Nothing Accidental about Barrymore’s Death
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Nothing Accidental about Barrymore’s Death


At this point, many of us have heard about the death of Jessica Barrymore—the 47-year-old half-sister of Drew Barrymore whose post-mortem toxicology report showed a combination of meth, vodka, methadone, Tramadol and Nordiazepam in her system. There are a myriad of tragedies about this story, first of which that its brief newsworthiness is nothing more than an obligatory homage to the Barrymore name, second of which that she died in a Toyota Camry; but mostly because the victim’s half-brother made a point of calling his sister’s death an “drug misadventure,” adding, “My guess is that it was the booze and pills [that killed her], like with Heath Ledger.”

Just to be clear, a middle-aged woman who is mixing booze, opiates, benzos and speed is not excited about life. While I can’t claim to know about the state of her mind (other than high as a kite), I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was a woman who had considered death as a likely side effect of her substance abuse. While Jessica may not have been technically suicidal, a person in her late 40s who’s using her body as a chemistry lab is well aware that there is a problem and is either struggling to recover from it or has decided—as the alcoholic and addict mind often does—that whatever happens is worth not having to feel.

I can’t claim to know what it’s like to grow up in Southern California bearing the last name Barrymore, when most of your life is spent answering the question of who your dad is before you then have to get re-traumatized in your formidable teenage years when your baby half-sister—whom you have never met and likely resent—rises to the top of Hollywood stardom herself. For Jessica Barrymore, the third of five one-off kids of legendary Hollywood actor John Barrymore and half-sister to Hollywood starlet Drew Barrymore, I would imagine that life in the shadows was pretty unkind. Being part of a lineage that undoubtedly has a genetic predisposition to alcoholism? Also unkind. So as unfortunate as it is to learn of anyone’s death, it’s hard to be surprised about her affinity for drugs and alcohol and it’s equally hard to be surprised that a cocktail of booze, opiates, benzos and speed would take the life of a middle-aged woman. There doesn’t seem to be anything accidental about it.

On the heels of Robin Williams’ suicide and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s heroin overdose, there has been a lot of chatter about taking the stigma out of mental illness and addiction—and so I feel like I need to point out that characterizing your sister’s overdose as a “drug misadventure” is not a step in the right direction. Twenty-year-olds who mix heavy narcotics and wind up dead might be thrown some slack and seen as an adventure gone wrong but an adult nearing 50 has long since been divorced from her adventuresome spirit when it comes to partying; in fact, it’s hard to even consider any substance abuse past the age of 40 as being anything close to a party—unless it’s the Bitter Party of one.

Although medically speaking, it’s hard to say what specific lethal combination led to Jessica Barrymore’s death, that didn’t stop her brother—who is not a doctor but would clearly like to play one on TV—from speculating and name-dropping at the same time. He wants everyone to know that his half-sister’s death was not a suicide—because that is somehow bad or shameful—and that her cause of death was simply a fashionable overdose in good company with the likes of other denizens of Hollywood. Hip, indeed.

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About Author

Danielle Stewart is a Los Angeles-based writer and recovering comedian. She has written for Showtime, E!, and MTV, as well as print publications such as Us Weekly and Life & Style Magazine. She returned to school and is currently working her way towards a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. She loves coffee, Law & Order SVU, and her emotional support dog, Benson.