COVID-19 is an emerging, rapidly evolving situation.

Get the latest information from CDC ( | NIH Resources | NIDA Resources

Drugs & Health Blog

'Amy' and 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'—Up Close and Very Personal

This blog post is archived and is no longer being updated. For the latest content, please visit the main Drugs & Health Blog page.
The NIDA Blog Team

When famous or successful people become addicted to drugs and die young, whether from drug use or related causes, we wonder, “Why did they throw it all away?”

The question itself makes a big assumption—that somehow only people who have nothing to lose become addicted, or use drugs in general. Or that fame or money can buy you out of addiction or overdose.

Fame or no fame...

The truth is, anyone who uses drugs can become addicted. And just because someone is famous, that doesn’t make their addiction any more glamorous. In fact, addiction, like many serious diseases, levels the playing field: It doesn’t matter how attractive or talented or popular or smart a person is or isn’t—once they become addicted, their disease often ends up defining their life and, for far too many, their death. In fact, the entourage that makes a living off of someone’s success might be reluctant to urge them to pause their career and get help.

That doesn’t make the loss of these popular figures any less sad. But instead of turning them into mythic super-souls, maybe we as a society should take them off the pedestal and see them as just people. Like all of the other people who succumbed to their addiction or other serious mental health problems.

Different—and alike

Take, for example, two greats of the music world, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse—artists that left us too soon and whose addictions were in the spotlight for all to see. Musically speaking, they were worlds apart. Kurt, the founder and front man of Nirvana, rocketed to fame in the early 1990s and was the face of “grunge” music. Amy became a star in 2006, when her album Back to Black hit the charts and showcased her blend of 1960’s Motown soul and girl-group pop with contemporary and very personal lyrics.

This summer, two terrific new documentaries—Amy and Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck—show that as different as Amy and Kurt were, there was a lot of common ground in their childhoods, addictions, and deaths. Judging from these movies, it’s undeniable that addiction was a major force in the lives they lived and their tragically early passing. Both Cobain and Winehouse publicly rationalized their substance use at the beginning, possibly influencing others to do the same. They would both come to acknowledge the problems that addiction brings, but this wisdom seemed to come too late.

Even in light of all they shared in life, their deaths teach us the only real lesson to take away, that life is hard for everyone. That drugs and alcohol don’t make troubles go away for very long, and for many people, they make the troubles far worse.

We can love the music Cobain and Winehouse made and look up to them as people, but that doesn’t mean we have to live tragically as they did. In the end, what they left behind isn’t just their music or the love of their family, friends, and fans—it’s the unanswerable question of the amazing things they didn’t live long enough to do.

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


I have many family members addicted to drugs, and trust me they are far from famous. I can vouch that anyone can get addicted under any circumstance.
drugs are bad
Kurt was in part self medicating his severe stomach pain. Painkillers are bad, yo. However, I also hypothesize that these musicians were super successful because they were sometimes so self-critical. They pushed themselves to be the best, but also part of this drive comes from intense self-criticism and not feeling "good enough" even though anyone else can see they are in a class of their own. Does this explain why so many creative people have substance abuse problems? Maybe not entirely. What do y'all think?
Kurt Cobain died because of suicide, not because of drugs
Omg have u never watched he took herion theen shot hos self so it was both
Actually he had to have been murdered. The amount of heroin he supposedly injected would have knocked him out instantly, way before he could have positioned a shot gun barrel into his mouth and shot. Explain that.
Kurt suffered from chronic pain, as well as adhd. As a punk rocker kid without a strong family you can imagine the help he received and as a result how miserable existence could have been at times, until he suddenly made it big and had all the means for self treatment at his disposal. You can see the anguish leave his existence in his later shows and interviews and performances only to be replaced by the emptiness of heroine addiction. I am on pain medication with severe chronic pain I developed a year ago after Gillian Barre syndrome ate off the ends of my nerves. I am trying to ditch the meds and embrace the pain, which never went away. I am just glad I was given the help with prescriptions instead of being driven to the street like many. At one point this year i was being pushed off of my meds by my doctor, regardless of what I was telling him my pain level was at. I pay almost $500 a month for meds and they cause more anguish than euphoria, however my pain makes me completely Unfunctional. I want off more than anyone, but I also have a family and 14 employees that I need to support, so I need to function. meds are easy to get away from compared to heroine. One person gets them for stubbing their toe when there is no need for opiates,while the next person just gets shut out and couldn't afford that path any how. Pain meds are life saving meds we should have affordable access to when needed. pain meds aren't heroine I would rather a society with a prescription problem than a heroine problem. Please find a better example than Kurt Cobaine for a weak person who could 't handle the trappings of fame. He remains a tragic story but it takes a lot of strength to make it through his path, it seems a shame to hear it told that way.
So many untrue statements. You're addicted to your pain meds and assuming on the price you stated seems like you've been on them for a while and have a built tolerance. A society addicted to prescription opioids is no different in any shape or form then one addicted to heroin. They are both extremely addictive and cause almost identical effects when used. Saying a legal addiction is way better then an illegal one is saying green apples are better then red- they are basically identical. Pill withdrawal is the same if not worse then heroin withdrawal.
So many uninformed statements and half-truths. Keep quiet until you’ve experienced addiction yourself or you’ve been intimately involved with someone who has.
Well said. I took prescription opioids for ten years (chronic pain from a painful autoimmune disease) and my doctor pushed all his patients off them instead of tapering our doses. I haven’t had any opioids in 18 months and I’m ecstatic about that, but still angry about my treatment by the doctor. The withdrawal was brutal but happily it didn’t last too long.
Kurt Cobain was a great guy.