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Tony O'Neill Tony O'Neill

Ten Instructive Celebrity Drug Stories of 2014


Whether trivial or tragic, the travails of the famous have much to teach us about the harms of drug prohibition and media-driven stigma.

10 Substance
Score


The war on drugs seems to be reaching its endgame, thanks to shifting public opinion, rapidly changing laws and a political class finally tiring of throwing good money after bad. But prohibition, criminalization and stigmatization were still common and unnecessary ways to ruin lives in 2014—adding greatly to those harms that can be directly attributed to drugs or addiction. The rich and famous provide some cases in point, so Substance.com casts a jaundiced eye over this year’s most shocking, silly or plain sad celebrity drug stories.

1 One Direction Smoke a Joint

In May a single joint caused Twitter to explode, which in itself tells us how far we have yet to come on this issue. The joint in question was being smoked by Zayn Malik and Louis Tomlinson of One Direction, hours before the pop idols performed a sold-out show in Lima, Peru.

The Daily Mail got hold of a video of the two getting stoned and ran an article exposing “the dark side” of the “squeaky clean boy band.” Winding itself into paroxysms of self-righteous anger, the Mail added that the video is “likely to shock the parents of their many millions of young fans,” with a warning that it could “damage the plans of Simon Cowell to build on their huge American success and grow the band to superstar status—with the two members caught on film now facing the possibility of being barred from entering the US.”

Just to clarify, Peru’s drug laws are much more relaxed than those in the US or UK. According to Article 299 of the Peruvian penal code, the possession of any of the following for personal use carries no legal penalties: up to two grams of cocaine; 5g of cocaine paste; 8g of marijuana; 1g of opium latex or 200 milligrams of opium derivatives; 250mg of MDMA, MDA or meth.

But then, “Two Grown Men Ingest Substance in Accordance With the Law” makes for a much less exciting headline, doesn’t it?

 

2 David Brockie of GWAR Overdoses

You’ve gotta love GWAR. The theatrical metal band, whose thrashy anthems include “Bring Back The Bomb,” “Saddam A Go-Go” and “I’m In Love (With a Dead Dog),” thrilled audiences for decades with their monster outfits, spurting fake blood and onstage mutilations of Ronald Reagan and Lady GaGa effigies.

But heavy metal’s court jesters were devastated when lead singer David Brockie—better known by his alter ego, Oderus Urungus—was found dead in March of an accidental heroin overdose. He was 50.

Thanks to prohibition and the vagaries of the black market it has created, it is near-impossible to know the strength of the dope you’re buying. More enlightened policies, like those enacted in Switzerland and, just recently, Vancouver, reduce the risks by treating addiction as a health issue, instead of a criminal one.

While Brockie had a low-key funeral, his stage persona was given a traditional Norse send-off: The Urungus costume was put onto a boat loaded with offerings, pushed into the water and set ablaze with a flaming arrow. The eulogy was delivered by Lamb of God singer Randy Blythe, who said: “Dave is the only motherfucker I know who has to get put away twice. He’s too big for one fucking funeral.”

 

3 Jaycee Chan Arrested for Marijuana Possession

Jaycee Chan, son of international action star Jackie Chan, was arrested in August as part of a crackdown on drug-using celebrities in China. Cops raided Jaycee’s house, where a party was taking place, and reportedly confiscated 110g of marijuana.

China has some of the harshest drug laws on the planet, and executes thousands of people per year for drugs offenses. Yet despite this super-draconian approach, prohibition has still failed—as Chinese human rights activist Shen Tingting detailed for Substance.com, drug use is widespread, millions of people are addicted and HIV/AIDS is a major cause of death.

Jackie Chan later issued a statement: “As a public figure, I am very ashamed, and as a father, I am very distressed. His mother especially is heartbroken. I hope teenagers will learn a lesson from Jaycee and stay far away from the violation of drugs… Lastly, I also have to bear responsibility for being unable to educate my son, so on Jaycee’s behalf, I deeply bow and apologize to society and to the public.”

A world where marijuana use, of all things, can be a source of such shame is a crazy world indeed.

 

4 Trey Radel Resigns

The up-and-coming Republican congressman was one of those compassionate folks who voted in favor of drug testing welfare applicants. This obnoxious law—later ruled unconstitutional by a federal court—would funnily enough not have extended to drug testing politicians, who are also paid from the public purse. Yet Congressman Radel was apparently quite a fan of cocaine.

His career began to unravel in October of last year, when he bought 3.5g of cocaine from an undercover officer in Washington. Still, the Tea Party favorite vowed to fight on, despite pressure from the GOP to quit. He went public, explaining that he had “struggled with alcoholism off and on for years,” and claiming he’d only used cocaine on a handful of occasions. However, by January of this year—with an investigation by the House Ethics Committee hanging over his head—Radel resigned.

One important question remains: Just how much coke was Trey Radel on when he wrote this Buzzfeed essay dubbing Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power” a conservative anthem?

 

5 Wiz Khalifa Arrested for Weed

Musicians getting arrested for having pot on their tour bus has been trending in recent years, with the likes of Willie Nelson, Justin Beiber and now rapper Wiz Khalifa taking a (metaphorical) hit. In November the “Black and Yellow” rapper—who hardly smokes incognito, with his own brand of rolling papers and a marijuana strain named after him—was arrested in Greenville, North Carolina after playing a sold-out show at East Carolina University.

