10 Music Legends Who Were Killed By Big Pharma and the War On Drugs
“Chris’s death is a loss that escapes words and has created an emptiness in my heart that will never be filled,” Vicky Cornell, wife of late Soundgarden and Audioslave musician, Chris Cornell, lamented in a statement. “As everyone who knew him commented, Chris was a devoted father and husband. He was my best friend.”
Vicky, reverently recalling Chris’ time spent with their children over Mother’s Day and plans for a Memorial Day vacation, expressed pain and grief in that Friday morning announcement following his death in the wee hours Thursday morning.
But she also suggested a pharmaceutical frequently prescribed to combat addiction played a role in the rocker’s death — Ativan, a benzodiazepine similar to Valium or Xanax, came up in Vicky’s last conversation with Cornell.
“When we spoke after the show, I noticed he was slurring his words; he was different,” she continued, as quoted by Rolling Stone. “When he told me he may have taken an extra Ativan or two, I contacted security and asked that they check on him.”
Attorney Kirk Pasich elucidated further, stating, “Without the results of toxicology tests, we do not know what was going on with Chris — or if any substances contributed to his demise. Chris, a recovering addict, had a prescription for Ativan and may have taken more Ativan than recommended dosages. The family believes that if Chris took his life, he did not know what he was doing, and that drugs or other substances may have affected his actions.”
That Chris Cornell indeed actively sought to curtail a notorious drug dependency with the aid of a physician — who unfortunately then prescribed legal medication as pernicious as substances the State deems illicit — underscores the inanity of the U.S. government’s dangerous drug war.
Schizophrenic drug policy makes criminals of addicts, users, and dealers, without providing options for those genuinely seeking radical change in treatment. Those who avoid the injustice system or finish time served and want help do not always fare well.
Standard medical practice frequently toes the drug war’s blurry line, as doctors dole out benzodiazepines and other prescribable drugs deemed ‘medications,’ whose side effects can mimic and mirror the most undesirable symptoms of the original subject of addiction — or worse.
Ativan, as many of these legal medications — and mimicking full-fledged addiction — warns in its laundry list of side effects to notify a doctor if the user experiences “thoughts of suicide or hurting yourself” and “unusual changes in mood or behavior.”
Now, reread both the attorney’s and Vicky Cornell’s statements on Chris’ behavior. Is this truly the optimum method to fight the epidemic of addiction and overdose science can manage?
For the duration of the failed war on drugs, the answer remains a decisive — wholly unnecessary — ‘yes.’
And appallingly so, given the State would only need lift prohibition on cannabis to truncate the spiraling opioid epidemic — an incendiary time bomb fueled by excessive prescribing of legal opioid prescriptions and worsened by the availability of cheap, but oft-tainted, illegal opiates flooding the country.
This multifaceted mess — which, whatever the medical examiner determines, ultimately took Chris Cornell’s life — has left a trail of bodies for decades, plucking icons of the music world as readily as your next door neighbor, in a politicized phantasm of calamity worthy only the U.S. Empire of Lies.
Following are just nine other musicians who ran headlong into the drug war whose only success is the misery of its incarcerated and suffering victims — including those erased too early, more for illegality and impotent solutions, rather than the substances, themselves.
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Original drug warrior, himself, Harry Anslinger, revived failed alcohol prohibition through a facelift and refocusing of subject matter — without bathtub bootleggers to ruin, he spearheaded the effort to destroy pot smokers and dealers — and the entirety of the jazz movement.
Appointed head of the nascent Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1930, Anslinger ultimately tried in vain to root out a network of drug users and dealers he saw responsible for the free-form jazz so cacophonous to his ears. Holiday, to him, represented an archetypal African American jazz musician, loosened in morals and apparently threatening to some mythical — and quite lily white — law and order.
With a horrendous addiction to drugs and alcohol already numbing Holiday’s emotional and physical pain, Louis McKay — her husband, punishingly abusive manager, and sometimes pimp — worked with Anslinger to set her up for prison, and teach the jazz world a lesson that it wasn’t beyond the arm of law.
Successful the first time, sending her to prison for a year, Anslinger’s second attempt robbed the planet of jazz virtuoso — but her melodic notes and keenness to the drug war’s bloodthirsty underbelly lives on. Rather than blame law enforcement agents as individuals, Holiday had the wherewithal to instead lay blame for her heroin addiction where it rightfully belonged: the war on drugs, itself.
“Imagine if the government chased sick people with diabetes, put a tax on insulin and drove it into the black market, told doctors they couldn’t treat them,” Holiday penned in a damning memoir, quoted by journalist, expert, and ex-addict, Johann Hari, “then sent them to jail. If we did that, everyone would know we were crazy. Yet we do practically the same thing every day in the week to sick people hooked on drugs.”
