Billie Holiday was born Eleanora Fagan, on April 7, 1915 to a thirteen year old mother and a fifteen year old jazz guitarist, father. After a difficult early childhood, which included scrubbing floors at a brothel and singing in night clubs to make ends meet she was ‘discovered’ by the record producer John Hammond in around 1932. In 1933 she made her first recording of a song called ‘Your Mother’s Son-In-Law’ and her career took off. Billie started leisurely use of marijuana as very early in her life, by some accounts when she was twelve years old.
However it was the eventual use of heroin, which she was introduced to by the men in her life, which actually destroyed her (Clarke, 2000). She married trombonist Jimmy Monroe on August 25, 1941 and while married to him became romantically involved with trumpeter Joe Guy and became his common law wife. Joe Guy introduced Billie to drugs and was her dealer. It was during the forties that Billy had made some of her most well known recordings. This however was also the time period that her dependence on drugs grew.
She started using heroin intravenously during the early forties. It is a well known fact that heroin gives the user a short-lived elation, which is succeeded by drowsiness. Long term effects of heroin are slowing of the heart rate, breathing and activity of the brain. It is also accredited with depressing appetite, thirst and the reflexes. When the effects of the drug begin to wear off, usually four to eight hours after the last dose, withdrawal symtoms set in. These include chills, sweating, runny nose, irritability, insomnia, tremors, and body pain.
There comes a point when the user does not take the drug for pleasure but to relieave the pain that sets in as the effects of the drug start to wear off. Unfortunately, at the peek of her career, Billy was not only using heroin but cocaine and opium as well and in addition to alcohol and cigarettes. Her unchecked drug use and chronic depression brought her careen to a sudden halt. In 1947 Holiday was arrested for possession of illegal drugs and volunteered to be placed in drug-rehabilitation center for eight months.
In order to revive her career after her release, her manager booked her at Carnegie Hall where she performed in front of a packed hall. However, this was a turning point in her career, as she could not get her cabaret license reinstated. Thus she was not permitted to perform in establishments that served alcohol (Dufty, 1956). With the passage of time, the excessive use of drugs and alcohol had a profound effect on her voice and her health in general, to the point that she had a difficult time making a living performing.
In 1954 She toured Europe and performed at the Royal Albert Hall, but by this time her performances had weakened. Miles Davis remembered the last time he saw her was in 1959, when he was performing in Birdland and Holiday came to visit and ask for money to buy heroin. Miles claims he gave her about a hundred dollars (Davis, 1990). Billy Holiday’s last public performance was in 1959. She was forty four years old, and was in such poor health that she had to be escorted off stage only after two songs.
Prior to her death on July 17th, 1959, Billy wrote her autobiography with the help of William Dufty and talked about her issues with drug abuse and growing up poor. When Billy died she was under house arrest undergoing treatment for kidney failure, due to drug and alcohol misuse. Use of alcohol, narcotics and tobacco exact a toll not only on the addict but society as well. Misuse of drugs, as seen in the case of Billy Holiday, can make a talented individual a burden on society. Medical treatment of these individuals consumes resources that can be more productively used elsewhere.
Nearly 80% of prisoners in U. S. A. are incarcerated for drug related issues. Tobacco kills nearly 400,000 people, while alcolhol kills 80,000 and Cocaine and Heroin kills 4,500 people in a typical year (Drug Information, 1999). Works Cited Clarke, D. (2000). Wishing On the Moon. In D. Clarke, Wishing On the Moon (pp. 12 and 395-9). (1990). Miles: the autobiography. In M. Davis. Drug Information. (1999, June 1). Retrieved June 07, 2010, from www. a1b2c3. com/drugs/: http://www. a1b2c3. com/drugs/ (1956). Lady Sings the Blues . In W. Dufty, Lady Sings the Blues. New York: Doubleday.
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