10 A-List Celebrities Killed by Prescription Drug Overdoses

As anyone with half a brain cell knows, talent and fame often seem to go hand in hand with excess. The proclivity of celebrities to overindulge in alcohol and illegal drugs is well known, to the point where the idea of an A-list star high on heroin, cocaine or (God forbid!) grass is now almost expected. Everybody knows that they’re supposed to just say no to illegal drugs… and yet it is often the abuse of prescription meds that extinguishes the brightest stars — drugs that have been handed out over the counter and by doctors, no less…

10. Brittany Murphy

Everyone remembers the bright eyes and wide smile that made Brittany Murphy a sought-after young Hollywood star. At one point it seemed like you couldn’t get away from the blonde beauty, and her career spanned a broad range of movies — from comedies such as Clueless and Just Married to dramas like Girl, Interrupted and 8 Mile. She was set to appear in the Sly Stallone project, The Expendables, at the time of her death — to which we now turn… Firefighters were called to the LA home she shared with screenwriter Simon Monjack, her husband of two years, on the morning of December 20th, 2009, where Murphy had collapsed. On arrival at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, she was pronounced dead. Her tragic death was said to be caused by pneumonia but exacerbated by additional factors — not least an accidental overdose on a glut of prescription and over-the-counter cold medications: hydrocodone, acetaminophen, the nasal medication L-methamphetamine (not meth) and chlorpheniramine. Her husband died as a result of serious pneumonia and anemia just months later. Not a great year.

9. Ol’ Dirty Bastard

Rapper and producer Russell Tyrone Jones, better known as Ol’ Dirty Bastard, was certainly a colorful character. He was, of course, one of the founders of the Wu-Tang Clan, but, not content with the success of said group of hip hop badasses, he went on to forge a successful career as a solo artist. Known for his innovative microphone techniques and distinctive vocal style, his stage name referenced his unique style and the assertion of his peers that his sound had “no father.” ODB’s professional success was not reflected in his personal life, however (although some members of the hip hop scene might beg to differ): he had convictions for assault and attempted robbery, refused to pay child support, and was even shot — twice — once by another rapper. Having lived through this, he died two days before he would have celebrated his 36th birthday after collapsing at RZA’s recording studio in NYC. His death was ruled an accident, with the cause a lethal overdose of cocaine and the prescription opiate Tramadol. His funeral was attended by thousands, while hip hop heaven sadly got another VIP member.

8. Anna Nicole Smith

Despite a career spanning modeling, acting and television appearances, Anna Nicole Smith was most well-known for her crazily tangled personal life. A Playboy spread kick-started her career, and she went on to model for Lane Bryant, Guess jeans and other clothing companies. Then her second marriage to a wealthy businessman gained her notoriety due to the 62-year age gap between the pair. And who could forget the legal battles over his estate after he died, not to mention the paternity disputes over Smith’s infant daughter Dannielynn? One big mess, you might say. Howard Stern and her former boyfriend, Larry Birkhead, both believed themselves to be the father, with DNA tests finding that Dannielynn was Birkhead’s child. Smith’s older son Daniel died in September 2006 from an overdose of Zoloft, Lexapro and methadone while visiting his mother and baby half-sister. Sadly, this didn’t persuade Smith to be more careful with prescription medications and she followed her son on February 8, 2007, dying in a Florida hotel room after accidentally combining four benzodiazepines (Klonopin, Ativan, Serax and Valium), Benadryl and Topamax with the sedative chloral hydrate, all of which amounted to a lethal — and entirely legal — cocktail.

7. Keith Moon

The legendary drummer of The Who, Keith Moon had a wild drumming style eclipsed only by his self-destructive behavior — which even saw him passing out on stage. No wonder this badboy acquired the nickname “Moon the Loon.” Of course, Moon’s drumming style was a central part of The Who’s sound (and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame hold him to be one of the greatest drummers of all time). He died due to a combination of his impulsive behavior, his attempts to kick his booze habit and inappropriate medication. A new doctor who was not familiar with Moon prescribed him Clomethiazole to ease withdrawal symptoms as he stopped drinking. As any quack worth their salt will tell you, Clomethiazole isn’t suitable for home detox and taking just six pills could have killed Moon. After a night out with Paul and Linda McCartney on September 6th 1978, Moon took 32 pills, and died. In 2011, 33 years after his tragic death, the readers of Rolling Stone voted him into second place on the list of the greatest drummers of all time — but no amount of chops on your instrument are going save you if you’ve just swallowed a mouthful of the wrong prescription meds.

6. Judy Garland

Ah, Judy Garland, a face everyone remembers from when they were little. Garland worked on stage and screen from the age of two, first in vaudeville with her sisters and then with MGM as a teenager. She received many awards, including a juvenile Academy Award, a Golden Globe, Grammy Awards, a Special Tony Award, and the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement in the motion picture industry, which she received at just 40 years old. Her most famous role, of course, was as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. She famously married five times and had three children, including daughters Liza Minnelli and Lorna Luft. But, like the Wicked Witch of the West, trouble was afoot… Garland also battled financial problems and insecurity about her looks, which wasn’t helped by movie execs suggesting she didn’t look so cute. Garland had constantly battled with addiction since her time at MGM, where she and the other young actors were — somewhat less than ethically — medicated with amphetamines during the day and barbiturates at night. She was found dead in her bathroom on June 22, 1969. She’d died from an accidental overdose of barbs, with the autopsy showing that the drugs had been ingested over a period of time. She has posthumously been named eighth on the American Film Institute’s list of the Greatest Female Stars of all Time and was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, but despite such acclaim, Garland was proof if ever it existed that life in the limelight is no fairytale.

5. Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix has got to be the greatest player of the electric guitar to have ever lived, and one of the most influential musicians of all time, too. But you know this already. Once you’ve heard a Hendrix riff, you never forget it. In addition to the list of awards he racked up while alive, Rolling Stone named him the greatest guitarist of all time, and he is a posthumous member of the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the UK Music Hall of Fame. Whether Jimi would have cared about such industry accolades is another matter. Either way, though, Hendrix achieved success on both sides of the Atlantic, and famously headlined the 1969 Woodstock festival, one of the highlights of his star-spangled, if ephemeral, career. Hendrix met his end on the morning of September 18, 1970. After partying into the early hours, he returned to his girlfriend’s flat in London where he took nine prescription Vesparax sleeping pills, not knowing that the Belgian brand was high-strength and that ½ a tablet was a normal dose. Hendrix asphyxiated on his own vomit. Controversy surrounds his death, as the attending doctor — who was later accused of malpractice and struck off — did not perform a tracheotomy due to the amount of red wine he said Hendrix had drunk. However, other witnesses and the autopsy made no mention of wine, suggesting that Jimi could possibly have been saved, and making his death all the more of a loss.

4. Heath Ledger

Starting his career with bubblegum roles in television and teen movies, Heath Ledger was on the cusp of real stardom and critical acclaim when he died in January 2008. Following Brokeback Mountain it was his turn as the Joker in The Dark Knight that really cemented his name in Hollywood. Some had been vocal in their skepticism that a pretty-boy actor could bring the necessary weight to the role, but Ledger blew away both fans and critics with his tense, immersive performance. Of course, the fact that the movie came out shortly after his death made the performance even more evocative — but some could say the joke was on Ledger. As early as 2007, he was complaining of trouble with insomnia. He died from a cocktail of six prescription drugs that were commonly used to treat sleeplessness, depression, anxiety, pain and cold symptoms, including diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam and doxylamine. The source of the oxycodone and hydrocodone that he took is still unknown, although there was speculation that it was supplied by Mary-Kate Olsen.

3. Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson, though often remembered as a pretty strange figure with bizarre personal habits, unbelievable amounts of plastic surgery and lingering allegations of sexual abuse, first made his name as the adorably cute youngest member of The Jackson Five, before, ahem, changing the face of music videos in the 1980s. Despite such success, in his final years old “Wacko Jacko” experienced severe financial difficulties. The concert series, This Is It, was designed to alleviate them, but while gearing up for his tour Jackson died in bed in a rented mansion away from his beloved Neverland Ranch. His death was declared a homicide due to the propofol and benzodiazepines in his system. The world watched as his personal doctor was charged with involuntary manslaughter and scheduled for trial in September 2011. Despite the controversies that had dogged him in a life that just seemed to get weirder and weirder, up to one billion people watched Jackson’s memorial service on TV, and so many people bought his albums that he was the best-selling artist even as late as 2009. Still, after the cocktail of prescription of drugs that were thrown down his neck, naturally it’s now only the Jackson estate that is seeing any of the royalties.

2. Elvis Presley

Elvis will be remembered as one of the true legendary figures of the 20th century. His swinging hips and rock-and-roll stud style made millions of girls go weak at the knees, and his famous refusal to avoid the draft made him even more popular in America despite his absence from the screen and stage. Everyone agreed: Elvis was King. And yet, in his final years, the hound dog with the snarling lip became grossly fat and dependent on a variety of drugs. He was found on the bathroom floor in the afternoon of August 16, 1977, the day he was meant to start a new tour. Attempts to revive him failed and was pronounced dead at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis. Elvis’ cause of death was difficult to diagnose due to the number of factors involved, including a reaction to codeine, a heart attack brought on by an enlarged heart, and a heart attack brought on by drug overdose. What’s clearer is that at the time of his death Elvis had no less than 14 drugs in his system. His doctor had his license suspended for three months after the crooner’s death when it emerged that: “In the first eight months of 1977 alone, he had [prescribed] more than 10,000 doses of sedatives, amphetamines and narcotics: all in Elvis’s name.” Dead but not forgotten, Elvis won three Grammies, received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and is featured in no less than four music halls of fame. His doctor? An award we’d care not to mention.

1. Marilyn Monroe

If this list has a king, it also has a tragic queen. The most iconic sex symbol to have ever lived (the smokin’ hottest of the hot!) Marilyn Monroe came from a childhood spent in foster homes to become one of the most famous stars of all time. While she was originally typecast as the dumb blonde, she studied acting at the Actors Studio and actually began receiving critical praise: she was nominated for a Golden Globe and a BAFTA award before eventually winning a Golden Globe for her role in Some Like It Hot. She often played to her image too, calmly answering “Chanel No. 5” when asked what she wore to bed. This über-sexy bombshell’s personal life was, perhaps predictably, tumultuous, with three marriages ending in divorce, various affairs, and three failed pregnancies. She often visited doctors to acquire different drugs and suffered from insomnia. At the age of 36 she was found dead in her home from an overdose of barbiturates. Theories ranging from accident to suicide to politically-motivated murder still swirl around her death, but prescribed drugs are what the history books hold accountable. The American Film Institute has ranked Monroe as the sixth greatest female star of all time. But remember this: it was drugs on script — not from the streets — that saw her life come crashing to a close.

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