This article contains triggers for risky substance use, addiction, and mental health
Depending on the perspective, VH1’s “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew” represents either the peak or the nadir of reality television. On the one hand, it’s the complete opposite of frothy, largely superficial reality shows like “The Real Housewives” franchise or “The Bachelor,” a stark, unflinching, and non-romanticized look at familiar and beloved famous people attempting to manage or defeat the addictions that have thrown their lives into turmoil while also addressing the deep-seated psychological issues that led them to substance abuse. However, the show, hosted by celebrity physician and radio health counselor Dr. Drew Pinsky, earned some criticism for the perception that it exploited sick people at their lowest point and made their very real struggles into entertainment.
There’s also the sad and shocking legacy of the show: In the immediate years after “Celebrity Rehab” first aired, a number of cast members died, many as a direct result of their illness or continued drug use. Here are all of the people from the Dr. Drew series who have since died.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
Jeff Conaway of Grease and Taxi faced addiction for years
In June 1978, “Grease” hit movie theaters and became the highest-grossing movie of the year, with Jeff Conaway co-starring as 1950s high school bad boy Kenickie. Three months later, “Taxi” premiered on ABC, featuring Conaway as Bobby Wheeler, a cab driver and wannabe actor. Conaway left “Taxi” after three seasons, which, according to a 2008 interview with writer Sam Simon on “The Howard Stern Show” (via MarksFriggin), was due in part to the actor’s drug use. He was cut from an episode after being discovered in his dressing room too high to perform. Conaway worked consistently for the next 30 years, but mostly in B-movies and guest-star gigs.
In the mid-2000s, Conaway re-emerged on VH1, according to The Hollywood Reporter, appearing on the network’s weight loss competition “Celebrity Fit Club” in 2006, but departed after three episodes (and an on-screen breakdown). In 2008, the same year he threatened members of the band Oasis with a knife, he returned to VH1 for “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew” to seek treatment for substance abuse issues. Two years later, Conaway fell down a flight of stairs, enduring a brain hemorrhage and numerous broken bones and attempted to wean himself off the painkillers to which he’d become addicted after another, earlier surgery. In May 2011, Conaway was found unresponsive in his home, with strong indications that the actor had overdosed on painkillers. After two weeks of hospitalization, Conaway was taken off of life support and died at age 60.
The late Chyna was a wrestling star and Celebrity Rehab participant
One of the most imposing, dominating, and therefore charismatic and popular wrestlers in the WWE enterprise during its late ’90s and early 2000s popularity surge, Joanie Laurer went by the ring name of Chyna and helped make women’s professional wrestling an extremely popular form of sports entertainment. Nicknamed “the 9th Wonder of the World,” she became the only woman to win WWE’s Intercontinental Championship and won the Women’s Championship, too, before leaving wrestling to pursue big-screen stardom, per The New York Times. That didn’t really pan out, but Laurer found plenty of work in the emerging genre of reality TV, appearing on “Celebrity Boxing 2,” “Fear Factor,” “The Surreal Life,” “Hollywood Squares,” and in 2008, “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew,” in hopes of getting a problem with alcohol under control.
According to Fox News, Laurer was found deceased in her Redondo Beach, California, home in April 2016 by her manager, Anthony Anzaldo. Per a report issued by the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner (via the Los Angeles Times), Lauer died after consuming a fatal mixture of alcohol, Valium, opioid-based painkillers, and sleeping pills. Laurer was 46 years old.
Tawny Kitaen appeared in '80s music videos and treated addiction on Celebrity Rehab
As an actor in raunchy movies (think: Tom Hanks’ “Bachelor Party”), a music video “vixen,” and celebrity strongly associated with the world of big-haired glam metal, Tawny Kitaen was a sex symbol — and a distinctly 1980s one at that. According to TMZ, she appeared, scantily and provocatively clad, on the covers of albums by the popular hard-rock band Ratt, then solidified her spot in hair metal history when she cartwheeled and writhed on top of cars in the video for Whitesnake’s #1 hit “Here I Go Again.” Kitaen appeared in the clip for the band’s follow-up smash, “Is This Love,” and later married Whitesnake singer David Coverdale, although it wouldn’t last, and Kitaen would recouple with baseball player Chuck Finley, who divorced the model after accusing her of domestic violence.
