Sublime Doc Chronicles Singer Bradley Nowell’s Heroin Overdose, Aftermath

By Victoria Kim 09/21/17

The upcoming documentary chronicles the aftermath of Nowell’s death—including the addiction and recovery of his childhood friend Todd “Z-MAN” Zalkins.

Bradley Nowell
Sublime lead singer Bradley Nowell Photo via YouTube

A new documentary chronicles the life and death of Sublime frontman Bradley Nowell, who tragically succumbed to a heroin overdose in 1996, and the aftermath of his sudden passing. 

Nowell was found unconscious in a San Francisco hotel room on May 25, 1996 after fatally overdosing on heroin. According to Rolling Stone, the vocalist had shot up heroin that was “much more potent than the brown Mexican tar he was used to.”

The timing of his death made it all the more tragic—it was seven days after he married Troy Dendekker, and 11 months after the birth of their son Jakob.

Less than a year after Nowell passed, Sublime became “the biggest rock act of 1997” after the commercial success of the band’s self-titled third album, released just two months after his heroin overdose. Less than a year later, the ska-punk group hit Billboard’s Top 20. 

But despite hitting it big, Nowell’s death marked the end for the band.

The upcoming documentary, The Long Way Back, which is set for release on October 17, chronicles the aftermath of Nowell’s death—including the addiction and recovery of his childhood friend Todd “Z-MAN” Zalkins.

Zalkins was able to overcome a 17-year addiction to prescription painkillers, and has made it his mission to help others achieve lasting recovery, too, including Nowell’s son Jakob. 

“There was this subconscious desire to kind of understand what my dad’s experiences were,” says Jakob. “Why would he smoke this? Why would he snort that? Why would he drink this? Why would he pop that?”

The ska-punk band, known for hits like “What I Got” and “Santeria,” reveled in a life of “sex, drugs and rock and roll,” friend Mike Tracy says in a preview of the doc. “Then it was drugs and rock and roll. Then it was just drugs.”

Friends of the band observed that Nowell’s death didn’t really deter them from that hard-partying lifestyle. “When Brad died, I thought that would have been a wake-up call. It was the exact opposite,” a friend named Dave Donaldson said. “Stuff ourselves with whatever fuckin’ substances we can to numb the pain and act like we’re still having fun.”

The year after Nowell’s death, his widow Troy organized a sold-out benefit concert to raise awareness about the dangers of certain drugs, headlined by fellow ska-punk band No Doubt. The proceeds went to the Musicians Assistance Program, a non-profit organization that works to support musicians struggling with drug addiction. Money also went toward a scholarship fund for Jakob, who was one year old at the time.

“It’s not a tribute. We don’t want to glorify the way Brad died,” Dendekker said in 1997 according to Rolling Stone. “We’ve lost too many musicians to drugs. It’s like everyone is desensitized to it—like it’s OK because they were musicians. But it’s not OK. And that’s what we want people to know: Enough already.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr