Back when sex and drugs were still a part of rock-n-roll, these legends of rock wrote the book, ripped out the pages and rolled them into a joint. No one is glorifying drug use or dying in a bloody pool of your own vomit. However, it was once not only accepted but expected for musicians to live a life of excess. The mere mortals of the world could live vicariously through these rock gods. Here are 20 of the most drugged-out musicians of the rock and roll era:
1. Keith Richards
Rolling Stones guitarist, Keith Richards, who has frequently made music magazines’ top ten musicians most likely to die, is not ready to dance with Mr. D quite yet. He has spent time with sister morphine, her brother heroin, cousin cocaine and the rest of the family, all while creating a fifty year rock dynasty with partner in crime, Mick Jagger. Despite a life lived as the poster child for rock-n-roll excess, he never overdosed, for which he attributes only using “high quality drugs” as the reason. Rumors spread that he snorted his father’s ashes, mixed with cocaine. When asked by a reporter if the rumor was true, he said that it was indeed false. He snorted the ashes straight, and they went down smoothly.
It’s clear that Keith Richards didn’t make it to the other side of his rock-n-roll career unscathed. For two years he thought Johnny Depp was his son’s drug dealer. One night at dinner he exclaimed, “Whoa! Scissorhands!” after he finally recognized the actor, who had used Richards as the inspiration for the character “Captain Jack Sparrow”. When the world implodes, it will just be Keith and a couple of cockroaches hanging out, watching the apocalypse ashes clear.
2. Jim Morrison
The eccentric lead singer for The Doors, Jim Morrison had a gift for poetically sparking riots amongst his audience. As a result, he was targeted by the U.S. government, placed on a watch list, and subjected to music censorship. In 1967 he was the first musician to be arrested on stage during a concert. He whipped the audience into a riotous rage after explaining why the concert had been delayed. Apparently, before the show an officer found Morrison kissing one of his young fans in the shower backstage. When they refused to quit, the officer sprayed them both with mace. He was arrested on stage at another concert for indecent exposure after encouraging his audience to get naked, as he took off his clothes. He turned down a plea bargain from the Miami Police Department, refusing to do a free concert in exchange for having the charges dropped.
On July 3, 1971 his body was found in the bathtub of his apartment in Paris, and although he was only 27-years-old, the cause of death was ruled as “natural causes” and no autopsy was done. Thirty years later, the manager of a nightclub came forth with the details of the fatal night. He claimed that Jim had actually overdosed on heroin in the bathroom of the club. Then the two dealers, who sold Jim the drugs, took Morrison’s body and dumped it in his bathtub.
3. Ozzy Osbourne
Lead singer of Black Sabbath, “Prince of Darkness”, and weird uncle figure to all, Ozzy Osbourne has barked at the moon and taken us all on a crazy train with his music and wild antics. He is notoriously known for biting the head off a bat during a concert. After urinating on the Alamo, he was banned from San Antonio, Texas for a decade. In 1984 during the Bark at the Moon tour, Mötley Crüe was his opening act. The tour is known as one of the craziest, drug and alcohol fuelled tours in the history of rock-n-roll. He and Nikki Sixx, drummer for Mötley Crüe, kept an ongoing gross-out showdown. One of the most disgusting moments happened right after Sixx snorted a huge line of cocaine, and told Ozzy to “beat that”. Ozzy bent down and snorted a line of ants, stood up, peed on the remaining ants, and then proceeded to lick the urine. Not wanting to be outdone, Nikki also peed on the sidewalk, but before he could bend down, Ozzy beat him to the slurp. Yuck!
4. Kurt Cobain
Kurt was the lead singer of Nirvana, a band attributed to making grunge music popular in the ‘90’s. He would complain in interviews about not being prepared for the pressure of being famous, portraying himself as the misunderstood artist. Many say that Kurt also had a fascination with The 27 Club, and spoke of becoming a member.
In 1994 his body was found in his apartment by an electrician. He had injected himself with a large mixture of heroin and Valium, and then shot himself in the head. There were many who believed Cobain had been murdered, citing the impossibility of being able to handle a shotgun with that amount of drugs in his body. Apparently, they didn’t take it seriously when he wrote the song “I Hate Myself and I Want to Die”.
5. Jimi Hendrix
Hendrix is a legendary guitar player, who is credited with pioneering the explosive abilities of the electric guitar. He was the first musician to make the electric guitar “scream”. Famous for his LSD inspired psychedelic rock, at Woodstock Hendrix performed his famous renegade version of “The Star Spangled Banner”. Armed with a white guitar and mad skills on the whammy bar, he broke through the purple haze of the group of mud-soaked hippies, and caused them to have a moment of patriotic pride. He would later die a mere sixteen days before Janis Joplin from asphyxiating on his own vomit after overdosing on heroin.
