Heath Ledger could be the latest star to have died from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs. Ledger was taking anti-depressants as well as the “dangerous drug” Ambien at the time of his death, although his autopsy today was inconclusive. While most celebrity drug deaths have been the result of either suicide or the use of illegal drugs, a surprising number of stars have died by accident — from medications you can purchase at the corner pharmacy. Here are 12 of the most famous:
1. MARILYN MONROE. Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind” died from an overdose of sleeping pills — specifically, Nembutal and chloral hydrate [pictured]. Although Monroe’s death was officially listed as a suicide in 1962, many forensic experts and investigators now say the overdose was more likely to have been accidental.
2. ELVIS PRESLEY. Perhaps the most famous prescription-drug abuser of all time, Elvis died in 1977 from an overdose of medications while on the toilet in his Graceland mansion. Presley’s ex-wife wrote: “Presley was taking Placidyls [pictured] to combat severe insomnia in ever increasing doses and later took Dexedrine to counter the sleeping pills’ after effects.” Presley’s personal physician, Dr. George C. Nichopoulos, concluded: “Elvis’s problem was that he didn’t see the wrong in it. He felt that by getting [pills] from a doctor, he wasn’t the common everyday junkie…”
3. JUDY GARLAND. The Wizard of Oz star was found dead in her London bathroom by her husband in 1969. Coroner Gavin Thursdon said the cause of death was an accidental overdose of Seconal [pictured].
4. HOWARD HUGHES. The germophobic genius and subject of Martin Scorcese’s The Aviator died in 1976 in route to a Houston hospital from his Acalpulco estate. Although the official cause of death was liver failure, his autopsy showed lethal amounts of codeine and valium [pictured] in his system.
5. ANNA NICOLE SMITH. According to Wikipedia, “Ultimately her death [in 2007] was ruled an accidental drug overdose of the sedative chloral hydrate that became increasingly lethal when combined with other prescription drugs in her system, specifically 4 benzodiazepines: Klonopin (Clonazepam), Ativan (Lorazepam), Serax (Oxazepam), and Valium (Diazepam). Furthermore, she had taken Benadryl (Diphenhydramine) and Topamax (Toprimate), an anticonvulsant GABA agonist, which likely contributed to the sedative effect of chloral hydrate and the benzodiazepines.”
6. DOROTHY DANDRIDGE. The first African-American actress to be nominated for an Academy Award, Dandridge was found dead in West Hollywood in 1965 from an overdose of Imipramine [pictured], a tricyclic antidepressant. It’s believed she improperly combined the medication — which she took for her bipolar disorder — with pain medication she received after breaking an ankle.
7. DANA PLATO. The long-troubled Diff’rent Strokes star died from an accidental overdose of Vanadom [pictured] and Vicodin at her mother-in-law’s Oklahoma home in 1999.
8. KEITH MOON. The Who drummer died in 1978 from an accidental overdose of Heminevrin [pictured], a medication taken as part of a program to wean him off alcohol.
9. ROB PILATUS. The Milli Vanilli star, disgraced after the public learned the music duo did not actually sing on its hit records, died in 1998 of an accidental overdose of a medication (reportedly methadone [pictured]) designed to help him with drug withdrawal symptons.
10. ROBERT WALKER. Perhaps the most bizarre accidental prescription-drug death. The star of Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train died mysteriously in 1951 after being given an injection of the “truth serum” sodium amytal [pictured] by psychiatrists at his home.
11. NICK DRAKE. The influential singer-songwriter died at his childhood home in the U.K. in 1974 from an accidental overdose of the antidepressant amitriptyline [pictured].
12. PAIGE SUMMERS. The 1998 Penthouse Pet of the Year was found dead in her fiance’s home in 2003 from a combination of the painkillers codeine and oxycodone. Her death may or may not have been an accident; some have pointed a finger at fiance Bracey Bobbitt — who was a pharmacist.
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