Tragic Celebrity Overdoses and the Deadly Rx Meds That Lead to Them

The death of a celebrity is always a sad occasion. If there are drugs involved, that sadness takes on a whole new meaning. Some of the most tragic celebrity deaths were caused by by drugs that anyone can get over the counter. It’s a sad reminder that even the mot glorified movie and music icons aren’t immune to addiction and overdose. Here are some of the most upsetting celebrity overdoses — and the drugs responsible for their deaths.

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe smiing in a portrait.

Actress Marilyn Monroe was addicted to several prescription drugs. | Baron/Getty Images

She’s still revered as on of the biggest sex symbols ever. But behind that seemingly confident facade was an individual dealing with addiction. Monroe used a plethora of prescription drugs on a regular basis, but barbiturates — often used as sleeping pills — were allegedly her go-to. On the night that she was found dead in her Brentwood apartment, an empty bottle of a barbiturate known as Nembutal was found on her bedside table.

Next: Drug overdose knows no age requirement.

River Phoenix

Headshot photo of River Phoenix.

River Phoenix died very young. | Maxxx Maddd via YouTube

The scare of the opioid epidemic that we have today was unheard of in 1993, when the promising actor died in-front of The Viper Room in Los Angeles. But it wasn’t just the heroin in River Phoenix’s system that led to his untimely death. In addition to taking a speedball, the 23-year-old actor chased the deadly drug cocktail with a Valium. Phoenix’s good friend, Bob Forrest, recounts that Phoenix knew he was suffering from an overdose shortly before he collapsed.

Next: This actor won an Oscar after his untimely death.

Heath Ledger

Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams at an event together.

Heath Ledger often hid his struggles from the public. | Kevin Winter/Getty Images

The Australian actor reportedly complained about having trouble sleeping in the weeks leading up to his death. In interviews, he admitted that the grind of doing back-to-back movies — including The Dark Knight — left him unable to get more than a couple hours of sleep. But the amount of prescription drugs Ledger was taking, while legal, made a lethal mix. According to a police statement summarized by CNN, Ledger died with a combination of “of oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam, and doxylamine” in his system.

Next: Was there foul play that led to this entertainer’s overdose?

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson greeting fans at the O2 arena.

Michael Jackson had an arsenal of medications. | Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images

Some think he was murdered by his in-house physician. Others think he wrongfully dosed himself. Whatever the reason, Michael Jackson had a deadly mix of prescription medications in his body when he died. According to a BBC breakdown, the King of Pop had a mix of different sleeping aids and appetite suppressants in his system. The big culprit was Propofol, a fast-acting sedative that physician Conrad Murray had administered to Jackson intravenously.

Next: Drugs may not be the official cause of death — but they definitely played a part.

Chris Cornell

Chris Cornell performing on stage.

Chris Cornell | Buda Mendes/Getty Images

The official cause of the grunge frontman’s death was by hanging. But it was prescription drugs that tragically led to Cornell taking his own life. On the night of his death, Cornell had a significant amount of the anti-anxiety medication Ativan in his system. Severe side effects of taking Ativan include worsening depression and suicidal thoughts.

Next: Another great singer who lost his battle with Rx drugs.

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley greeting fans.

Elvis Presley went into cardiac arrest caused by a drug overdose. | AFP/Getty Images

For a long time, Elvis’s death was ruled as a natural passing. Further research and reports over the years, however, suggest that it was a drug overdose that caused him to go into cardiac arrest while in his bathroom. Toxicology reports found that the King had 10 prescription drugs in his system at the time of his death. (It should also be noted that these weren’t from partying or depression. Elvis was in very poor health in his final years.) The report also reportedly found 10 times the normal amount of codeine in his system.

Next: Her history with prescriptions started at a very young age.

Judy Garland

Judy Garland gestures with her hands while wearing a black dress and pearls.

Judy Garland was addicted to barbiturates. | Central Press/Getty Images

Like Marilyn Monroe before her, Judy Garland struggled with a barbiturate addiction. The star allegedly battled with pressure from Hollywood to stay thin, and began using drugs to help her cope with eating. In fact, Garland was reportedly given appetite suppressants and sleeping pills when she was acting in her teens. Many years before her death in a London hotel, she had reportedly developed a dependency on barbiturates and amphetamines.

