James Taylor Discusses His Family’s History of Addiction

By May Wilkerson 12/03/15

The singer-songwriter talked to Oprah about his family's struggle with alcohol, drugs, and mental illness.

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James Taylor
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The old 12-step adage “addiction is a family disease” certainly seems to be true for James Taylor.

The American singer-songwriter, who battled heroin addiction early in his career, discussed his family’s history of addiction during a recent appearance on Oprah's Master Class. "There's a mysterious sort of darkness in my family tree,” said Taylor, 67. “People argue about substance abuse and whether or not addiction is genetically predisposed. I think it probably is.”

Taylor described his father as a “functional and brilliant” alcoholic, and his older brother passed away from the disease. “There's definitely that gene in my family,” he said. “Whether it's nature or nurture, we tend to be addicted."

Taylor said his family was also prone to depression. But, being a creative family, he sees a silver lining to their mental health issues. "That’s a double-edged thing—it's not entirely negative," he said. "In dealing with it, in contemplating it, in trying to get relief, I think a lot of art is generated."

The singer-songwriter first spiraled into drugs in the late '60s, following a period when the family “kind of came off the rails," he said. His father’s drinking had culminated in his parents' divorce, and three family members, including James, were hospitalized for psychiatric issues. It was then that he was introduced to heroin by the drummer in his band, and recalls “as soon as I was introduced to opiates, I was gone.”

The Grammy-winning musician has now been sober for more than three decades and his career has flourished. But though his struggles may have contributed to his artistic expression, he urges others to avoid going down that path. "The main thing I would say about it is: Avoid an addiction,” he said. “That means if you like something an awful lot and it's an addictive substance, run like hell. If you love it, let that be the last time you ever touched it."

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.

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