Actress Brittany Murphy’s sudden death of cardiac arrest at age 32 this Sunday has left Hollywood stunned. Unfortunately, being stunned is familiar condition for the entertainment industry in the last few years.
For baby-boomers and Generation X-ers, drug-related celebrity deaths were commonplace. Rock music even has the ubiquitous 27 Club that includes 27 year-old legends Jimi Hendrix, Janice Joplin, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain, who died of everything from sleeping pill overdoses to suicide committed under the influence of heroin.
But a new generation of celebrity deaths has emerged in light of the booming pharmaceutical industry. According to the Congressional Budget Office’s December 2nd brief Promotional Spending for Prescription Drugs, $20.5 billion was spent by pharmaceutical manufacturers for promotional activities in 2008. The increased visibility of prescription drug advertising on television since the late 1990s has corresponded, directly or indirectly, to recent celebrity deaths.
In late 2006, Anna Nicole Smith’s son, Daniel Smith, fell asleep in his mother’s hospital room and did not wake up. It was reported that Daniel took a lethal combination of methadone, Zoloft and Lexapro. In a tragic turn of events, Daniel’s mother passed away just months later after overdosing on a sedative and multiple benzodiazepines. Although her death was ruled accidental, many suspect her of being suicidal after Daniel’s death.
Actor Heath Ledger’s death in January 2008 was arguably the most shocking prescription drug-related death in young Hollywood. Unlike the Smiths, Ledger had no reported history of legal or illegal drug abuse. At age 28, the “Brokeback Mountain” and “The Dark Knight” star was found unresponsive in his New York City home. After an autopsy, Ledger’s death was ruled an accidental overdose of oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam, and doxylamine. He reportedly suffered from work-related insomnia that led to his use, and resulting abuse of prescription drugs.
Since Ledger’s death, the Millennial generation lost DJ AM in September. He suffered from addiction in his teens but was sober throughout most of his career. He was prescribed medications for pain and post-traumatic stress following the 2008 Learjet plane crash that only he and blink-182’s Travis Barker survived. He died from an acute intoxication from cocaine and the pharmaceuticals oxycodone, Vicodin, Ativan, Klonopin, Xanax, and Benadryl less than a year after the plane crash.
The world also lost superstar Michael Jackson to cardiac arrest on June 25, 2009. The Los Angeles Coroner’s Office ruled his death a homicide, due to the fact that his personal physician Conrad Murray administered a lethal combination of propofol, lorazepam and midazolam at the time of Jackson’s death.
Just two days after the “Clueless” actress passed away, drugs are already speculated as a factor in Brittany Murphy’s death. Hollywood is notorious for its excesses and excessive prescription drug use is a trend that is becoming all too familiar. Regardless if that contributed to Murphy’s death, Hollywood has lost yet another young star. She did not have the opportunity to fade away, she burned out too soon.