12 Musicians Who Drank Themselves to Death
12 Musicians Lost to Alcohol-Related Causes
People enjoy alcohol for many reasons, such as its taste, a sense of belonging experienced from drinking with friends, its physical effects, and sometimes its symbolic meaning (end of workday drink or a celebratory drink). Alcohol’s social acceptance makes us forget that it is a drug and causes harm when consumed in excess. Even though many can enjoy alcohol occasionally, some form an addiction to alcohol.
Heavy drinking is defined as consuming more than seven drinks a week for women and more than 14 drinks a week for men. Consequences of long-term heavy drinking can have many adverse health effects, including liver disease, mood disorders, various cancers, alcohol dependence, weakened immune system, and much more. If not treated, alcoholism can be fatal. Even one night of heavy drinking can turn into alcohol poisoning, which can be fatal or even result in a deadly accident.
While alcoholism can affect anyone from any type of career, we often see musicians especially vulnerable to addiction. Several different facets contribute to the higher than normal alcoholic musicians. These can include mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression, performance anxiety, workplace and cultural pressures to drink and party, pressures of fame, and pressures of touring, just to name a few. Sadly, there is a long list of famous musicians whose lives were cut short early because of alcohol abuse.
1. Amy Winehouse
Winehouse died at the very young age of 27 on July 23, 2011. She started drinking alcohol at just 12 years old and struggled with alcohol addiction for most of her life. She had also dabbled with crack cocaine and heroin later in life while she continued alcohol abuse to numb her mental health issues. Paramedics found her body at her home with empty vodka bottles on the floor. Toxicology tests revealed she had five times the legal drink-drive limit. Winehouse passed away from alcohol poisoning.
2. Billie Holiday
She is regarded as one of the most influential jazz singers in American history, but she spent most of her life under the grip of drug and alcohol addiction. Holiday used drugs and alcohol to self-medicate and deal with years of sexual abuse as a child and teenager. On July 17, 1959, she died of pulmonary edema and heart failure due to alcohol-induced cirrhosis of the liver. She was only 44 years old at the time.
3. Jimi Hendrix
Hendrix used drugs and alcohol to escape his emotional pain and frustration for much of his career. He had been in poor health due to fatigue from overwork, chronic lack of sleep, and an influenza-related illness days before his death. The night before his death, he had been out partying, drinking alcohol, and consuming amphetamines. Because of his drug addictions and to come down, he ingested eighteen times the recommended amount of sleeping pills. He was found unresponsive and covered in vomit due to a drug and alcohol overdose. On September 18, 1970, Hendrix passed away. His cause of death was due to asphyxia from his vomit.
4. David Cassidy
David Cassidy’s rise to fame started in the early 1970s on the musical sitcom “The Partridge Family,” which catapulted him into a teen idol and superstar pop singer. During an interview with A&E, Cassidy admitted he had a drinking problem to cover up the sadness and emptiness, even after attempting sober living many times. He had attributed his memory problems to dementia, but it was actually alcohol-induced, and he had developed liver disease. On November 21, 2017, he died after days in the hospital due to liver and kidney failure directly resulting from his alcoholism.
5. Townes Van Zandt
Van Zandt’s influence on the country music world and beyond has spanned decades. Sadly, he suffered from drug and alcohol addiction with a dual diagnosis of bipolar disorder. His addiction led to him rehab nearly a dozen times, but by 1982 he was drinking at least a pint of vodka daily. Later in life, after leaving the hospital after a bad fall, he experienced alcohol withdrawals. His ex-wife gave him vodka to ward off the delirium, and he was given four Tylenol PM tablets for his pain. He died on January 1, 1997, from cardiac arrhythmia.
6. Jim Morrison
Morrison, the lead singer of The Doors, had developed alcoholism throughout his career to cope with depressive moods and traumatic events because he felt it helped his creativity. Drugs and alcohol took their toll on Morrison, and his performances were greatly affected. On July 3, 1971, he was found unresponsive in a tub in Paris. No autopsy was performed, but it is believed he passed from a drug and alcohol overdose.
