Iconic Health Lessons
David Bowie. Prince. George Michael. Muhammad Ali.
Part 1 of 2
Iconic Health Lessons
Each left an indelible mark on our culture and filled our lives with courage, hope and beauty. Each of them was self-made and taken too soon—but what healthy living and longevity lessons should we learn from each?
David Bowie Terminally Creative
David Bowie was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer in 2014. But he had been fighting heart disease for at least a decade earlier when he suffered a heart attack in 2004 in Schessel, Germany. Bowie later underwent emergency surgery on a blocked coronary artery. Sadly, that would be the last time he performed “Ziggy Stardust” in concert.
The heart disease persisted. Wendy Leigh, his biographer, told BBC News: “He didn’t just battle cancer... he had six heart attacks in recent years. I got this from somebody very close to him.”
In both cases—cancer and heart disease—we probably don’t have to look too far to find the causes of both conditions’ early onset. Even if Bowie had genetic susceptibilities, their onset would have been staved off or perhaps prevented if it hadn’t been for his rock and roll lifestyle. Many of his closest colleagues would also succumb to liver disease, the progenitor for cancer.
American rock artist Lou Reed, with whom Bowie collaborated in the seventies to produce “Transformer,” “Rock n’ Roll Animal” and other dark masterpieces, died of liver cancer in 2013. Both Reed and Bowie made no secret of their drug abuse.
On his album “Cracked Actor,” Bowie sang: “Smack, baby, smack, is all that you feel.” The secretive super star may have suffered from hepatitis C or another form of drug-linked liver disease contracted from sharing needles in the course of carrying out his drug abuse.
Other rock and rollers with the disease include Keith Richards, Marianne Faithful, Aerosmith’s Steve Tyler and Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Bowie was also a chain smoker.
His eyebrows and hair were gone when he started the “Blackstar” sessions; he had shared that he had cancer with a few friends and colleagues but there was no way to hide his chemo treatments from the musicians with whom he was recording. The band and he talked about it once and never again. Even battling terminal illness, he recorded seven songs for “Blackstar” and three for “Lazarus.” Another five outtakes should appear in the deluxe edition of “Blackstar,” according to his producer Tony Visconti in an article in Rolling Stone.
Optimism kept him busy even in the shadow of death.
“He was optimistic because he was doing the chemo and it was working,” says Visconti, “and at one point in the middle of last year, he was in remission. I was thrilled. And he was a bit apprehensive. He said, ‘Well, don’t celebrate too quickly. For now, I’m in remission, and we’ll see how it goes.’ And he continued the chemotherapy. So I thought he was going to make it.”
“He was so vivid,” recalls his friend and fellow super star Bono. “So luminous. So fluorescent. The sky is darker without him.”
Prince Parallel To Michael
Prince was an artist in physical pain. A long-time foe and a long-time acquaintance of Michael Jackson, the story of his addiction to medical drugs reads almost identical to Jackson’s. While the medical examiner listed the cause of his death from a synthetic opiate medication called Fentanyl, we can trace the origins of his addiction to the hip injury he suffered starting with his Purple Rain tour in the 1980s (burn injury on filming Pepsi commercial and vitiligo for Jackson). Interestingly, no other drugs were reported to be in his system, bolstering Prince’s long-term assertion that he really was a health nut. In 2010, Prince had hip replacement surgery and sometimes walked onto the stage with a cane.
There were times when pain justified synthetic medications. The problem with Prince was that he thought he could manage his own medication program.
Opiate use requires strict adhere and supervision and it isn’t a DIY project. Although he had legal prescriptions, Duane Nelson, Prince’s half-brother who passed away in 2013, used to get Percocet for the performer to take after his shows, says a CNN report.
There is a time in every drug addiction when the body becomes tolerant to the dosage and no longer responds with the same high.
When one drug becomes ineffective, the victim of substance abuse looks for a variation that will offer the initial effect again. Or the the victim of substance abuse increases the dosage of the less effective drug.
Victims, whether Prince or Michael Jackson, go drug shopping and physicians continue to overmedicate and not necessarily know (or want to know) other medications or drugs their patients are using.
Cancelled tours. Hospitalizations. Prince’s family, as so often happens, saw all the signs. And did too little, ineffectively. Which seems to be a rule when one of the family turns into a powerhouse, dismantling all influences.
It is also very likely if Fentanyl hadn’t gotten him, he would have gone onto use of heroin.
80% of heroin users began with prescription painkillers such as Oxycontin, Percoset or Vicodin.
But if this can happen to Prince, it can happen to any of us. Your doctor is your best friend. Have one doctor and tell him or her the truth. Don’t hide your drug use and get help before it’s too late.
Another frightening fact: 70% of the time, when a person begins abusing opiates, he or she doesn’t get them from a doctor. They acquire them improperly from a family member or a friend. Don’t be that “friend.”