Empty Pot of Gold

Steven C. Owens
7 min readJun 13, 2019

Judy Garland’s opioid addiction years before the latest epidemic.

Judy always looking for hope.

Judy Garland died a much older version of a 47 year old woman in 1969. Haggard and beaten down from years of drug abuse and self doubt, Judy’s last stage appearance was less than flattering. No, I am not referring to stage performances similar to those from years past such as at the great Madison Square Garden in New York City or the legendary Palladium in England. No, this was a rather lonely and sad curtain call ending which took place in her London apartment bathroom. The details were described by her fifth Husband, Mickey Deans; “Garland was motionless on the toilet with her head slumped forward and her hands on her knees”. Even before death Judy appeared to take a final bow for her audience.

Judy’s last home in England

On Saturday June 22, just three months after their wedding, Judy and Mickey had been watching a BBC documentary on the Royal family but, not untypically, had started to furiously argue. Garland ran into the street shouting and screaming (also not untypically) followed not long after by Deans running after her. He was unable to find his wife and returned to the house and soon after he went to bed.

At around 10:40 am the next morning the phone rang for Garland. Deans, initially unable to find her, found the bathroom door locked. Mickey had to climb onto the roof and then push his way into their bathroom. This is where Deans found his wife lifeless with her skin discolored along with dried blood which had dribbled down from her mouth and nose. She had been dead for about eight hours. This was a far cry from a rainbow ending Judy so craved in which she would finally find her pot of gold overflowing with sparkling gems and jewels.

Garland had been chasing the giant “rainbow” all of her adult life which was symbolic of her chasing true happiness as if it was a tangible object getting her way at every turn.

I’ve always taken ‘The Wizard of Oz’ very seriously, you know. I believe in the idea of the rainbow. And I’ve spent my entire life trying to get over it.

Judy spent her life making peace with the “rainbow”.

The Chelsea Coroner in England, Gavin Thurston wrote;

This is a clear picture of someone who had been habituated to barbiturates in the form of Seconal for a very long period of time, and who on the night of June 22nd/23rd perhaps in a state of confusion from a previous dose (although this is pure speculation) took more barbiturate than her body could tolerate.”

Garland had been prescribed Seconal, the drug that killed her, off and on, since the fifties. It is a barbiturate derivative medicine that became widely misused in the sixties.


Secobarbital sodium used for the treatment of insomnia, and subsequently by other companies as described below, under the brand name “Seconal”. This is a short acting barbiturate derivative drug that was patented in 1934 in the United States. It possesses anesthetic, sedative, and hypnotic properties. In the United Kingdom, it was known as quinalbarbitone. It is the most frequently used drug in physician assisted suicide within the United States. Although secobarbital is considered to be an obsolete sedative-hypnotic (sleeping pill), it has largely been replaced by the benzodiazepine family. Seconal was widely abused, known on the streets as “red devils” or “reds”.

Garland described the reason for her addiction almost excusing the normalcy while explaining the reasons for her odd behavior:

It was a six-day work week at MGM for 14 years with 18 and 24-hour shooting sessions and a very public life devoid of normal friendships.

‘They’d give us pep pills. Then they’d take us to the studio hospital and knock us cold with sleeping pills. After four hours they’d wake us up and give us the pep pills again.

Artificial Sleep was the norm for Judy

‘That’s the way we worked, and that’s the way we got thin. That’s the way we got mixed up. And that’s the way we lost contact.

‘No wonder I was strange. Imagine whipping out of bed dashing over to the doctor’s office, lying down on a torn leather couch, telling my troubles to an old man who couldn’t hear, who answered with an accent I couldn’t understand and then dashing to Metro to make movie love to Mickey Rooney’.

Be thin and attractive with one magic pill.

Valium, Ritalin, Thorazain were some of the drugs Garland was taking and by 1968 she was taking as much as 40 Ritalin pills every day. The effects of these drugs caused hallucinations, disturbed thinking, confusions, depression, anxiety, rage and sleep disturbances. Her “cocktails” of drugs was frighteningly deadly as the end the yellow brick road was near. She sustained many stays in psychiatric hospitals with her psychiatrist’s orders and at the age of 26 she went through the severe treatment of electroshock. Sadly all her attempts of psychiatric help failed her. She even tried hypnosis to “calm her nerves and help her lose weight.”

Her “cocktails” of drugs was frighteningly deadly as the end the yellow brick road was near.

Even through her depression and sorrows from her addictions, which were of no fault of her own besides choosing the path of Entertainment at a time when consequences were unknown, she worked on. She was an amazing performer as she had been since she was old enough to carry a tune, and her illness didn’t affect that. And in her mid to late 30’s her health problems caused by the drugs became critical and was able to last until the age of 47-years-old. Garland was hospitalized because her liver and spleen were largely swollen and her body had become poisoned from fluids. The result of her lifetime of drugs was tearing her apart physically and mentally.

We have not changed or decreased our epidemic of addition to all the “feel good” pills that killed Judy Garland in 1969. In fact, we are worse. In a recent study, 55 percent of Americans regularly take a prescription medicine -- and they're taking more than ever. Many of those pills may be unnecessary and might do more harm than good, according to a special report issued by Consumer Reports magazine. Among those who take prescription drugs, 53 percent get them from more than one health care provider, which increases the risk of adverse drug effects.

Whitney’s last day on earth before her addiction killed her in 2012.

The number of prescriptions filled for American adults and children rose 85 percent between 1997 and 2016, from 2.4 billion to 4.5 billion a year, according to the health research firm Quintile IMS. During that time, the U.S. population rose 21 percent. Celebrity deaths are on the rise from the opioid addiction; Prince, Health Ledger, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse, to name a few from the past 10 years.

Celebrity deaths are on the rise from the opioid addiction; Prince, Health Ledger, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse, to name a few.

Judy had massive talent and worked hard from the time she could walk to earn her ability. Today we slap the label “celebrity” on anyone who can get in front of a cell phone camera and put it on Youtube, Instagram or Facebook. Tell me what specific talent the Kardashian’s have? Remind me? I am really trying to think? I am pretty sure they didn’t do damn thing to earn their “celebrity” label the way legend’s such as Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra and Aretha Franklin did. Before you could be called a Celebrity in the years of Judy Garland you actually had to have a talent. Now it’s cool to be “infamous” to be “famous”!

The one common thread between the older celebrities and the new celebrities today is that we still treat each other like garbage. For every reality star and movie actor or actress there is today there is an agent or movie studio head that wants you to trade your soul in for his/her money. Go ahead, take the “Pledge of Allegiance” and prayer out of the schools and all you have done is replaced it with guns, hatred, mass shootings and now an severe opioid addiction. What are we doing?



Steven C. Owens

Writer of life lessons sprinkled with meaningful sports and history editorials.