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Memoirs of a Rock Star Wife

A recovering addict and former 60’s rock star wife reminisces about all the lives lost to drugs—and all those that can be saved today.

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The author with Berry Oakley, Chuck Negron, and John Densmore

By Julia Negron

09/01/11

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Last week, as I was typing up a list of all the overdose victims I'd known over the years, I couldn't help but think back to the time 40 years ago when I got up close and personal with overdose myself. It was back in the late 1960's: the burgeoning Sunset Strip music scene, 1967's "Summer of Love" and the Monterey Pop Festival were my Rock and Roll training grounds. By ’67, I was working as an employee in the A&R department of Liberty Records—my personal stairway to heaven. I still maintained a regular presence on the Sunset Strip club scene, but by 1968, I moved in with and soon married to rock icon John Densmore of The Doors.   

It was the beginning of a most fabulous lifestyle. I often look back and wonder what the world would be like if we knew then what we know now. We did not know what dangerous games we were playing.  

All fun and games (and an occasional nod and wink), I remember an intimate birthday dinner party for Jim Morrison before he went off to Paris. We all laughed when another Doors wife Lynn Krieger and I rolled up the birthday present we had found for Jim—a Courvoisier cognac bottle decanter on wheels made to look like an antique war cannon. Today I might choose something different.

Even then there was whispering about some of our very favorite musician friends being “real” junkies: Tim Hardin, James Taylor? But no, it was hard to believe. I had been swimming in the Los Angeles drug scene for a while and had never even seen heroin. Then came the news: both Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin dead? Wow, they must have been living in a rock world somewhat different from mine.   

The real shock started with my own mother, who was 47 when she died of an overdose; my baby sister Connie would follow her 12 years later. Still, I saw my mother’s death as a fluke or even expected. After all, she had a long history of drug and alcohol problems.  

But then Jim. Jim! Jim Morrison! Newspaper headlines screamed. Even our own little band circle didn’t seem to know an overdose killed Jim. Today I have no doubt that it did—and that his life could have been saved.

After Jim's death people started dropping like flies, it seemed. Hearing someone you knew from the music scene dying from an overdose became commonplace. “Remember so-and-so, the drummer from so-and so?” “Yeah, why?” “He died of an overdose.”  “Far out.”

Only it wasn’t really so far out. It was just sad. I myself, along with my second husband, Three Dog Night singer Chuck Negron, had developed a hideous heroin habit, along with so many from our time. Friends died, we took it in stride: it was part of the price, part of the game.  

Who knew we would survive long enough to look back in sadness on the wasted lives and unsung songs, the unwritten poetry, and the unpainted art?

My own life was saved twice by Narcan (naloxone) administered by the private paramedic we kept on speed dial. My sister Connie OD’d in 1984; in 1985, I checked into rehab at Cedars, and never shot heroin again.

As time marched on, the day came when I saw my own son on life support, a victim of overdose—he lived thanks to medical intervention. But other rocker parents who did lose their children weren’t so lucky. We never thought this would happen. Oscar Scaggs, Jessica Rebennack, Andre Young Jr.—so many offspring of music legends lost. All lives that could have been saved, like mine, if overdose prevention and awareness was part of drug education in schools, rehabs and medical facilities.  

August 31st was International Overdose Awareness Day, a darn good idea. It’s a new time—a time when we are finally seeing that all life matters and that things change. Now that I am a cleverly preserved rock dowager, relying on my stories and memories for thrills, I’ve had to live with a painful awareness as a younger generation of rockers dies from overdose. Their numbers are legion, the sadness intolerable when I think of how they would have filled the world with their art for another 40 years like my living peers have. Long grey hair, our leather pants bursting a little bit at the bum, we are still full of stories and music and all the promise that rocked life in the 60s. I love the music coming from our new generations and want them to live.

On International Overdose Awareness Day, I took my hippie sensibilities out of moth balls and participated in a street protest in Hollywood to raise awareness about how overdose is preventable and a medical emergency should be treated with dignity and not fear of arrest. It was almost startling to walk out onto the newly sanitized "walk of fame.” All new and spiffy, it’s no longer the stomping grounds of long-haired freaks panhandling for dinner; now "actors" dressed up as Marilyn Monroe, Darth Vader and Charlie Chaplin walk the block. Looking down at the "stars" on the pavement, it was clear to me that overdose hits hard in the entertainment world. I placed a purple "prevent overdose" ribbon on quite a few.

I once lived around the corner back in my earliest Hollywood days, an easy hitchhike to my waitressing job on the Sunset Strip; my sister died in one of the decaying apartment buildings around the corner. Janis Joplin died around the corner as well, so it was the perfect spot for our "action." I hoped our speaker could be heard over the homeless guy with the bra on his head protesting support garments. 

I don't know how much we broke through to the large crowd of tourists that surrounded us, sizzling on the pavement like so many battered shrimp, but if one or two got the message, the scalding was worth it. At least half the protesters were my age, as well as a flock of what we'll call "reform" recovering folk—AA/NA's willing to have the "courage to change the things they can" outside the rooms.

Like a churchgoer, I am quiet and respectful in my own meetings so I can hear the message, but like many that believe in principles of compassion and fellowship in their respective "churches,” I have no problem taking it to the streets and being a missionary for policies that help, not harm. In this spirit, I salute the vibrant mix of grievers, addicts, activists, and just plain people who all showed up and were willing to fry on behalf of all who died and in support of all who can live with 911 good Samaritan legislation and Naloxone availability. 

If Jim Morrison were alive today, he would have surely have written about a poem about it. And maybe joined me, gray hair, bursting leathers pants and all.

Julia Negron is Los Angeles director of A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing) and has organized a “Die-In” to raise Overdose prevention awareness (the group meets at 12:20 pm Wednesday at the Hollywood/Highland Metro station entrance). 

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