After leaving the sport, however, he quickly spiraled downhill, dying of cirrhosis of the liver at 49.

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John Belushi (1949 – 1982)

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John Belushi (1949 – 1982) died of an accidental drug overdose at 33. His was a short life, but one packed with a lifetime’s worth of memorable performances, from standalone “Saturday Night Live” sketches to all-time favorite movies.

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William Holden (1918 – 1981)

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William Holden (1918 – 1981) was a handsome, popular, and talented actor, but he struggled with alcohol addiction. Longtime girlfriend Stefanie Powers has said, “Drinking was, for him, a disease.” Powers refused to marry him until he gave up alcohol. They never married. Holden died alone in his apartment after slipping and hitting his head while intoxicated.

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John Bonham (1948 – 1980)

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Ask a rock ’n’ roll fan who the greatest rock drummer of all time is, and odds are they’ll say John Bonham (1948 – 1980). The Led Zeppelin drummer was 32 when he died as a result of excessive drinking.

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Bon Scott (1946 – 1980) 

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AC/DC frontman Bon Scott (1946 – 1980) is still considered one of the greatest hard-rock vocalists of all time. Scott died of acute alcohol poisoning after a night of heavy drinking.

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Keith Moon (1946 – 1978)

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Rolling Stone lists The Who drummer Keith Moon (1946 – 1978) No. 2 on its list of the 100 greatest drummers. Not bad for a guy who described himself as the “greatest Keith Moon-type drummer in the world.” In an effort to get sober, Moon began taking clomethiazole, a drug used to alleviate the effects of alcohol withdrawal. He died of an overdose after taking more than 10 times the prescribed dosage.

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Freddie Prinze (1954 – 1977)

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Fame came fast and furious for young comedian Freddie Prinze (1954 – 1977). Seemingly overnight, he went from stand-up comedy to television as the star of the hit sitcom “Chico and the Man.” Prinze had found success but struggled with depression and became increasingly dependent on drugs. His wife left him, and as the third season of “Chico and the Man” was drawing to a close, he died by suicide, shooting himself in the head while under the influence of drugs. He was just 22.

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Elvis Presley (1935 – 1977)

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Four decades after his death, fans still mourn for Elvis Presley (1935 – 1977). The King of Rock ’n’ Roll was just 42 when he died. Though the official cause of death was a heart attack, there is evidence that Presley had been addicted to prescription painkillers for years before he died, and these may have contributed to his early death.

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Gram Parsons (1946 – 1973)

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With his unique blend of country and rock, Gram Parsons (1946 – 1973) had an enormous impact on pop music in a short span of time. He also had his own “physical abuse program” of drink and drugs, as a former bandmate in the Byrds put it. Parsons died at 26 of a morphine overdose.

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Veronica Lake (1922 – 1973)

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Veronica Lake (1922 – 1973) became a star thanks in part to her signature hairstyle. As her popularity waned in the postwar years, Lake found it difficult to find work. In June 1973, she was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver caused by years of heavy drinking. She died of acute hepatitis and kidney injury soon after that.

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Jim Morrison (1943 – 1971)

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When the Doors frontman Jim Morrison (1943 – 1971) died in Paris, the official cause of death was listed as a heart attack. Decades later, questions remain, with many believing that he died of an overdose of heroin. What is certain: His death was the third blow in a brutal few months that saw the demise of fellow rock legends Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. All three died at 27, and thus the morbid “27 Club” was born.

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Janis Joplin (1943 – 1970) 

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Janis Joplin (1943 – 1970) was one of the top female musicians of her generation and continues to win fans with her gut-wrenching vocals. But in 1970, she became a statistic, dying of a heroin overdose just days after Jimi Hendrix.

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Jimi Hendrix (1942 – 1970)

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Jimi Hendrix (1942 – 1970) is one of the most influential electric guitarists in the history of popular music, and one of the most celebrated musicians of the 20th century. He was also one closely associated with the drug culture of the time, abusing alcohol and amphetamines in addition to using cocaine, marijuana, and LSD. He died after taking too many barbiturates.

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Brian Jones (1942 – 1969)

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Brian Jones (1942 – 1969) was an integral part of the Rolling Stones until substance abuse and other issues got in the way. In 1969, the Stones went on tour in the U.S. without Jones, whose drug convictions prevented him from obtaining a work permit in America. In July of that year, Jones was found dead in his swimming pool. His liver and heart were heavily enlarged as a result of drug and alcohol abuse.

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Judy Garland (1922 – 1969)

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As a young star at MGM, Judy Garland (1922 – 1969) said she was prescribed amphetamines to stay awake to keep up with the frantic pace of making one film after another, as well as barbiturates to take so that she could sleep. Her long battle with drugs and alcohol ultimately led to her death from a barbiturate overdose; she was 47.

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Jack Kerouac (1922 – 1969) 

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With “On the Road,” writer Jack Kerouac (1922 – 1969) cemented his status as one of the icons of his generation. In 1969, Kerouac died from internal bleeding because of long-term alcohol abuse; he was 47.

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Frankie Lymon (1942 – 1968)

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Frankie Lymon (1942 – 1968) was only 13 when “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” became a top-10 hit in 1955. By 15 he was addicted to heroin. A tumultuous decade followed, culminating in his death of a heroin overdose at 25.

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Brian Epstein (1934 – 1967) 

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Brian Epstein (1934 – 1967) wasn’t a rock star, but he lived a rock star life. The Beatles’ manager sometimes referred to as “the fifth Beatle,” Epstein became addicted to amphetamines. In the summer of 1967, he entered rehab and attempted to kick the habit. He died in August of an overdose of barbiturates and alcohol.

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Lenny Bruce (1925 – 1966)

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Lenny Bruce (1925 – 1966) was a groundbreaking comedian and free speech activist. In his later years, increasing drug use affected his health, and he died of an overdose of morphine at 40.

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Dinah Washington (1924 – 1963)

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Singer Dinah Washington (1924 – 1963) was one of the top recording artists of the 1950s, the Grammy-winning Queen of the Jukeboxes. But her musical gifts were offset by a wild and extravagant personal life. Married seven times, Washington battled weight problems and raced through her profits buying shoes, furs, and cars to lift her spirits. Washington also tried numerous prescription medications, primarily for dieting and insomnia. A mix of the pills she was taking in 1963 caused her accidental death at 39.

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Marilyn Monroe (1926 – 1962)

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The world’s most iconic blond bombshell, Marilyn Monroe (1926 – 1962), died after overdosing on barbiturates at 36, having struggled with addiction, depression, and anxiety for much of her adult life. While the official ruling was suicide, various conspiracy theories exist surrounding her untimely death.

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Billie Holiday (1915 – 1959) 

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After a turbulent childhood and teenage years spent working alongside her mother as a prostitute, Billie Holiday (1915 – 1959) found success, but not quite salvation, on the stage and in the recording studio. Years of alcohol and drug abuse caught up with her, and she died at 44 of heart failure and pulmonary edema caused by cirrhosis of the liver.

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