Don Everly Describes How Drugs Contributed to the Everly Brothers’ Demise: ‘It Was a Disaster’

The Everly Brothers were a country music group, who rose to fame in the late ’50s. With a unique sound and a reputation that preceded them, the Everly Brothers made waves all around the world, and are often cited as an influence for hitmakers such as Simon & Garfunkel. Their guitar rhythms and catchy songs made them mainstays in the popular music scene throughout the ’60s and early ’70s before they crashed and burned in a big way.

Although they eventually reunited years after their traumatic breakup, the Everly Brothers never quite achieved the level of success that they once had. In the late ’80s, Don Everly opened up about their exciting highs and heartbreaking lows. 

Popular musical duo Phil and Don Everly recording at the Warner Brothers studio in Hollywood, 1963.
The Everly Brothers | Keystone/Getty Images

When did the Everly Brothers form as a band?

Don Everly was born in 1937, and his younger brother, Phil Everly, was born two years later. As children, the Everly boys were exposed to music through their father, who played guitar as a hobby.

The Everlys were working-class people, but always had a yearning for show business, and eventually, the family landed a radio show of their own, featuring “Little Donnie and Baby Boy Phil” as regular contributors to the program.

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As they grew up, Don Everly and Phil Everly continued singing and playing music together, and by the early ’50s, they caught the eye of several Tennessee-based music executives.

In 1956, they started writing and recording music, and the following year, they scored their first big hit, “Bye Bye Love.” The song shot the brothers to prominence, and over the next several years, they released several more hits, including “Wake Up Little Susie” and “Problems.” 

The Everly Brothers were notorious for partying hard

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The Everly Brothers had a distinctive style all their own, effortlessly toeing the line between traditional country-western music and pop. They had fans of all ages, from young girls who harbored romantic fantasies about the duo, to older fans who appreciated the country melodies that they performed.

The Everly Brothers remained popular all throughout the late ’50s and ’60s — however, the increasing commonality of drug use in the ’60s started to take a toll on the brothers.

According to Grunge, the brothers were fighting almost constantly by the time the late ’60s rolled around. “There were too many people making too much money off us, keeping us going. Things were too confused,” Phil Everly later admitted.

Don Everly started “Ritalin therapy,” a controversial treatment method that involved mixing an amphetamine-like stimulant and vitamins. As Don Everly told Rolling Stone, John F. Kennedy allegedly received similar treatment from his doctor. 

What did Don Everly say about the group’s breakup?

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By the early ’70s, both Phil Everly and Don Everly had released their own solo musical efforts, and in 1973, the group split for good, following a dramatic concert at Knott’s Berry Farm, where Don Everly admitted that he was “tired of being an Everly Brother.”

According to Don Everly, it was the drugs that directly led to the group’s demise: “People didn’t understand drugs that well then. They didn’t know what they were messing with. It wasn’t against the law: I saw a picture of my doctor with the president, you know? But it got out of hand, naturally. It was a real disaster for a lot of people, and it was a disaster for me.”

The split took a toll on their familial relationship as well, and the brothers barely spoke for close to a decade. Ultimately, Don Everly and Phil Everly reunited in 1983 for a series of reunion concerts, and continued to perform together sporadically until Phil Everly passed away in 2014.