Next: Speaking of songstresses who lost their battle with pills …

Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston performing on stage.

Drugs caused the death of singer Whitney Houston. | Kevin Winter/Getty Images

The diva may have made headlines with her “crack is whack” line. But Houston, who drowned in her bathtub at the age of 48, was no stranger to drugs one can buy at the pharmacy. Reports have insisted that cocaine was the big culprit in stopping Houston’s heart when she passed away in 2012. However, toxicology reports have also revealed that she had a combination of Benadryl, Xanax, and Flexeril in her system at the time of death. (Benadryl and Xanax can react negatively when mixed together.)

Next: Multiple factors made this celeb’s drug cocktail more lethal.

Anna Nicole Smith

Model Anna Nicole Smith | Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

The former Playboy model had a number of prescriptions in her system when she died, but chloral hydrate was targeted as playing a major part in her death. Smith was reportedly also suffering from a lethal 105-degree fever in her finals days, ABC News reports. But the amount of anti-anxiety medications, appetite suppressants, and human growth hormones weren’t to blame for her death. The amount of sleep aid chloral hydrate in her system, however, was deathly high.

Next: A celebrity overdose that still remains a mystery.

Brittany Murphy

Brittany Murphy posing on a red carpet.

Brittany Murphy fans wanted real answers. | Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

There are still questions around the death of the Clueless star, who passed away at the age of 32.  it was originally ruled that Murphy died from a deadly prescription drug cocktail that she took while inflicted with both pneumonia and anemia. The findings in her death became puzzling, however, when her husband died of both anemia and pneumonia just a few months later.

Next: This rocker was attempting to get sober — and the opposite occurred.

Keith Moon

Keith Moon with his cars.

Drummer Keith Moon is missed. | Jack Kay/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The eccentric drummer from The Who had a reputation for having an erratic behavior and hitting he bottle too hard. In an effort to get his drinking under control, Moon began taking clomethiazole to help with his alcohol withdrawl. According to, a clomethiazole pill should only be taken one to three times a day. At the time of his death, Moon had a lethal count of six pills in his system.

Next: The notorious member of The 27 Club.

Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix playing guitar while a performance.

Jimi Hendrix played a major role in the music scene.  | Evening Standard/Getty Images

Rock-n-roll suffered a massive blow at the end of 1970 with the loss of many major musical figures. This mass exodus of superior musical talent, often called part of  “The 27 Club” featured Jimi Hendrix. The guitar savant allegedly took too many of his girlfriend’s prescription pills and passed out, then chocked on his own vomit and died. In the years since his death, there has been much speculation as to what role his supposed girlfriend, Monika Dannemann, played in his death.

Next: His health was already fragile. Rx drugs made it worse.

Chris Penn

Chris Penn wearing sunglasses while outside.

Chris Penn death was caused by prescription drugs.  | Vince Bucci/Getty Images

Penn gained a  considerable amount of weight after roles in movies such as Footloose and Pale Rider, and obesity was a main key in his death. But prescription drugs also played a role, with large amounts of codeine and promethazine found in his system postmortem. These drugs mixed with Valium and marijuana, and his pre-existing heart condition and obesity, all played factors in his death.

Next: A mysterious and untimely end to a seemingly healthy individual.

Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee with his fist extended out, clenched.

Bruce Lee in Big Boss | MoMedia

There are few deaths more mysterious than Bruce Lee’s. It’s probably even more of a mystery as to how he got on this list — the kung fu master didn’t have a drug problem, did he? Lee died at the tender age of 32, and in seemingly peak physical condition! Unfortunately, his killer physique wasn’t enough to fight off an infection caused by a pain killer called equigesic. Lee had such a severe reaction to the drug that it caused his brain to swell, killing him.

Next: A sad end for an actor who had cleaned up his act.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

Philip Seymour Hoffman walking outside.

The actor’s death sparked headlines. | Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

The Academy Award winning actor had reportedly kicked a bad drug and alcohol habit for years. But in the time leading up to his death, he had reportedly turned his New York apartment into a legitimate drug den. His death was caused by acute intoxication — the result of a mix of prescription drugs and heroin in his system.

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