See why Collin Farrell needed to go to rehab multiple times in our blog below:
7. Ron “Pigpen” McKernan
Unlike the other members of the Grateful Dead, McKernan preferred alcohol and avoided psychedelic drugs. By 1971, doctors had advised him to stop touring because alcoholism and liver damage had greatly affected his health. On March 8, 1973, he was found dead at age 27 due to a gastrointestinal hemorrhage.
8. Hank Williams
Williams died in 1953 at age 29 from a heart attack after years of alcohol and prescription drug abuse. He had picked up a drinking habit as an early teen and later self-medicated with alcohol and painkillers for his chronic back pain problems. He attempted many times to get sober, but it never lasted long.
9. Bon Scott
Bon Scott is known as AC/DC’s original lead singer and lyricist. He was also known to have been a heavy drinker, even by Rockstar standards. On the night of February 18, 1980, Scott met up with a few friends at the Music Machine club in London, where he drank heavily and eventually climbed into his friend’s parked car to sleep it off. The following day his friends found him unresponsive and covered in vomit. He was declared dead upon arrival at the hospital at just 33 years old. It was later speculated he died of alcohol poisoning and aspiration pneumonia from vomit traveling into his lungs.
10. Janis Joplin
Singer-songwriter Janis Joplin’s lifestyle consisted of drinking every day, to the point of blacking out and admitting to friends she did not remember the shows she played whatsoever. She also had a history of drug addictions, especially heroin. The “First Lady of Rock and Roll” overdose may have been caused by her severe anxiety and possible depression. Even though her death is thought to have been a heroin overdose, alcohol also played a role.
11. John Bonham
John Bonham is also on the long list of famous musicians who drank themselves to death. According to those who knew Bonham, he often missed his home life while on tour with his band, Led Zeppelin, and often turned to drinking to drown out his sadness. On September 24th, 1980, Led Zeppelin started rehearsals for their North American tour. Bonham stopped for breakfast on the way there, where he drank four quadruple screwdrivers (vodka with orange juice). He continued to drink throughout rehearsals and after 12-hours of drinking, was put to sleep on his side by his assistant. Bonham was found unconscious the next morning, and after an attempt to wake up, they realized he had passed in his sleep from inhalation of vomit. He had consumed about 40 units of vodka.
12. Keith Moon
Keith Moon, the drummer of The Who, was notorious for destroying hotel rooms and his drum kit on stage while performing. He suffered several hindrances during the 1970s, including the accidental death of his chauffeur and the end of his marriage. He developed an addiction to alcohol, notably to brandy and champagne. While touring with The Who, he passed out several times on stage and was hospitalized. He moved back to London in 1978 when his deterioration from alcoholism was evident. In September of that year, he passed away from an overdose of Heminevrin, a medication used to treat and prevent alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Alcohol Rehab at Muse Treatment
It is hard not to think about how many of these talented musicians may have led longer, more productive lives if they had received adequate help for alcohol addiction. A program that may have addressed any co-occurring disorders and helped with coping mechanisms to handle the stresses of their career.
At Muse Addiction Treatment Center in Los Angeles, we understand the many underlying issues surrounding addiction and aim to treat alcoholism at its root. We strive to give our clients the tools they need to gain long-lasting sobriety that continues way beyond their time with us. We support every client no matter where they are in their recovery journey and understand that sometimes it takes a few tries to find the right program.
Our treatments will address trauma and co-occurring disorders and help our clients understand and change their behaviors surrounding addiction. We create a personalized treatment program for each client, including individual therapy, group counseling, 12-step programs, and holistic treatments. If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol use disorder, please give us a call at (800) 426-1818 today. One of our addiction specialists will gladly help answer any questions you may have so you can begin your recovery journey.