In June 2010, scientists from the U.S.-based genetic-research company Knome announced their plans to map Ozzy Osbourne’s human genome to better understand how the Black Sabbath frontman, notorious for his forty-year love affair with alcohol and drugs, is still standing in his sixties. A self-described “medical miracle,” Osbourne cheerfully submitted a sample of his blood to shed light on whether his superhuman resilience derives from his DNA.
The Ozzman may be the only entertainer to have bitten the head off a live bat onstage, but he’s not alone in his ability to consume mass quantities of contraband and keep on tickin’. While some celebrities can track their riches through how many mansions and yachts they’ve owned, these four musicians can’t even remember where most of their money went.
Few would deny that Keith “The Human Riff” Richards merits his slot on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time list, but his mighty contributions to the music industry over the past five decades aren’t the only reason he’s a household name: our favorite befeathered, leather-faced guitar god has also been tried on drug charges five times, the gravest of which was for possession of twenty-two grams of heroin in Toronto in 1977, an offense that landed Richards in rehab. And that says nothing of the times he hasn’t gotten caught. Richards has been very open about his decades of substance abuse, but nothing beats his April 2007 confession to NME magazine journalist Mark Beaumonth about the time he inhaled his deceased father’s ashes. Beaumont quoted Richards as saying, “I snorted my father. He was cremated and I couldn’t resist grinding him up with a little bit of blow. My dad wouldn’t have cared … It went down pretty well, and I’m still alive.” Richards later amended that version, claiming NME had misinterpreted his tale, but that didn’t mean he hadn’t done the deed. Rather, as Richards explained to Mojo magazine, “I said I’d chopped him up like cocaine, not with. I opened his box up and … out comes a bit of Dad on the dining room table. I’m going, ‘I can’t use a brush and dustpan for this.’” This Rolling Stone is nothing if not practical.
As well known for her rampant consumption of illicit substances as she is for winning five Grammys in one night, singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse has kept the media on its toes with her booze-fueled marital shenanigans and her numerous hospitalizations throughout her career. Though the beehived twenty-six-year-old has, by her own admission, dabbled in self-mutilation and eating disorders, her main weaknesses have always been alcohol and drugs. After dabbling in substance abuse in 2005, Winehouse rebounded briefly with her acclaimed second album, Back to Black, only to spiral into full-blown drug addiction shortly thereafter. In May 2007, she married her ne’er-do-well boyfriend Blake Fielder-Civil, who admitted to introducing his wife to heroin and crack cocaine; by August of that year, Winehouse canceled several concerts in Europe, citing “exhaustion,” when in fact she was reportedly hospitalized during that time for overdosing on a combination of heroin, ecstasy, cocaine, ketamine, and alcohol. In early 2008, a video circulated of a woman, believed to be Winehouse, smoking crack and talking about taking ecstasy and valium; in late January, the singer entered a two-week rehab program. But that didn’t do the trick: it took another stint in rehab in 2009 and an extended Caribbean vacation in St. Lucia to get her back on the straight and narrow … for the time being. Meanwhile, Winehouse’s lungs and her heart will never forgive her for the havoc she’s wreaked on her body: her father told the Associated Press in June 2008 that her continued use of crack cocaine had caused her to have an irregular heartbeat and reduced her lung capacity to 70 percent.
Babyshambles is an apt moniker for a band founded by British musician Doherty, who’s only thirty-one but is no stranger to controlled substances, jail cells, or rehabilitation facilities. He’s been charged repeatedly with drug-related offenses, including driving under the influence; possession of crack cocaine, heroin, ketamine, and marijuana; and robbing his friends blind. August 2007 found Doherty, who had been arrested thirteen times since 2005, checking into rehab for at least the sixth time, but to no avail—later that same year, several newspapers published photos of him reputedly shoving a crack pipe into his cat’s mouth. In June 2009, Doherty was arrested for driving drunk and possessing heroin; when he showed up at a Gloucester, UK, courthouse for sentencing six months later, a packet of heroin fell out of his pocket. And in March 2010, Doherty was arrested again, this time on suspicion of supplying drugs. No wonder the rocker’s sometime manager Andy Boyd once told the Daily Mail, “The only time I can be sure he’s not doing heroin or crack is when he’s in rehab or prison or asleep.”
When songstress Whitney “The Voice” Houston appeared on Oprah in September 2009 to come clean about her past substance abuse, no one was exactly shocked. Starting in the 1990s, her erratic behavior—including showing up late for rehearsals and interviews, and canceling concerts and talk-show appearances—and her extreme weight loss had fueled allegations of drug use. In 2002, Houston steadfastly denied these rumors, famously telling Diane Sawyer, “Crack is wack,” but by the time Oprah got her hands on Whitney, the diva had changed her tune, confessing that during her fifteen-year marriage to Bobby Brown, she frequently smoked marijuana laced with crack cocaine. Houston entered rehab at least twice, even attending one program with her young daughter, Bobbi Kristina. Though she appears to have gotten back on track—she garnered two NAACP Image Awards nominations and received a BET Honors Award in January 2010—her audiences’ comments that she seems exhausted, out of breath, and off-key on her current world tour have made some naysayers suspicious that her love of the pipe is compromising her famous pipes once again. Still, the singer insists she’s on the straight and narrow and not even considering dropping the curtain on her career. Only time will tell.
On the Up and Up
The above-mentioned musicians’ grasp on sobriety may seem tenuous at best, but we choose to give them the benefit of the doubt. Case in point: Robert Downey Jr., who struggled with drug addiction and criminal charges for years and finally hit a particularly disturbing rock bottom in 2000, when his neighbors in Malibu found him passed out in their child’s bed. Now sober for nearly six years, the Iron Man star is back on top both at the box office and in real life. If he can get clean and stay clean, anyone can.
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