According to Drug Enforcement Administration figures, nearly seven million Americans abused prescription drugs in 2009. However, the abuse of these medications is nothing new. Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Judy Garland all indulged in these substances, with fatal results, and decades later celebrities remain the most high-profile abusers of such prescription drugs as hydrocodone, oxycodone and vicodin.
Click ahead to see the celebrities whose struggles with prescription drugs played out in public.
By Daniel Bukszpan
Posted 28 June 2011
Crime Inc., Deadly Prescriptions premieres
Wednesday, June 29 at 9p | 10p |12a |1a ET
According to Guinness World Records, Michael Jackson is the most successful entertainer in history. Dubbed “The King of Pop,” his 1982 solo album, Thriller, is the best-selling album of all time, thanks to songs like “Billie Jean” and “Beat It,” which have driven it to sales of over 110 million copies to date.
Jackson died on June 25, 2009, in the Holmby Hills mansion he was renting. An autopsy determined that he had died from a combination of drugs including the anxiety medication lorazepam and the anesthetic propofol. Diazepam, ephedrine, lidocaine and midazolam were also found in his system.
During the 1970s, Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler was such a notorious drug abuser that he and fellow band member Joe Perry were known as “The Toxic Twins.” By the 1980s, years of cocaine and alcohol abuse had caught up with him and he entered rehab. Defying the odds, he emerged a sober man, and his band went on to even greater popularity than it enjoyed during the 1970s.
Tyler remained sober for over 20 years, but he became addicted to painkillers in 2009. He had fallen offstage at a concert in South Dakota, and the injury was compounded by 10 years of orthopedic injuries suffered on the job by the flamboyant front man. Happily, he successfully finished rehab, and Aerosmith embarked on a highly successful world tour in 2010.
Australian actor Heath Ledger won critical accolades for his work in such films as Monster’s Ball and scored an Oscar nomination for 2006’s Brokeback Mountain. When he was cast as the Joker in The Dark Knight, many people predicted the role would catapult the already ascendant actor to mainstream superstardom. However, on January 22, 2008, he was found dead in his Manhattan home.
Ledger had accidentally overdosed on multiple prescription drugs. According to the coroner’s report, he “died as the result of acute intoxication by the combined effects of oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam, and doxylamine.”
Rush Limbaugh is the host of The Rush Limbaugh Show, the highest-rated talk radio program in America. In 2008 he signed an eight -year contract extension with Clear Channel Communication with a $400 million price tag, bringing one step closer to fruition his statement “I’m not retiring until every American agrees with me.”
The conservative talk show host shocked listeners in October 2003 when he revealed on the air that he had become addicted to hydrocodone and oxycodone, which he had taken to combat back pain. He told listeners that immediately following the broadcast he would exit the building, get in a car and enter an inpatient treatment program.
Anna Nicole Smith was a model, TrimSpa spokesperson and reality-TV star who gained fame as Playboy magazine’s 1993 Playmate Of The Year. She married 89-year-old oil magnate J. Howard Marshall in 1994, and he died 13 months after they exchanged vows, leading to a protracted legal battle over his $1.6 billion estate that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In February 2007, Smith was found unconscious in her room at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel in Hollywood, Florida. Several attempts were made to administer CPR, but by the time she was taken to the hospital it was too late. The coroner’s report claimed Smith died of multiple drug intoxication from medications including chloral hydrate, klonopin and valium.
Actor and comedian Chevy Chase was an original cast member on Saturday Night Live. He was the first anchor of the Weekend Update segment, and he became a breakout star thanks to his impersonation of former president Gerald Ford. He left the show after one season and went on to find success in such films as Caddyshack and National Lampoon’s Vacation, both of which remain classics to this day.
In 1986, he revealed that he was addicted to percodan and percoset after developing chronic back problems resulting from pratfalls he took on Saturday Night Live. Ironically, he was treated at the Betty Ford Clinic, the facility founded by the woman whose husband was the inspiration for those same pratfalls.
Keith Moon was the notoriously hard-living drummer for The Who. Stories of his alcohol and drug consumption were infamous and often overshadowed his musical talents. This was never more apparent than at a 1973 concert in San Francisco, during which he passed out mid-concert from a mixture of brandy and horse tranquilizers.
In 1978, the drummer resolved to get sober and was prescribed clomethiazole, a drug that alleviates withdrawal symptoms in alcoholics. Unfortunately, the medication was itself highly addictive, and Moon far exceeded his doctor’s instructions to take no more than three tablets per day.
According to Tony Fletcher’s book, Moon: The Life and Death of a Rock Legend, he took 32 tablets on September 6, 1978, and was found dead the next day. In an eerie coincidence, he died just after the release of the newest Who album, Who Are You, which pictured him sitting in a chair with the words “Not To Be Taken Away” stenciled onto it.
Hole’s Courtney Love has been a rock icon since the grunge era. The widow of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, her drug abuse was the subject of copious media attention, particularly after giving an interview to Vanity Fair magazine in which it was implied that she used heroin while she was pregnant.
Love temporarily lost custody of her daughter in 2003 after overdosing on OxyContin, and in 2004 she was arrested for assault and reckless endangerment while facing charges of illegal possession of hydrocodone and oxycodone. Love was eventually sentenced to six months in court-ordered rehab.
Actor Jeff Conaway achieved legendary status when he played Kenickie in the 1978 movie musical Grease alongside John Travolta. Together they sang the immortal chestnut “Greased Lightning,” a song about Kenickie’s prized car. However, while filming this sequence for the movie, Conaway suffered a back injury that got him started on prescription medications.
Celebrity treatment specialist Dr. Drew Pinsky treated the actor on several occasions. "Jeff was a severe, severe opiate addict with chronic pain, one of the most serious and dangerous combination of problems you could possibly interact with," Pinsky said. "I told him for years that it was going to kill him." Sadly, Pinsky was right, and on May 27, 2011, Conaway died in Los Angeles at age 60.
Although he has numerous film and television appearances to his credit, Matthew Perry will always be remembered for his portrayal of the snarky Chandler Bing on the hit series Friends. The show was hugely popular, and over 51 million people tuned in to watch its 2004 series finale.
Perry served two stints in drug rehabilitation for vicodin addiction. His first was a 28-day program in 1997, and the second was in 2001, when he sought treatment for vicodin, amphetamines and methadone.