6. Janis Joplin
Joplin was the lead singer of Big Brother and the Holding Company, Full Tilt Boogie, and had a successful solo career. Her love of Southern Comfort gave her the whiskey voice sound for which she was famous. Although whiskey was her drug of choice, she eventually got mixed up in other drugs, such as heroin and cocaine. One night at a party in San Francisco, she got into an argument with Jim Morrison and broke a bottle over his head.
On October 4, 1970, Janis joined the 27 Club by overdosing on whiskey and heroin. She died within sixteen days of Jimi Hendrix, and ten months of Jim Morrison. In her will, she funded a $1500 “wake party” in the event of her demise.
7. John Lennon
John Lennon, founder of the Beatles, was a musical genius, activist and lover of all things fun. The band’s drug use was well-known. While playing in Hamburg, Germany, they would do amphetamines to play at the all-night clubs. Bob Dylan would later introduce them to marijuana at a Grammy’s party. However, their first experience with LSD was at a dinner party thrown by their dentist. It was served with their tea. They felt no responsibility concerning the influence their drug use had over their fans. John was reported as saying that if reporters were genuinely worried about people copying their behavior, then they shouldn’t print anything the band said about drug use.
In 1966 his statement that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus caused the most controversy. After the statement, some states in the U.S. burned Beatles’ albums, cancelled their concerts and banned their songs from radio stations. The KKK protested their concert in Memphis, Tennessee. During the show someone threw firecrackers on stage, and everyone in the band looked at John thinking he had been shot. Their manager, Brian Epstein, said that everyone fully expected John to get shot during the tour. This would, unfortunately, be John’s fate. Long after the Beatles had broken up, he was shot outside his apartment in 1980 by a fan, who was still angry over the Jesus comment.
8. Bob Dylan
Dylan is an American song writer, who can play any instrument. During his hey-day he wasn’t picky when it came to his drugs. He tried it all, amphetamines, marijuana, LSD, cocaine, alcohol, and especially heroin. In a 1966 documentary named Eat the Document Dylan can be seen riding around in a taxi with John Lennon having a drug hazed conversation. Lennon would later report to Rolling Stone Magazine that they had been snorting heroin all day, and Dylan almost overdosed a few times.
9. Keith Moon
Drummer for The Who, Keith Moon was more into alcohol than hard drugs. He gained the nickname “Moon the Loon” for his fascination with blowing up toilets with cherry bombs and M-80’s. He didn’t stop with toilets though. He trashed so many rooms; the band was forced to stay in neighboring towns when doing concerts after being banned from several hotels. The most infamous incident happened at a Holiday Inn when he drove his Bentley into the swimming pool. During one concert he passed out on stage so many times the band had to get a random drummer from the audience to finish the concert. Moon eventually died at the age of 32 from overdosing on a prescription drug designed to combat alcoholism.
10. Steven Tyler
Aerosmith’s lead singer’s drug of choice was cocaine, but has admitted to using everything from heroin to LSD. During the band’s earlier hey-days, they required avenues to provide offstage cubbies for band members to be able to quickly duck in to snort “some of the sweet, sweet emotion”. Although Steven had mostly cleaned up his act, in 2011 he fell off the stage during a concert after snorting Lunesta.
11. Iggy Pop
The founder of The Stooges, Iggy Pop is called the godfather of punk rock. His performances were influenced by none other than Jim Morrison. To live up to Morrison’s hubris, Iggy would undress on stage. He was also the first performer to do a stage dive. When the band wasn’t committing lewd and lascivious acts on stage, they were hanging out at a home they named “the fun house”. After they shot up with heroine, they would squirt blood left in the syringe onto the walls, creating gory Jackson Pollock-ish art.
12. Elton John
Before he became “Sir” Elton John, the lavishly dressed singer and piano man was all about the good times to be had. He was the poster child for Studio 54, and all of its “benefits”. He never met a drug he wouldn’t try, but loved cocaine. He admits to having epileptic seizures, passing out for a half hour, then waking up and snorting more coke. On one occasion, he invited his family from England to a huge party he was throwing in Hollywood. After consuming quite a bit of cocaine mixed with Valium, he yelled, “I’m going to die!” as he jumped from the hotel balcony into the swimming pool. His grandmother, clearly accustomed to Elton’s antics, reportedly replied, “I guess we’ll have to go home now.”
13. David Bowie
The androgynous Brit, who has been a musical fixture for decades, has seen and done it all, including Mick Jagger, (allegedly). The story goes that Angie Bowie, then wife of David, walked in on the two naked in bed together. Afterward, Mick wrote the song “Angie” as an apology for banging her husband. Decades after the divorce, and her gag order had been lifted; she confirmed finding them in bed together, naked. She felt certain, at the time, that they had been making the beast with two backs. However, looking back she now feels that they were probably just coked-up, sweaty and talking. (Ok, Angie, we’ll play your silly little game.) David did have the nickname “old vacuum nose”. He also at one point snuck drugs into a psychiatric hospital for Iggy Pop, because he figured Iggy probably had gone without for too many days.
