Far too many musicians have struggled with substance addiction, and sadly, many have lost their lives to these addictions, including Whitney Houston, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Mac Miller, Bradley Nowell, Keith Moon, and so many more.
Steven Tyler, frontman for the iconic 70s rock band Aerosmith, is one of the lucky few who was able to overcome his battle and live another day. And although Kurt Cobain die from his drug use, he never was able to receive the help he needed before taking his own life.
Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain died by suicide in 1994, after a long battle with addiction. He rose to stardom in the very late 80s into the early 90s in what was a very short-lived, but immensely inspirational and pioneering musical career.
Around the same time, Steven Tyler was finally coming to grips on his years-long addiction to the same substance. In 1988, after Aerosmith had broken up for a short period and Tyler was living alone in New York and constantly using, his concerned bandmates and manager held an intervention for him where they were able to convince him to seek help at a rehabilitation facility.
“So, I got sober, and you know it took me many years to get over the anger of them sending me to rehab while they went on vacation,” he told Haute Living in 2019. “But today because of that moment… I am grateful and owe a thanks to them for my sobriety.”
“It was an intervention with the band: If I don’t go away to rehab, then the s—’s over. And it was interesting that I was being told by a bunch of guys that were still getting f—d up,” he said in a separate interview with GQ that same year, adding, “But I’m grateful that that happened. ‘Cause I would have never seen the light.”
Around the same time, he heard about how Kurt had been using, too. And so he took it upon himself to step in and try and show the “Come As You Are” singer the reasons he needed to try and get clean.
Just weeks after Kurt’s death in April 1994, Tyler was interviewed by the TV program Turning Point and talked about what he did to try and save the young rockstar’s life, after recognizing the pain Kurt was suffering by looking in his eyes.
“You look in [Kurt’s] eyes and he couldn’t even face the camera,” Tyler said of Kurt’s music videos and live performances. “He was in pain.”
“And I’m angry about Kurt,” he added. “This guy didn’t have to die.”
Kurt’s family and friends had tried to get him to seek help. But it didn’t prove to stick for him. On March 28, he entered a treatment program, but only stayed for three days. Barely a week later, he was dead.
One of those people trying to help Kurt at one point was Tyler in 1992.
In the 2011 memoir Everybody Loves Our Town: A History of Grunge, written by Mark Yum, a quote from one of Nirvana’s former manager Janet Billig read, “Right when It started coming out that Kurt was doing drugs, I remember Steven Tyler called and wanted to help. I told Kurt, ‘Holy s–t, Steven Tyler called my office and he wants to help you. Can I give him your number?’ And he was like, ‘Steven Tyler got to be a junkie for 18 f–kin’ years. I’ve only been doing drugs for an hour.’”
The next year, Steven met Kurt, as well as the rest of Nirvana (Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic) face-to-face at one of Aerosmith’s shows at Portland Memorial Coliseum. Novoselic talked with Charles Cross, the author of Heavier than Heaven: The Biography of Kurt Cobain, about that experience.
“[Tyler] wasn’t preaching,” he admitted, “just talking about similar experiences he’d been through. He tried to give him encouragement.”
In the Turning Point interview, Tyler gave some insightful advice to people who may be afraid to seek treatment for substance abuse.
“If there’s anything I could say to anybody, don’t be afraid to stop,” he said. “It’s not the end of the world, man. You’re not gonna die.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, please contact the SAMHSA helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.