Michael Jackson to join list of accidental prescription drug deaths?

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Michael Jackson could be the latest star to have died from an accidental overdose of prescription medications. According to Life & Style, Jackson was “taking a cocktail of up to seven prescription drugs in the months before his death,” including the anti-anxiety drugs Xanax and Zoloft and the painkiller Demerol. The Jackson family attorney compared the King of Pop’s death to that of Anna Nicole Smith.

While most celebrity drug deaths have been the result of either suicide or the use of illegal drugs, a surprising number of stars have died by accident — from medications you can purchase at the corner pharmacy. Here are 13 of the most famous:


Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind” died from an overdose of sleeping pills — specifically, Nembutal and chloral hydrate [pictured]. Although Monroe’s death was officially listed as a suicide in 1962, many forensic experts and investigators now say the overdose was more likely to have been accidental.


Perhaps the most famous prescription-drug abuser of all time, Elvis died in 1977 from an overdose of medications while on the toilet in his Graceland mansion. Presley’s ex-wife wrote: “Presley was taking Placidyls [pictured] to combat severe insomnia in ever increasing doses and later took Dexedrine to counter the sleeping pills’ after effects.” Presley’s personal physician, Dr. George C. Nichopoulos, concluded: “Elvis’s problem was that he didn’t see the wrong in it. He felt that by getting [pills] from a doctor, he wasn’t the common everyday junkie…”


The Wizard of Oz star was found dead in her London bathroom by her husband in 1969. Coroner Gavin Thursdon said the cause of death was an accidental overdose of Seconal [pictured].


Found dead in a Manhattan apartment he had been renting on Jan. 22, 2008, the 28-year-old actor died of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs that included the painkillers OxyContin and Vicodin, the anti-anxiety drugs Xanax and Valium, and the sleep aid Restoril [pictured], according to the New York Times. Upon learning the findings of the New York City medical examiner, Ledger’s father stated: “While no medications were taken in excess, we learned today the combination of doctor-prescribed drugs proved lethal for our boy. Heath’s accidental death serves as a caution to the hidden dangers of combining prescription medication, even at low dosage.”


The germophobic genius and subject of Martin Scorcese’s The Aviator died in 1976 in route to a Houston hospital from his Acapulco estate. Although the official cause of death was liver failure, his autopsy showed lethal amounts of codeine and valium [pictured] in his system.


According to Wikipedia, “Ultimately her death [in 2007] was ruled an accidental drug overdose of the sedative chloral hydrate that became increasingly lethal when combined with other prescription drugs in her system, specifically 4 benzodiazepines: Klonopin (Clonazepam), Ativan (Lorazepam), Serax (Oxazepam), and Valium (Diazepam). Furthermore, she had taken Benadryl (Diphenhydramine) and Topamax (Toprimate), an anticonvulsant GABA agonist, which likely contributed to the sedative effect of chloral hydrate and the benzodiazepines.”


The first African-American actress to be nominated for an Academy Award, Dandridge was found dead in West Hollywood in 1965 from an overdose of Imipramine [pictured], a tricyclic antidepressant. It’s believed she improperly combined the medication — which she took for her bipolar disorder — with pain medication she received after breaking an ankle.

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The long-troubled Diff’rent Strokes star died from an accidental overdose of Vanadom [pictured] and Vicodin at her mother-in-law’s Oklahoma home in 1999.


The Who drummer died in 1978 from an accidental overdose of Heminevrin [pictured], a medication taken as part of a program to wean him off alcohol.


The Milli Vanilli star, disgraced after the public learned the music duo did not actually sing on its hit records, died in 1998 of an accidental overdose of a medication (reportedly methadone [pictured]) designed to help him with drug withdrawal symptoms.


Perhaps the most bizarre accidental prescription-drug death. The star of Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train died mysteriously in 1951 after being given an injection of the “truth serum” sodium amytal [pictured] by psychiatrists at his home.


The influential singer-songwriter died at his childhood home in the U.K. in 1974 from an accidental overdose of the antidepressant amitriptyline [pictured].


The 1998 Penthouse Pet of the Year was found dead in her fiance’s home in 2003 from a combination of the painkillers codeine and oxycodone. Her death may or may not have been an accident; some have pointed a finger at fiance Bracey Bobbitt — who was a pharmacist.

[Note: This is an update of a 2008 post.]

About Cary Byrd

eDrugSearch founder, Cary Byrd, has been called an “e-health innovator” by MarketIntellNow, interviewed by top pharmaceutical industry journalists, invited to Matthew Holt’s Health 2.0 Conference and a Consumer Report's health summit, and highlighted on numerous health blogs.

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0 thoughts on “Michael Jackson to join list of accidental prescription drug deaths?

  • Kevin McCarthy says:

    I find this post interesting because it points to how celebrities function in the health care sphere. They become symbols for awareness. Anyone can point to these celebrities listed as cases of why mixing prescription drugs is dangerous, deadly. And so they become part of promotional efforts for awareness and, hopefully, change. I work for icyou.com, a user-generated website that features health care videos on any and all topics. We do have clips about celebrities and health care issues. Check us out for this and many other health topics.

  • Linda Von Schweber says:

    Looks like we need to add some more celebs to our Celebrity Drug Cocktails at http://www.pharmasurveyor.com. We already have the drug list and searchable side effects for Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger, Anna Nicole Smith (and her son Daniel Smith). If these seem excessive, note also the NY Times Complex patient’s regimen, representing the average senior. These risks are very real, not just for celebrities but for everyone.

    600 other people died from their legal pharmaceutical drugs “properly” prescribed on the same day that Michael Jackson died from his excessive list. You can enter your own drugs on our site and see how your risks compare. You will probably be surprised!

  • Extreme problems lead many to take these drugs. Michael Jackson’s case is no difference at all. Thanks for a very informative post here. I found this Michael Jackson comeback book that will surely become a valued collector’s item.

  • We need some restrictions on Doctors limited hard-core prescription drugs and how people obtain them to curtail addiction and death. When your loaded….you just want more…you never sober…its a vicious circle…and laws need to be passed to help people control their addiction.

  • hey Im vishal from India…im suffering from acute depression & anxiety & headaches…i’ve been on a medication of c-pram s 10mg ,alzolam & sensival 25mg for last 4 years….its not helping me ..i tried a loads of other drugs…but in vain….can anyone prescribe any of the well-working prescription drugs that are available in India

  • Have you guys heard about the new Michael Jackson special, Gone Too Soon, airing on TV Guide June 25th?” I heard there are interviews from the nanny and really discuss the issues stated above.

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