The intoxication of music stardom | Music | DW | 21.02.2014
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The intoxication of music stardom

Musicians are notorious for scandals involving drug or alcohol excess. Addiction to pills or liquor has hurled many rock stars into ruin or even an early grave, and a certain age seems prone to particular danger.

Over 900 people die each year from drug use in Germany. The number of people who destroy their health with extreme alcohol consumption is in the hundreds of thousands. Victims of addictive behavior often remain invisible to the public - unless, of course, they're already in the spotlight. Tabloid journalists love to plaster covers with the drug and alcohol excesses of star musicians, whose substance abuse makes for great headlines and embarrassing photos.

That's become evident once again in the case of musician Justin Bieber. The 19-year-old pop star from Canada has been making headlines week after week. Reports have swirled about him having sex with prostitutes, driving under the influence and committing vandalism.

The peak of heiress and singer Paris Hilton's fame took a similar turn, and Miley Cyrus, who made millions as a teenager with her music and film roles, has made no secret of her drug use.

Justin Bieber in court (c) picture-alliance/Photoshot

Media have reported heavily on Justin Bieber's legal troubles

27, the magic number

It's hardly news that artists often have dangerous habits when it comes to alcohol and drugs. The Bohemian scene in Paris at the end of the 19th century got swept up in morphine use and absinthe. At the end of the 1960s, the Beatles and the Beach Boys sought to expand their creative horizons by dropping LSD. Along the way, there's been no shortage of high-profile musicians whose lives ended or were ruined thanks to getting high.

But why so many music legends - including Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison or Jimi Hendrix - died at the age of 27, could leave even numerologists scratching their heads.

Brian Jones is another star who died at 27. The brilliant musician was both a founding member and mastermind for the Rolling Stones in their early years. The rest of the band members are hardly known for having led careful lives, but Jones' drug and alcohol consumption went beyond all measure. He was fired in 1969 for threatening the band's ability to work. Weeks later, he was found drowned at the bottom of a swimming pool with both drugs and alcohol in his blood.

Janis Joplin (c) Evening Standard / Getty

Janis Joplin, pictured one year before her death

The height of their careers

Guitar god Jimi Hendrix, folk icon Janis Joplin and charismatic rocker Jim Morrison all died due to drugs and alcohol. But in contrast to Brian Jones, all three died at the zenith of their careers. In 1969, one year before his death, Jimi Hendrix had secured global fame with his legendary performance at the Woodstock Festival. Janis Joplin, who was found dead just under two weeks after Hendrix' passing, had been anything but unsuccessful.

When Doors frontman Morrison died in 1971, the band was wildly popular. They had just put out their sixth studio album, "L.A.Woman," which sold two million copies in the US alone. Before releasing the album, the Doors had toured through the US. But the tour had to be stopped after its second concert because Morrison had collapsed on stage - a consequence of his constant alcohol and drug abuse. Two months later, he was dead.

Amy Winehouse (c) Leon Neal/AFP/Getty

Amy Winehouse - a case of suicide in installments?

Highs and lows

More recent deaths due to substance abuse include Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain and singer Amy Winehouse. Cobain shot himself in the head in April 1994 after failed attempts at detox therapy. Winehouse drank herself to death in July 2011.

Drugs and alcohol are the ostensible causes of death for many stars, but the true explanation likely lies more in the circumstances of their lives. Was Winehouse's extreme substance abuse a form of suicide in installments? It's a question open to speculation, but it is known that many of the performers in question suffered from depression. On stage, they were venerated by fans, but their private lives often left much to be desired.

Problems with romantic partners, loneliness or burnout from the pressures of stardom all seemed to push them into seemingly inescapable situations.

Marianne Faithfull (c) Christopher Furlong / Getty

Marianne Faithfull has managed to stay clean for years

Of luck and therapy

Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards once commented on his good fortune for having survived the constant alcohol and drug use. Other musicians didn't want to leave it up to chance. Eric Clapton, Marianne Faithfull and Joe Cocker pulled the ripcord early enough, got into therapy and have since led new lives - apparently in good health and full of creative energy.

Fans may also welcome drug-free versions of their favorite stars. After all, concerts in which musicians fall over on stage or barely hit a note behind the microphone leave something to be desired.

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