10 Celebrities Who Died From Painkiller Overdoses

5 min read

Prescription drug abuse can affect anyone, even celebrities. Here are 10 celebrites who died from painkiller overdoses.

10. Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll, died of a heart attack on August 16, 1977. It wasn’t a stress-related heart attack that claimed his life though. This heart attack was brought on by a mixture of various drugs, including codeine, quaaludes, Placidyl, and Valmid. According to news reports, Presley’s death was the culmination of years of abusing painkillers, which were prescribed by his physician. Not only did the painkillers lead to his ultimate demise, but they also brought on a number of health problems later in his life, including glaucoma and bowel disease.

9. Prince

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Prince died on April 21, 2016, when he unknowingly took counterfeit Vicodin laced with fentanyl. A toxicology report showed that Prince had “exceedingly high” concentrations of fentanyl in his body. And despite an intensive investigation, Carver County Attorney Mark Metz said that, “there [was] no reliable evidence showing how Prince obtained the counterfeit Vicodin laced with fentanyl,” according to NBC News. Metz added that Prince had been “experiencing significant pain” and had been taking pain medication for a number of years, but, “there [was] no evidence that the pill or pills that actually killed Prince were prescribed by a doctor. There [was] also no evidence to suggest any other sinister motive, intent or conspiracy to murder Prince,” he said. “The evidence suggest[ed] that Prince had long suffered significant pain, became addicted to pain medications but took efforts to protect his privacy.”

8. Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson
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The death of the King of Pop was one of the highest profile cases of a celebrity overdose. On June 25, 2009, Michael Jackson died from an overdose of propofol, lorazepam, and midazolam. But, his death was anything but accidental. In fact, it was ruled a homicide, and the doctor who prescribed Jackson the lethal mixture of drugs was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. However, his doctor insisted that Jackson self-administered lorazepam without his knowledge and begged him for propofol.

According to EverydayHealth.com, Jackson had struggled with drug abuse for years, often using prescription painkillers to deal with the demands of performing. According to an article published by Newsweek, Jackson had been under stress due to a rigorous rehearsal schedule and had been having trouble sleeping when he overdosed on June 25.

7. Tom Petty

Tom Petty
Source: Wikimedia Commons By musicisentropy 

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Tom Petty died from an accidental overdose of several painkillers, including fentanyl and oxycodone, on October 2, 2017. It was reported by NBC that Petty had been using painkillers to treat a fractured hip, among other issues. While treating his chronic pain, he got hooked on the drugs. Unfortunately, this was not Petty’s first bout of addiction. In fact, he’d gone through and beaten a heroin addiction over the years.

In the hours after his toxicology report was released, his family released the following statement, which White House counselor Kellyanne Conway retweeted: “We recognize this report may spark a further discussion on the opioid crisis and we feel that it is a healthy and necessary discussion. We hope in some way this report can save lives.”

6. Chyna

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Wrestling superstar and WWE Hall of Fame inductee Chyna, a.k.a. Joanie Laurer, died from an accidental overdose of several drugs, including diazepam, oxycodone, oxymorphone, and alcohol, on April 20, 2016. According to EverydayHealth.com, Laurer’s manager told E! News that at the time of her death, the professional wrestler had been under stress while shooting a documentary and was prone to overmedicating.

INTERESTING FACT: Chyna participated in the WWE for 17 years and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame nearly three years after her death.

5. Michelle McNamara

Michelle Mcnamara
Source: Wikipedia

New York Times bestselling author Michelle McNamara died in her sleep on April 21, 2016, from an accidental overdose of several drugs, including Adderall, fentanyl, and Xanax. McNamara also had an undiagnosed heart condition, which contributed to her death as well. According to Entertainment Weekly, McNamara’s husband, comedian Patton Oswalt, said that Michelle had been sleep deprived due to the anxiety and nightmares she suffered while conducting research for her book about the Golden State Killer. Titled I’ll Be Gone In the Dark, the book was published in February 2018. It quickly became a bestseller and even helped California authorities arrest a suspect in the case of the Golden State Killer, a man who’d committed 12 slayings and at least 50 rapes across California from 1976 to 1986.

4. Heath Ledger

Heath Ledger
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Best known for his portrayal of the Joker in “The Dark Knight” and ranch hand Ennis Del Mar in “Brokeback Mountain,” Australian actor and director Heath Ledger died from an overdose of several prescription drugs, including oxycodone, hydrocodone, and diazepam, on January 22, 2008. The 28-year-old reportedly had been using the prescriptions to help with his busy schedule and lack of sleep. An article published by The Telegraph revealed that Ledger had been struggling with other drug problems as well.

3. Anna Nicole Smith

Anna Nicole Smith
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Television personality and former Playboy playmate Anna Nicole Smith died on February 8, 2007, from an accidental overdose of at least nine prescription drugs, including chloral hydrate, lorazepam, and diazepam. She took these drugs to treat the stomach flu, a high fever, pungent sweating, and an infection on her buttocks from repeated injections, instead of going to the emergency room. In fact, a detailed autopsy report revealed that Smith chose to ride out her illness in a hotel suite.

In an ironic twist of fate, chloral hydrate also contributed to the overdose death of Smith’s idol, Marilyn Monroe.

2. Judy Garland

Judy Garland
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Best known for her portrayal as Dorothy Gale in “The Wizard of Oz,” Judy Garland died from an accidental barbiturate overdose on June 22, 1969. According to PBS, Garland had suffered for years from mental and physical health problems and was given stimulants and depressants from an early age to help her manage her filming schedule. In fact, according to Biography.com, MGM demanded that Garland take “pep pills” to suppress her appetite and keep up her energy, and she and the other child stars were given sleeping pills at the end of each shooting day.

1. Tyler Skaggs

Tyler Skaggs
Source: Wikimedia Commons By Minda Haas Kuhlmann 

Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs was found dead in his hotel room in Texas on July 1, 2019, just hours before his team was scheduled to play in a game against the Texas Rangers. According to The Mercury News, a daily newspaper published in San Jose, California, an autopsy revealed that Skaggs died from a mixture of fentanyl, oxycodone, and alcohol.
According to the newspaper, Skaggs was one of more than 1,000 Californians to die from prescription painkillers that were laced with fentanyl.