Their loss is tragic. But why is no one saying George Michael and others died young after years of drug abuse?
NZ Herald 29 December 2016
Family First Comment: Well summed up article. Prince. George Michael. Carrie Fisher. Rick Parfitt. David Bowie.
“These… talented people died within a few days of one another. All their considerable wealth, and easy access to the best doctors available, couldn’t save them. They had abused their bodies by consuming too many drugs and too much drink…”
The singer Madonna greeted the shock-ingly premature death of the pop star George Michael with the tweet: ‘Can 2016 F*** Off NOW?’ In her crude way she summed up what lots of people are thinking.
There’s a widespread view that more than the usual crop of celebrities have popped their clogs in the past year. Almost every week brings news of the death of another cherished famous singer or actor or other public figure, often at a comparatively early age.
Is the feeling that the Grim Reaper has been more than usually active, at least with famous people, a delusion? The BBC did some research recently which concluded that while the first three months of the year may have seen a disproportionate number of deaths of celebrities, the pattern has since returned to something like normal.
Maybe the ubiquitous nature of social media – and the modern propensity to invest the deaths of stars with an almost religious significance – give rise to a false impression that celebrities are falling off the perch faster than might be expected.
Whatever the truth of the matter, I believe one trend can be clearly discerned – the number of pop stars and actors who are dying prematurely in middle age. In the past week alone there have been three instances. There seems to be a link between them which few observers have cared to notice.
We don’t yet know the cause of George Michael’s tragic death at the age of 53, though a heart attack is suspected. It is surely possible, even probable, that his industrial consumption of drugs over many years was a major contributory factor.
The singer once confessed that he had smoked enormous amounts of marijuana – up to 25 joints a day at some points during his career. More recently, he is said to have moved on to a more deadly selection of new narcotics. He was no stranger to the bottle either.
The celebrated Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher died on Tuesday aged 60 after suffering a heart attack four days earlier. She had survived alcoholism, and an addiction to cocaine, LSD and prescription drugs.
And on Christmas Eve, Rick Parfitt from the band Status Quo shuffled off this mortal coil, aged 68. In his heyday (if that is the word) he had quaffed whisky and red wine for breakfast, and smoked 30 cigarettes a day. He is also said to have worked his way through £1.7 million worth of drugs.
The colourful rock star once said: ‘Throughout the Seventies and Eighties I was a bit of an ogre. I fell into sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll big time.’ He’d often disappear on ‘benders’ lasting days.
These three talented people died within a few days of one another. All their considerable wealth, and easy access to the best doctors available, couldn’t save them. They had abused their bodies by consuming too many drugs and too much drink.
Now, I don’t want to sound preachy. I certainly like a drink, and don’t imagine my liver is in pristine condition. The fact remains that it is sad if middle-aged people die before their allotted span when they still have much to give.
Everyone knows that rock and roll and drugs go together. But what is not often acknowledged, including by many of those mourning the deaths of these celebrities, is the destructive role that lifelong drug use can play in shortening lives.
Oddly, we are almost certainly more aware of the damage caused by alcohol abuse because the Government is always lecturing us and trying to strike the fear of God into us. Earlier this year, the chief medical officer, Sally Davies, urged women to think about the risks of breast cancer before having one glass of wine. That seems tough.
Only yesterday, Public Health England was trying to spread some post-Christmas cheer by claiming that 87 per cent of men and 79 per cent of women in middle age are either overweight or obese, exceed the weekly alcohol guidelines or are physically inactive.
But the harm caused by drugs – and in particular their ruinous effects on the lives of apparently glamorous celebrities believed by fans to have it all – are usually much less widely discussed.
The three stars who died in the past week are not at all untypical in their attitude to drugs. David Bowie, who died last January aged 69, had a long addiction to cocaine, which he once described as his ‘soul mate’. He had cancer, and I obviously don’t know whether drugs were a cause. But he undeniably abused his body.
In the case of the death last April of the singer Prince at the age of 57, there could be no argument about the cause. According to an autopsy, he died from an accidental overdose of a powerful painkiller. Prince had a lengthy history of drug abuse, and had come to rely on so-called opioid drugs such as the one that killed him.
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