In April 2016, the epochal and revolutionary singer Prince succumbed to an accidental overdose of counterfeit fentanyl — a faster-acting, synthetic, and immensely stronger legal painkiller than even the hydro- or oxycodone so commonly prescribed in the U.S. Although the 57-year-old icon had not been given a doctor’s order for any controlled substances in his home state of Minnesota over the preceding 12 months, at least 20 bottles of vitamins and prescriptions tested positive for the dangerous substance and others.
Fentanyl can be every bit as addictive as heroin — and, being legal but often prescribed on a limited basis, the painkiller kills more than pain — with black market counterparts frequently containing unwanted or unannounced additives, perilous in their own right.
Whether or not Prince harbored a surreptitious fentanyl habit may never be known — but responsibility for his death can be veritably thrown at the drug war’s feet. Had the prodigious vocalist and instrumentalist sought and obtained fentanyl from a legal market — where quality control would be key, without arbitrary illegality of the war on drugs — it’s likely an imposter product would not have stolen his last breath.
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Just one week after Thanksgiving, Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver frontman, Scott Weiland, fatally overdosed on a toxic mix of illicit and legal substances, over a decade after ending a public chronicle of addiction. What fans had not been privy to was Weiland’s private torment — bipolar disorder — of which wife, Jamie, who met the singer in 2011 and swiftly understood the monster, recalled for Billboard last year,
“He would be on the couch with a drink, smoking and watching whatever mindless television. I started to see he had paranoia and some of the bipolar stuff started to come out.”
Keeping all curtains drawn and acting increasingly unhinged, Weiland forced Jamie into an allegorical corner — and she vacated their home in self-preservation, on at least one occasion.
An effective prescription seemed to treat his symptoms, but side effects like untenable weight gain led Weiland to dump the promising palliative — and try, drop, and uptake a number of others, alongside the heroin and alcohol which strangled the vocalist’s reason and rationale.
“The Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office released a statement on Dec. 18,” Billboard reported, “finding that Weiland died accidentally of mixed-drug toxicity: cocaine, ethanol and methylenedioxyamphetamine (an analog of MDMA). Other significant conditions noted were atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease, asthma and multiple-substance dependence. Plus, he was on prescription medications Lunesta, Klonopin, Viagra, Dalmane, Buprenex and Geodon.”
Without extenuating potential legal ramifications surrounding the illicit drugs, or a national imperative to insert addicts in treatment programs rather than cages, perhaps Weiland — who had sought costly assistance on multiple occasions — might have escaped with his life.
“Hailed by Rolling Stone as the greatest guitarist of all time,” the magazine notes in a biographical page devoted to the legend, “Jimi Hendrix was also one of the biggest cultural figures of the Sixties, a psychedelic voodoo child who spewed clouds of distortion and pot smoke.”
Given the phenom’s breadth of talent and sheer audacity, perhaps no description of Hendrix’ life and accomplishments would ever sufficiently summarize his legendary status around the globe. But fame being the nefarious punisher, Hendrix ultimately fell victim to a spectrum of legal and illicit substances at just 27 years of age, albeit almost certainly by accident.
On the day following the death of the world’s musical idol, September 19, 1970, journalist Henry Maule wrote for the Daily News Hendrix “was found deeply unconscious at the home of a blonde girl friend in the Notting Hill section. He was pronounced dead after being taken in an ambulance to St. Mary Abbots Hospital.”
Maule noted the musician had stood trial in Toronto for possession of hashish and heroin, but, during court proceedings, admitted only to using “marijuana, hashish, LSD and cocaine” — “never heroin.”
Stressed from overwork, personal issues, and a less productive year than many previous, Hendrix officially died of a barbiturate overdose — murky and unrefined though the details therein remain.
Shining a rarely observant light on drug culture — incidentally, not long after President Richard Nixon’s drug chief rejuvenated the drug war as a political offensive against African Americans and cannabis users — Hendrix hammered home the perils and foolishness in deeming illegal choices an individual would make for themselves, alone, that would not harm another, stating,
“This I really believe: anybody should be able to think or do what they want as long as it doesn’t hurt somebody else.”
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Were that philosophy to append the mission of the war on drugs, the planet would almost certainly have witnessed fuller playlists from countless musicians — immediately springing to mind are Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, Keith Moon, Jim Morrison, and Kurt Cobain.
That hardly scratches the surface.
Disparate genres, talents, and foibles aside, each musician — and ordinary person — falling victim to drug abuse, overdose, and death is subsumed and spit out as the troubled bones evincing predatory effects of the duopsony in the drug war and Big Pharma, still sealing authoritarian control of all illicit substances.
A perpetual, collective voice from these fallen icons past and future, emanates hauntingly from the grave — in a synchronicity not imagined, given their disparate genres — that to continue the war on drugs in perpetuity damns the world to future pain not justifiable by any definition.
Were the dangerous war on substances instead to focus its sights on the ills and issues making their ingestion an insurmountable temptation, the planet could step resoundingly closer to peace — peace, that is, set to music from the richly talented tapestry of artists whose only harm brought only their own ends.