In the 2000s, Kitaen was all over VH1’s famous-focused slate, appearing on the light-hearted “The Surreal Life” in 2006 and the harrowing “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew” two years later, which followed a stay at a residential treatment center to beat a cocaine habit, according to The Daily Pilot. In 2019, per Radar, Kitaen was arrested for driving under the influence, and her case was set to go before a judge in May 2021. But then Kitaean died in Newport Beach, California, that same month. The actor was 59.
Rodney King drowned a few years after his Celebrity Rehab appearance
Rodney King certainly became famous, but it wasn’t because he was an artist or an entertainer. Instead, he went down in the annals of American history, a human flashpoint for reckoning in race relations and questions of police brutality. According to AP, King was pulled over by California Highway Patrol officers for speeding. He later admitted that he was avoiding police because he’d been driving while intoxicated and was on probation for a robbery offense.
The routine stop quickly descended into four white police officers savagely beating the Black motorist, an incident captured on videotape. In April 1992, a jury acquitted the officers on every major offense, leading countless, frustrated residents of Los Angeles to riot. As the third day of unrest charged on, King memorably appeared on TV, and on the verge of tears, implored, “Can we all get along?” Sixteen years later, King appeared on TV once more, this time as part of the 2008 cast of “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew,” seeking help for his years-long struggle with alcohol abuse.
In June 2012, King’s body was discovered in the swimming pool of his home in Rialto, California. According to the San Bernardino County Coroner, via CNN, King drowned to death after entering “a state of drug and alcohol-induced delirium” and either jumped into the pool or fell in, against his judgment, impaired by the alcohol, cocaine, and PCP found in his body. Rodney King was 47.
An aneurysm claimed American Idol standout Nikki McKibbin
When Nikki McKibbin popped up on the first season of “American Idol” in 2002 (just before the show would become a top-rated television juggernaut) she struck the image of a rock star, with her colorful clothes and spiky pink hair. Voice-wise, McKibbin was a bluesy, soulful rocker in the vein of Melissa Etheridge and Janis Joplin, whose songs she performed during her “American Idol” stint, in which she finished in third place, behind Justin Guarini and champ Kelly Clarkson. Successfully thrust into the spotlight, McKibbin released two albums, a self-titled collection in 2006, and the follow-up “Unleashed” a year later.
After those back-to-back records, McKibbin made headlines for a different reason, when she joined the cast of “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew” in 2008. McKibbin told People that she believes she became “addicted to the painkillers” prescribed after numerous surgeries to correct herniated discs in her back. During the show, McKibbin discussed the abuse she endured as a child, as well as the then-recent loss of her mother to addiction, and went through an unpleasant detoxification process from prescribed anti-anxiety medications.
In late October 2020, according to a Facebook post by the singer’s husband, Craig Salder, McKibbin suffered a brain aneurysm. Four days later, per The New York Times, she was taken off of life support in the Arlington, Texas, hospital where she was being treated and died. McKibbin was 42.
Country star Mindy McCready died after appearing on Celebrity Rehab
In 1996, Mindy McCready was one of the biggest rising stars in country music, according to Rolling Stone, releasing the two million-selling “Ten Thousand Angels,” which includes hits like “Guys Do it All the Time” and the title track. Her follow-up albums performed progressively worse, and by the mid-2000s, McCready’s personal issues made tabloid headlines.
In 2004, she was arrested for using a fraudulent prescription to acquire painkillers (via AP), and a few months later, was arrested for drunk driving. She was hospitalized after her boyfriend broke into her house and attacked her (via People), revealed a years-long affair with baseball player Roger Clemens (via The Hollywood Reporter), and, after multiple suicide attempts (per Today), she agreed to be a part of Season Three of “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew,” with stated addictions to alcohol and the painkiller oxycontin.
