Melissa Etheridge opens up on son's fatal overdose: 'I didn't want to blame genetics'
Melissa Etheridge wants to help other families struggling with opioid addiction. The singer opened up to Tamron Hall about the loss of her son, Beckett, who died from an overdose in May after a four-year battle with opioids. He was only 21. Etheridge told Hall while “there’s no right time” to talk about the tragedy, there’s “no wrong time” either.
“This sort of loss is not something I’m going to get over ever, probably,” Etheridge said on Friday’s the Tamron Hall Show. “You build your life, you have your family and children maybe, you have the people around you and loss is part of it. I’ve lived enough life to know that losses are part of what this is is. Beckett would want me to stop. You know, he wouldn't want me to shut down or stop being open about my life and living it in the way that I do.”
Etheridge hopes Beckett’s story will help other people who have a loved one “under this pharmaceutical spell.”
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“I wanted to share it, but I knew that this was his life. And I didn't want to draw any attention to him. But when he passed away, it became something — I knew once I announced it, it would be in the world,” Etheridge continued. “And I have always walked my path openly. I make mistakes, I'm up and down. I do the best I can. And maybe showing the mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers how to — not understand, but how to walk and not live with shame and guilt and the stigma that opioid addiction can bring in to a family. If we can put it out in front and say, ‘Wow, this is a big problem and there aren't any easy answers, let’s all come together and maybe shed some light on this.’”
Beckett’s addiction struggles began after he was injured in a snowboarding accident at 17 and prescribed an opioid pain killer. Etheridge told Hall while she was concerned, he wasn’t living with her at the time.
“He was in a program and I didn't actually know that they prescribed him [pills],” the singer-songwriter shared. “I look back and it’s part of the ‘Should have.’ I should have known… I wasn’t there in person. That’s part of the ‘What if, what if.’ But he was also prone to be more addictive — he had more of an addictive personality.”
David Crosby is the biological father of Beckett, whom Etheridge shared with former partner, Julie Cypher. Crosby has been open about past substance abuse issues and Etheridge acknowledged Beckett had “predispositions.”
“You know, I didn't want to blame genetics,” she told Hall. “I know we have predispositions. My oldest daughter [Bailey] who’s about two years older than Beckett, is extremely successful, graduated from Columbia University, has an incredible job, getting her master’s [degree] at the London School of Economics. So the genes are there, but the choices then are the individual’s to make and Beckett just kind of made the choices that made it harder and harder for him.”
After Beckett’s snowboarding accident, Etheridge noticed behavioural changes. However, she attributed the change to the fact her son could no longer try and become a professional snowboarder.
“I put a lot of it on the depression... because he broke his ankle and all he was working towards as a snowboarder went away. He became more irritable,” she explained, noting, “From that point on, it became more and more of a struggle.”
Etheridge enrolled Beckett into a “program,” but after he turned 18 it was his decision whether or not to stay. Beckett chose to try and deal with things on his own. Etheridge added that there were a lot of “ups and downs” from ages 18 to 21. She also said the pandemic “really just turned the volume up” on his issues.
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“The things that he used to — he would go to parks, he was really outdoorsy. In the last few weeks, he was saying ‘This is really hard,’” Etheridge recalled. “He didn't like to be isolated or alone. The isolation of this year, of COVID, it makes it tough.”
The singer has started The Etheridge Foundation to support healthy new research into the causes and effects of opioid addiction.