Carrie Fisher’s Cocaine Abuse: Could it Really Have Caused Her Heart Attack?
Carrie Fisher’s cocaine abuse has been public knowledge for many years, leading to inevitable speculation that it contributed to her fatal heart attack. Here we take a closer look at her struggles with drugs, weight and psychological issues, and the demands of a career in Hollywood.
“I didn’t love cocaine, but I wanted to feel any way other than the way I did, so I’d do anything.” – Carrie Fisher
Carrie Fisher, who passed away in late December at the age of 60, was never shy about discussing her cocaine use. After first smoking marijuana when she was 13 before moving on to LSD in her early 20s, it came as little surprise that she became a frequent user of blow, the drug of choice of the era.
The Hollywood star, best known for her role as Princess Leia in the Star Wars series, suffered a massive heart attack while on a transatlantic flight on December 23 before dying four days later in a Los Angeles hospital.
The cause of Fisher’s death at a relatively young age has drawn widespread speculation around how her party lifestyle may have contributed to her problems. Not surprisingly, her years of cocaine abuse, which can cause serious damage to the heart over time, has been linked to her untimely death.
A History of Cocaine Abuse
Fisher’s coke use dates back to the late ‘70s at the very latest. In a 2010 interview Carrie Fisher openly admitted to snorting cocaine on the set of the second Star Wars movie, the Empire Strikes Back.
“We did cocaine on the set of (The) Empire (Strikes Back), in the ice planet,” she said. “I didn’t even like coke that much, it was just a case of getting on whatever train I needed to take to get high.”
Fisher would continue to struggle with cocaine addiction and to abuse other illegal and prescription drugs in the decades that followed. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in her 20s and struggled with weight loss issues throughout her career, both of which appear to have exacerbated her drug use.
Cocaine Abuse and the Heart
The American Heart Association has linked cocaine use to a number of cardiovascular diseases, including “heart failure, cardiomyopathies, arrhythmias, aortic dissection, and endocarditis.” Cocaine use places an increased workload on the heart, while at the same time restricting blood flow and oxygen to the organ, which can result in an enlarged heart.
Chest pain is common and is the cause of 40 percent of hospital visits by cocaine users in the United States, while 16 percent of hospital visits are attributed to other cardiovascular complaints. Using cocaine even just once can increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, seizure or respiratory failure, sometimes leading to death.
Long-term cocaine abuse can also take a heavy toll, including permanent damage to the heart and brain, and high blood pressure, which increases the risks of heart attack or stroke. Some medical professionals, however, have said that it is unlikely that cocaine was directly responsible for Fisher’s death.
Dr. C. Noel Bairey Merz, medical director of the Women’s Heart Center at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, told Forbes: “Drugs and alcohol are not risk factors for heart attacks with a few exceptions: young people who are doing a lot of cocaine, or the freebasing; while doing that, they can have a coronary spasm and a heart attack and die. That was not Carrie.”
While there were some reports that Fisher may have relapsed in the months leading up to her heart attack, there is no solid evidence to support this. Indeed, directly linking cocaine use to Fisher’s death seems tenuous, at best. While it may have have been a contributing factor, there were many other aspects of Fisher’s lifestyle that may have collectively caused her death.
A Combination of Factors
Fisher was a heavy smoker throughout her adult life, an addiction that claims far more lives than cocaine each year. Smoking is widely recognized as one of the leading causes of heart attacks, along with factors like stress and weight gain, which were also issues in the actress’s life.
Weight was an issue for Fisher since very early in her career. To get the part of Princess Leia, her big breakout role, she had to agree to lose 4.5 kilograms. Fast forward almost 40 years and the actress had to agree to lose more than 15 kilograms to reprise her role as Leia in 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
One clinician said that crash dieting may have contributed to Fisher’s death:
“If the heart loses too much muscle, it can’t pump properly, leading to an irregular heartbeat, which can result in a heart attack,” he said.
We also know that Fisher had an extremely busy schedule in the weeks leading up to her death, as she travelled extensively in Europe while promoting her book, The Princess Diarist. There has even been some speculation that Fisher’s death may be linked to her bipolar disorder.
While it is possible that Fisher’s cocaine use may have contributed to her cause of death, there is no definitive way to know for sure. What we do know is that we have lost an iconic actress and talented author whose brutal honesty and willingness to face her problems should be an inspiration to cocaine users everywhere.
Cocaine is an extremely fast-acting and harmful drug. If you or your loved one is struggling with cocaine abuse, don’t wait until it’s too late – get the help you need today.