Whitney Houston's death last month from accidental drowning and the effects of cocaine use and heart disease throws a bright light on a dark corner of the world of celebrities who wrestle with substance abuse.
The toll of celebrity addiction -- to street drugs, prescription medications, alcohol or a mix -- is long and mournful, and it seems particularly heavy right now because of the deaths of Houston, 48, and Amy Winehouse, 27.
And not just them: In recent years, Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger and Anna Nicole Smith have succumbed to overdoses; going back further, the list includes John Belushi, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Judy Garland.
Americans these days can't escape the steady stream of news about celebrities and their controlled substances. Take Lindsay Lohan, 25. After years of erratic behavior, multiple arrests and five stints in rehab, Lohan says she has cleaned up her act. She promised to stay away from drugs and alcohol, and she completed her comeback gig as host of Saturday Night Live March 3 (ratings were good but reviews were mixed).
Recent weeks also brought news that actor Gerard Butler (300), 42, and comedian Artie Lange, 44, both completed rehab for addiction and are back working. Yet actress Demi Moore, 49, who was hospitalized after smoking something that gave her convulsions, sought "professional assistance" for her problem. And actor Alex O'Loughlin, star of CBS' Hawaii Five-0, has announced that he would take time off to get "supervised treatment" for pain medication prescribed after a shoulder injury.
This sort of thing is not uncommon in Hollywood: Actress Tatum O'Neal, 48, who has long battled to overcome substance abuse, also is in "supervised treatment" to prevent a recurrence of addiction, to painkillers prescribed for back surgery. "She will always seek supervision when taking prescription medication that has addictive potential," according to a statement issued by her manager, Angela Cheng Caplan.
But it's fair to ask: Is there a fatal attraction between celebrities and controlled substances? Why do some survive and some die?
"It's that caustic mix of sudden celebrity and being strung out and it being condoned by the people around you," says Duff McKagan, 48, the original bass player for rock band Guns N' Roses and a longtime drug and alcohol addict who had to nearly die from an exploding pancreas in 1994 at age 30 before he was motivated to get help. His mother weeping in her wheelchair over her youngest child, and his eventual discovery of the physical and spiritual strengths of martial arts, also helped, he says.
A painful reminder
Houston's death brought up painful memories for daytime talk-show host Wendy Williams, who walked away from her secret cocaine addiction years ago because she wanted a better life.
"Whitney and I, same age, and both plagued with the demon of substance abuse," Williams said tearfully on her show shortly after Houston's death. "It's been almost 15 years since I smoked last from a crack pipe. It's been almost 15 years since I waited on Jerome Avenue in the Bronx for my drugs."
Williams, 47, whose 3-year-old talk show has been renewed for two more years and is syndicated in more than 150 markets, started dabbling in drugs when she was in college, and fame and success later did nothing to stop her escalating habit. She looks back on those years with her signature mix of humor and self-awareness. A middle-class girl with middle-class values, she says she could not have survived the "TMZ era" of salacious attention on celebrity addiction.
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