Campus cops claimed that they smelled marijuana smoke backstage and coming from the tour bus; they found 60g and arrested Khalifa along with nine members of his entourage. Khalifa has been charged with a felony count of trafficking in marijuana, a felony count of maintaining a dwelling/vehicle/place for sale or storage of marijuana and one misdemeanor charge of possession of drug paraphernalia. He was eventually released on a staggering $300,000 bail. The cost to the taxpayer of the police investigation and legal proceedings relating to these heinous crimes has not been disclosed.

Upon making bail, the rapper tweeted: “waken…baken…wrist still achin. thnx for tha love and support.” We’d recommend that he play the University of Colorado Denver next time.

 

6 Kevin McEnroe Gets Busted and Burned

The son of temperamental tennis ace John McEnroe and troubled actress Tatum O’Neal, Kevin McEnroe, 28, got popped buying drugs on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in July. Cops swooped in after seeing him make a suspicious transaction near the corner of Avenue A and 4th, catching him with six glassine envelopes of cocaine, 20 Oxys and 10 morphine pills.

As a New York resident, my first reaction to this was shock that there were any street drug dealers left on the Lower East Side: I thought they were a thing of Manhattans past, like squeegie men and decent dive bars.

McEnroe managed to dodge jail by enrolling in a drug treatment program. Whether he actually needed one, or was simply a moderate cocaine user, we don’t know—announcing an addiction problem-under-treatment is a standard way for busted celebrities to repair their image. (Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter, who was discharged from the Navy in February following a cocaine bust, was an exception, as Substance.com’s Stanton Peele deconstructs here.)

The biggest revelation of McEnroe’s court appearance was that none of the glassine envelopes contained actual cocaine—the poor bastard had been sold baking powder instead. Well, that’s what you get when you don’t use a phone connect…

 

7 Peaches Geldof Dies of an Overdose

Peaches Geldof was the daughter of Live Aid and Boomtown Rats luminary Bob Geldof and the late, hard-partying TV personality Paula Yates. Although Peaches had a widely reported “wild child” period, during which she was often pictured out with the likes of Pete Doherty and Amy Winehouse looking blitzed, she had in recent years settled into motherhood and rebranded herself as a TV personality, with little public indication of any problems.

So when she died in April of a heroin overdose it came as a shock. “We are beyond pain,” said her father after her death. Shame and fear of the social, legal and professional fallout from going public with a drug problem may well have motivated Peaches’ fatal decision to use alone.

Peaches Geldof’s final tweet was a photograph, captioned, “Me and my Mum.” Paula Yates also died of a heroin overdose in 2000, aged 41. Peaches was 25.

 

8 Indio Downey Arrested for Cocaine Possession

In June the tabloids wound themselves up into a veritable feeding frenzy when Indio Downey—son of Robert Downey Jr.—was arrested in West Hollywood for cocaine possession. “Unfortunately there’s a genetic component to addiction and Indio has likely inherited it,” said Robert Downey Jr. following his son’s arrest.

As well as any genetic element, there’s no doubt that childhood trauma can be a huge factor in whether someone has addiction issues later in life: Enter more consequences of prohibition. Indio, according to a 2000 Vanity Fair article, asked his mother, “Is daddy a bad man?” upon seeing his father being led into court in handcuffs after his own drug arrest.

 

9 Jason Draizin Practically Begs to Be Arrested

Sometimes people try so hard to get busted, you have to wonder if they just like prison food. Take Jason Draizin, CEO of Long Island-based MarijuanaDoctors.com, a company that links up NY patients with out-of-state marijuana doctors. All very admirable.

Draizin was well known in these parts thanks to his habit of driving around town in a van emblazoned with the Marijuana Doctors logo, along with a giant color photograph of some enticing-looking buds. However, thanks to an apparently stunning lack of self awareness, Drazin got himself arrested in August transporting drugs—and not just pot—inside this highly conspicuous van.

Cops stopped Draizin on the Long Island Expressway after he supposedly made an improper lane switch. Inside they found marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy. Draizin was on his way to Atlantic City for a medical marijuana seminar, but now faces felony drug charges.

Not a smart move. But another senseless arrest, all the same.

 

10 Philip Seymour Hoffman Dies

Some deaths you can see coming. Others are so shocking, you think it’s a sick joke. Philip Seymour Hoffman was definitely in the latter category, mainly because he kept the addicted side of his personality so well hidden. He was found dead in his New York apartment in February, with a fatal mixture of heroin, cocaine, amphetamine and benzos in his system. Mixing drugs like this is highly dangerous, and many deaths attributed to heroin or opioid painkillers also involve alcohol or other drugs.

Hoffman was undoubtedly one of the best actors of his generation. He could make you cringe, as in Happiness, where he played sad-sack obscene phone-caller Allen. He could break your heart, as in Boogie Nights, where he played Scotty J., whose unrequited crush on Mark Wahlberg’s Dirk Diggler was funny and moving at the same time. Even in big-budget dreck like Mission Impossible 3, Hoffman was a hypnotic presence.

For as long as prohibition drives drug use and addiction underground, people like Hoffman will be more likely to use alone (although secrecy is by no means the only reason for doing so) and out of the reach of help, including naloxone, and therefore more likely to die.

Every preventable death is a tragedy, but it seems unlikely that 2015 will usher in a new era of enlightenment and tolerance. Still, we live in hope.

Tony O’Neill is the author of books including Digging the VeinDown and Out on Murder Mile and Sick City. He also co-authored the New York Times bestseller Hero of the Underground (with Jason Peter) and the Los Angeles Times bestseller Neon Angel (with Cherie Currie). His last piece for Substance.com asked, is marijuana use increasingly accepted in 12-step programs?