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Scott Weiland and addiction in the music business

Scott Weiland and addiction in the music business
A MusiCares safe harbor room is set up backstage at the 2015 Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio to provide support for musicians and concert tour personnel in recovery. (Randy Lewis / Los Angeles Times)

Authorities have yet to establish the official cause of death of ex-Stone Temple Pilots lead singer Scott Weiland while on tour in Minnesota. But police reported finding cocaine in the room of his tour bus, on which Weiland was found dead Thursday, and one of the members of his latest band, the Wildabouts, was arrested and charged with possession of a controlled substance that police identified as cocaine.

Whether cocaine or other drugs killed Weiland, 48, he's long been one of rock's highest-profile personalities who has struggled with addiction. For more than two decades, Weiland had been in and out of rehab, and his ongoing substance abuse was cited as one of the reasons Stone Temple Pilots disbanded.

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"We see it too often," said Neil Portnow, president of the Recording Academy, which in 1989 established its MusiCares Foundation to provide a wide range of services to musicians in need. Through MusiCares' MAP Fund, established in 2004, treatment programs and sober living are accessible to those who wrestle with addiction.

Portnow notes that even though the medical establishment has long identified addiction as a disease, one characteristic is that "it's not infrequent that somebody who has this problem isn't willing or able to acknowledge that they have a problem."

"A crucial part of the ability to treat this disease, or any disease, is having a patient who comes to a place where they want to improve or treat the problem," he said.

"In the case of addiction, it doesn't necessarily present itself the way some other medical problems do," he said. "If you have a cavity, or you break your arm, the manifestation of the problem is pretty obvious and people are generally pretty motivated to fix it. With addiction, because of the substance abuse and the mask that creates around one's mental state, it isn't always clear to someone that they have the problem, or that they are willing to face up to it. That's the challenge."

MusiCares has been proactive in assisting musicians who do try to face their addiction, providing safe houses at major concert arenas and festivals and hosting 12-step meetings for those looking for extra support while on tour.

"It's not unusual for someone who has substance problems that the toughest time for them, when they're under the greatest pressure, is when they have to perform in front of people, emotionally expose themselves in that fashion.

"We have terrific staff people on site who provide opportunities for people who are in recovery to meet and talk," he said. "We know about 12-step programs [such as Alcoholics Anonymous] and how effective that is. We also have a network across the country of other music people in recovery who are willing to take a phone call any time of the day or night from a fellow musician who needs some help or just some words of encouragement. Even though they are a stranger, they have a commonality in the struggles they go through."

Portnow said MusiCares recently reached two milestones during the lastest fiscal year: "We've given out in excess of $4 million in aid, and we've done that over 4,000 clients."

MusiCares is funded through a variety of events, but the biggest single revenue source is the annual MusiCares Person of the Year ceremony, held each year in conjunction with the Grammy Awards.

Honorees at the star-studded tributes have included Aretha Franklin, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Barbra Streisand, Brian Wilson, Carole King, Neil Young, James Taylor and Pete Townshend. Lionel Richie is the honoree at the 2016 event slated for Feb. 13. The fundraisers can generate $5 million to $7 million annually for MusiCares.

Although MusiCares focuses on helping people within the music community, Portnow said the issue with addiction is far broader in scope.

"It's pretty clear in our country that we have a significant issue with addiction that isn't relegated strictly to musicians or actors or dancers or the creative side of the community," he said. "We have an epidemic on our hands as a country.

"Our mission and interest is in helping those in our community who suffer with these terrible diseases," he added. "Many creative people, whether they play music or paint or dance, whether they're writers and so on, they — and I say this in a kind way — sometimes are wired a little differently than other people.

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"To be creative, to express yourself, to put yourself out there and be that vulnerable in a public sense, in order to translate deep feelings and emotions into art that can be communicated broadly, it requires a certain sensibility, a certain personality, a certain frame of mind that's different than other people on the street.

"I think part of that, from time to time, creates an opportunity for substances to prey on, and to create problems for artists," he said. "I think it becomes to certain creative people more compelling, frankly. They in some way think it has a positive influence on their art, or they do better work.

"That makes it so interesting to hear from those people in recovery who may have thought that, and they will say publicly it's quite the opposite."

Not that musicians or other artists are any more susceptible to addiction than anyone else, although the circles they travel in can make access to substances easier than for the average Joe.

"I would say that it would be misleading to extrapolate a point of view that this is far worse in music than it is from a national point of view," he said. "I don't have statistics, but I assure you that there are thousands and thousands of people with these problems. But most of them are not famous, so you don't hear about them."

The big question when a celebrity repeatedly relapses, or especially when one dies, is why, given the many resources and treatment programs available to the rich and famous, they were unable to triumph over addiction.

"If money would create the ability to get well and to cure this disease," Portnow said, "there are a lot of very famous people who would still be on the planet."

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