Mar 22, 2013

5 Best Comic Entertainers Who Battled Addiction


It's often said that most comedians have a dark side, and often some of the best comedy treads a fine line between humor and pathos. Many of our finest comedians have struggled with alcohol and drug addictions, shielding themselves from pain with a combination of humor and substance abuse. Below are five of the best comics who were also addicts.

Lenny Bruce

Lenny Bruce shook up the 1950s and early 1960s with comedy that deal with previously taboo subjects like religion, sex and politics to a degree that had never been done before. Unfortunately, he struggled with addiction throughout his career and was found dead in his home in 1966 from a morphine overdose.

Why He Was One of the Best: Bruce was a groundbreaking comic by any estimation due not only to the subject of his comedy but his landmark obscenity trial. It was widely protested by a number of artists, and his conviction was overturned after his death.

John Belushi

As part of the original cast of "Saturday Night Live" and iconic for his work in films like "The Blues Brothers" and "Animal House," Belushi was a beloved comic whose talent was overshadowed by his addiction. He died at the age of 33 in 1982 from an overdose of of heroin and cocaine.

Why He Was One of the Best: Belushi's film work, his work with Second City in Chicago and his "Saturday Night Live" appearances all solidified him as one of the greatest American comics.

Richard Pryor

Pryor was a stand-up comedian whose boldness in dealing with racial issues was unprecedented. He was in a number of popular films and co-wrote the Mel Brooks-directed "Blazing Saddles." He struggled with addiction, however, including a famous incident in which he was found running down the street on fire near his home in a drug-induced psychosis.

Why He Was One of the Best: Many of his peers consider him one of the best or the best comedian of his time, and he changed the way comedians talked about race.

Sam Kinison

Kinison was known for his abrasiveness and a jarring scream dating from his days as a Pentecostal preacher, and in the 1980s and up until his death in a car accident in 1992, he appeared on a number of talk shows and was a regular on the radio with "The Howard Stern Show." His career was marked by struggles with addiction to drugs and alcohol.

Why He Was One of the Best: Kinison blended social satire and dark humor in his edgy, confrontational comedy that last to this day.

Mitch Hedburg

Hedburg's star rose higher after his death than it ever did while he was alive. His style was deadpan and absurd humor that was often observational. He made no secret of his drug use, sometimes mentioning it during comedy routines, and he died from an overdose of heroin and cocaine in 2005.

Why He Was One of the Best: Hedburg's comedy was smart and original and generates a fevered cult following to this day.

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Dana Reynolds is an addiction counselor and columnist who regularly writes about online addiction counseling degrees.

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