2016 and the celebrity death curse

George Becker

George Becker

Two legends of music and film passed away this week, you may have heard of them; Carrie Fisher and George Michael. Both died before their time and both had a long history of addiction and mental health problems. Not too much is known at this point, but stories are emerging that they were both using again before their deaths. George Michael’s death was reported as ‘heart failure’ and Carrie Fisher’s death seems related to a heart attack she had days earlier.
So of course, on hearing of this terrible news about people I don’t know, I made it all about me.
They both used cocaine; they both died of heart issues; they both died before their time. Could that also happen to me?

I used a lot of cocaine in my 20’s. And because cocaine, like all illegal drugs, is unregulated I have no idea what I was putting in my body. Of course the thought horrifies me now. But back in the day when I was young, foolish and addicted I really didn’t care. I knew cocaine was cut with some bad s**t and I knew it could cause heart problems, but I couldn’t equate that information to my own need to use it on a nightly basis.
When I heard about George Michael’s death a chill ran through me. I am now of the age, that 53 really doesn’t seem all that old and certainly seems too young to die. My first thought (‘cause it’s always, all about me) was, ‘what if that happened to me too? What if my heart gives up in a decade or so. What if I hardened my arteries and I don’t know it and I’m living with a time bomb? What if I haven’t really escaped the consequences of addiction?’
Am I being irrational?

The irony now, of course, is that I really, really want to live. Even though I was often suicidal in my early 20’s I didn’t really want to die, I just never knew how to live and now I’ve figured that out, I’m scared the consequences of my drug use may still, one day, creep up on me. Those were my first thoughts whenever a celebrity, who had a history of addiction, died this year. Addiction casts a long shadow.

Image by Salvatore courtesy of freeddigitalphotos.net

Image by Salvatore courtesy of freeddigitalphotos.net

Carrie Fisher and George Michael were both artists who produced incredible work despite their addictions. They still had so much life to live. There is a view on the internet that 2016 is killing all our childhood icons before their time, that for some reason 2016 is out to get us. This may be some kind of defense mechanism so we can avoid talking about the real issues, let’s blame it on 2016 being a bad year rather than talking about how addiction and mental health problems have real and preventable consequences. I would prefer us to be talking about how we still need more, much, much more resources to help those who are still struggling. That mental health and addiction services are still underfunded and *sigh* addiction is still seen as some kind of moral failing rather than a brain disease. Because so many of these deaths are unnecessary and trust me when I say, we’re not done yet.

3 thoughts on “2016 and the celebrity death curse

  1. Vicki Stearman

    Veronica, well said. I didn’t think of addiction being a factor in their deaths but it probably was either past, present or both. Thank you for your articles and honesty. I am a recovering addict to alcohol and cocaine as well. So much more needs to be done in this country to help people and affordable. We are made to feel ashamed and like addiction is a moral failing or weakness. More people would be honest with themselves and others if this weren’t the case. Thank you for speaking out.

  2. Esther nagle

    I had a big rant about this on Facebook at the end of 2016. Many of the celebrities who died had addiction and/or mental health problems in their past, or present. While not pointing the finger in the judgemental way that certain corners of the gutter press did, it is true that addiction and mental illness can lead to premature death for all sorts of reasons – there is only so much the human body can take, even celebrities of George and Carrie’s standing are, at the end of things, just human like the rest of us. We will, I am sure, start to see many more deaths in our heroes due to lifestyle and natural life cycles. This is to be expected but as you so eloquently point out, we should be framing the discussion around the dangers of addiction and mental illness, and how these two affect life expectancy and quality of life.

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