14. Mick Jagger
The lead man for the Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger, has been rocking for over fifty years. Mick said, “You start playing rock and roll to have sex and do drugs. Then you start doing drugs, so you can have sex and play rock and roll”. He also said that it’s good manners to trash the hotel room early so you don’t wake up the other guests. How mellow he has gotten in his old age!
15. Eric Clapton
First of all, he sang a song named “Cocaine”, that should be a clue that Eric Clapton has probably done a drug or ten. The Beatles were also very good friends of his, and he collaborated on a few songs with them. Clapton has admitted that, at his worst, he was spending $16,000 a week on heroin. He did an entire show lying down, and no one said anything about it. Of course, the audience was also so messed up they probably thought they were seeing sideways.
16. Pete Doherty
Doherty, the front man for the Libertines, had numerous run-ins with the law for possession of crack, heroin, ketamine, and cannabis. He has admitted to becoming a drug dealer and prostitute to pay for his enormous drug habit. Although a heterosexual, he once robbed a male client to get money to pay for his drugs. Pete is a well-rounded artist, reaching beyond his music. He created an art exhibit coined “arterial splatter”, art made up of paper glued onto canvases with various drawings and poetry all created from the spray of Pete’s blood from his heroin syringe. Clearly Pete was influenced by Iggy Pop.
17. Nikki Sixx
Beyond the gross-showdown with Ozzy Osbourne, bass player for Mötley Crüe, Nikki Sixx led the ultimate rock-n-roll life. His love of drugs has caused him to overdose several times. On one occasion after overdosing on heroin, he was pronounced dead for two minutes in an ambulance. Luckily for him, the EMT was a huge fan, and continued working until he started Nikki’s heart. After waking in the hospital, Nikki ripped out all of the tubes and wires, and went home to do more drugs. The incident inspired the song “Jumpstart my Heart”. On a more romantic note, one Valentine’s night he overdosed at his dealer’s house. After the dealer couldn’t revive him by shoving ice down his pants or beating him to a pulp with a baseball bat, he dumped Nikki in a dumpster and left him for dead. Fortunately, Nikki’s craving for smack reached beyond the grave, and Nikki was able to crawl out to go do more drugs. Now that’s commitment.
18. Elvis Presley
A list of rock-n-roll druggies isn’t complete without The King. Elvis began taking amphetamine pills to keep up with his nonstop touring. It wasn’t uncommon for musicians during that time to do a show, load up in a car, drive themselves to the next town, and barely have enough time to get ready for the next show. After his divorce, Elvis began doing more drugs, overdosing twice. During the first concert of his comeback tour he was so high he was slurring, couldn’t remember the words to his songs, and staggered all over the stage. He felt so threatened by the popularity of the Beatles; he tried to have them banned from the U.S. His third overdose would be the one that caused Elvis to permanently leave the building. He was pronounced dead on arrival from taking a lethal mixture of Valium, Demerol, codeine, and morphine.
19. John Bonham
Led Zeppelin drummer, John Bonham, may have stuck to alcohol, but that didn’t stop his outrageous behavior. While staying at the Edgewater Hotel in Seattle, Washington, Bonham and manager, Richard Cole, stayed up all night catching fish off the balcony. They filled the room with various types of fish, including several mud sharks. After the concert, an overzealous redheaded groupie announced her penchant for being tied up during sex. Bonham and Cole proceeded to stick fish in various orifices of the bound girl, while saying things like “I’m putting a red snapper in your red snapper”. Later the incident would be immortalized by Frank Zappa’s song “Mud Shark”.
Bonham didn’t limit his alcoholic behavior to unsuspecting groupies. While attending a party he found Beatles drummer, Ringo Starr passed out, and shaved his head and eyebrows. At the age of 32, Bonham died by asphyxiating on his own vomit after doing 40 shots of vodka.
20. Duff McKagan
Former bass player for Guns N’ Roses, Duff McKagan, makes even the craziest of the druggies seem like wussies. He consumed such vast quantities of drugs and alcohol that his pancreas exploded backstage after a concert. He tells the story to Gavin Edwards, “You get third-degree burns on the inside of your intestine and your stomach,” McKagan says. “For a lot of people, they split their skin open to get the steam out. I had morphine in this arm for the pain, and then I had lithium in this arm for the DT’s”. Wow! *clap, clap, clap* Duff McKagan, you are the druggiest rock-n-roll star of them all!
Before the “everyone can do it” mindset, rock and roll was for the elite. The glamor is lost when the guys on stage are not only just like your cousin, but actually is your cousin. When the sound on one side of the recording glass was the same sound that came out of the other side of the recording glass, musicians’ voices weren’t dubbed over beyond recognition, and no one lip synced. It was not only quantitatively, but qualitatively different. Perhaps that kind of pressure caused musicians to live harder lives and turn to drugs, but that was the price they were willing to pay to keep the art of rock and roll real.
*All images have been sourced from Wikipedia.