After her time on the show, McCready’s life remained troubled. She violated a custody agreement by skipping town with her son, and in early 2013, was admitted to an Arkansas rehab facility against her will, per E!. Shortly after her release, according to E!, McCready committed suicide, on February 17, 2013.
If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Mike Starr from Alice in Chains died at 44
A handful of bands from Seattle revolutionized rock music in the ’90s with their fuzzy sound, chief among them Alice In Chains. As the band’s original bassist, according to Rolling Stone, Mike Starr was a big part of Alice in Chains’ sound, and he played on the band’s first two big releases, “Facelift” and “Sap” before being fired over his drug use in 1993. Alice In Chains went dormant in 1996 after lead singer Layne Staley overdosed and retreated into private life, according to Rolling Stone. Staley died after a long period of heroin addiction in 2002, and Starr is likely the last person to see him alive when both were in the throes of drug abuse.
“I wish I hadn’t been high on benzodiazepine,” Starr said on “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew” in 2010 (via Reuters). “I wouldn’t have just walked out the door.” On that same reality series, Starr provided a devastating self-assessment. “I wanna kill the pain inside me. Because medicine doesn’t do it,” he said, adding that he didn’t “really care” if he died.
After checking out of “Celebrity Rehab,” Starr was arrested in Salt Lake City (according to the Deseret News) in February 2011 on a drug charge and for missing a sentencing on another drug-related offense from 2003. A few weeks later, Starr’s body was discovered in his Utah home, according to TMZ. Per the musician’s roommate (via Deseret News), he’d been using methadone and anxiety medicines prior to his death at age 44.
Joey Kovar from The Real World died of drug-related causes
Joey Kovar lived so much of his adult life, for all the world to see, on reality television. In the 2008 Hollywood-set season of MTV’s “The Real World,” Kovar proved a fascinating individual, an ex-bodybuilder who wants to be an actor trying to move beyond a past that included abuse and addiction. His flirtation with castmate Brianna Taylor got sidelined when Kovar suffered a relapse and started drinking again, leaving the show for long periods of time to focus on his recovery, according to The Hollywood Reporter, only to come back once more in the season finale and cast reunion, announcing that he’d been sober for 10 months. However, less than a year later, Kovar sought more intensive treatment and joined the Season Three cast of “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew” in 2009 in order to attain the tools to stop using alcohol, cocaine, ecstasy, methamphetamine, and steroids (per People).
In August 2012, Kovar was found dead in the Chicago home of a friend, according to TMZ. Authorities pronounced him dead at the scene. Kovar was 29. The Cook County Medical Examiner (via TMZ) later ruled the death the result of “opiate intoxication.”
Jason Davis of Recess died of a drug overdose
As an actor with 20 or so credits that include small parts on ’90s shows like “7th Heaven,” “Dave’s World,” and Roseanne,” Jason Davis’s face might not be immediately recognizable, but his voice is very familiar to people of a certain age. On four seasons of the millennium-era, Disney-produced Saturday morning cartoon “Recess” — as well as in various direct-to-video spinoffs and a feature film — Davis played Mikey Blumberg, a kid who contained multitudes, an excellent athlete and deep thinker who did a little poetry, ballet, and opera on the side.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Davis was the grandson of Marvin Davis, a Denver oilman-turned-Hollywood executive when he bought 20th Century Fox. Jason Davis’ grandmother, Barbara, became a prominent philanthropist, and the whole clan was raised in a life of wealth and luxury. Jason Davis also suffered from addiction. To help himself and others, he helped found an organization called Cure Addiction Now and appeared on “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew” in 2010 to seek treatment for an addiction to opioids. The actor died in February 2020. The cause of death, according to the Los Angeles Medical Examiner (via ET), was an accidental and fatal overdose of the painkiller fentanyl.
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