Heroin became popular with jazz musicians during the 1950s, and gradually spread to other musical genres. One of the earliest popular musicians who eventually succumbed to heroin addiction was Frankie Lymon, a founding member and lead singer of The Teenagers, made up of young New York City musicians during the early days of rock ‘n roll.
Their first single “Why Do Fools Fall In Love?” reached the No. 6 position on the Billboard charts in early 1956. Lymon was introduced to heroin at age 15, and his affair with the drug, as well as his life, ended in 1968 when he overdosed and died in his grandmother’s bathroom.
Legendary jazz trumpeter and innovator Miles Davis produced some of his most popular sounds while a heroin addict, but he managed to kick the drug by himself (“cold turkey”) after realizing his playing was being affected.
Another survivor of heroin addiction is Rolling Stones’ guitarist Keith Richards. The legendary rocker kicked his addiction in part due to his bandmates growing tired of his erratic and unpredictable behavior.
Lou Reed made no secret of his fondness for heroin, so much so that it’s the title of one of his better-known songs. His work with the Velvet Underground during the mid-1960s features many heroin-related themes.
At first glance, James Taylor wouldn’t seem to be a candidate for heroin addiction, but his breakout hit song, “Fire and Rain,” in part chronicles his relationship with the drug. Taylor finally kicked the habit after lengthy stays in rehab facilities.
John Lennon had a flirtation with heroin in the late-1960s, and his song “Cold Turkey” graphically describes his withdrawal and eventual kicking of the drug.
Exploding on the music scene in the mid-1970s, the Sex Pistols were the antithesis of “pop stars.” Bassist Sid Vicious used heroin regularly during the band’s brief heyday, but the drug always wins in the long run. Vicious died of an overdose in 1979 at the age of 21.
Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain was unquestionably the “Voice” of the early-90s Grunge movement, which wasn’t a title he neither wanted nor dealt with very well. He had an off-again, off-again relationship with heroin for several years which finally ended when he took his own life in 1994.
Guitar prodigy John Frusciante played with the Red Hot Chili Peppers at age 17 and quickly became a rock icon. He also developed a taste for heroin, becoming so hooked that he became unable to play guitar. With the help of friends, Frusciante kicked the habit and rejoined the band in 1998.
Bassist Nikki Sixx epitomized the perception of “rock star” with the 1980s heavy metal band, Motley Crue. Willing to try anything at any time, Sixx was actually declared dead from a heroin overdose but miraculously was revived. He went on to write an autobiography, “The Heroin Diaries,” which graphically detailed his hedonistic experiences.
Jennie is a drug counselor, author and blogger residing in Florida. If you or someone you know is suffering from drug or alcohol addiction, visit www.delrayrecoverycenter.com/.