“Cannabis keeps me sane and happy,” pop-music superstar George Michael, whose death at 53 was announced Sunday on Christmas Day, told the Guardian in 2006.
This may have been around the time that Michael was existing, as he would disclose a few years later, on a diet consisting mostly of coffee… and marijuana.
Unapologetic and uncompromising about nearly everything—his sexuality, his sex life, his stature in the pop-music world that never really seemed to fade, no matter how many years it had been since his last top single—Michael was just as up front about a legendary and longstanding marijuana habit that was at times prodigious, and sometimes problematic, as he would himself freely admit.
He smoked seven joints a day, he said during one interview. No, more like 25, another report estimated.
While at the same time admitting his marijuana use had been a “problem” and that he was “constantly trying” to cut back, he declared that the world would be better if cannabis was legalized—that the real problem with the drugs wasn’t the drugs, but the criminal penalties they carried.
“I’m a happy man and I can afford my marijuana, so that’s not a problem,” in a 2007 radio interview with the BBC. This, despite drugs’ involvement in his regular series of scandals, including his humiliating outing in 1998 after his arrest following a homophobic police sting in Beverly Hills.
While he was quick to remind the public that his infamous automobile-related foibles had nothing to do with cannabis or alcohol—it was sleeping pills that led him to be discovered by police passed out behind the wheel at one time, he said—he also had moments of candor in which he recognized the limitations of cannabis dependence.
“The best answer for me is to keep busy,” he told the Guardian in 2009. “If I’m busy I don’t sit around puffing.” And that “slowed him down,” he said. A moment of clarity? Yes, almost certainly.
About that “sane and happy” quote, which is making the rounds now that Michael is gone. It sounds like a full-throated endorsement for a marijuana-laden lifestyle (and cause for a flattering self-comparison with Keith Richards, noting that if he’d been drinking instead of using marijuana, the results would have been horrific).
The full quote is much more circumspect.
“This stuff keeps me sane and happy,” he said in 2006. “I could write without it…if I were sane and happy.”
“I’d say it’s a great drug—but obviously it’s not very healthy. You can’t afford to smoke it if you’ve got anything else to do.”
“It can be a terrible, terrible drug. You’ve got to be in the right position to take it. You’ve got to have achieved most of your ambitions because it chills you out to such a degree that you could lose your ambitions.”
Was he onto something? As critics point out, during the final years of his life, he released very little new original music, with most of his later output one-off singles or re-releases of old material.
Toward the end, his cavalier attitude changed. He quit smoking marijuana outright in 2014, reports said at the time, a clean break inspired after he did eight weeks in prison in 2010 following an automobile crash—after all of these interviews in which he openly and candidly described his use, not only of cannabis but of sleeping pills and a dalliance with crack cocaine.
Maybe drugs were only part of the problem—maybe he was trying to paper over something bigger, something worse.
In one late interview, he posited that he’d been trying, not so subtly, to sabotage his own career with the parade of drug and sex scandals.
“But my career just seems to right itself like a plastic duck in a bath and, in some ways, I resent that,” he said, according to the UK Daily Mail.
Until it couldn’t, and didn’t. The exact cause of Michael’s death is not yet known, but rumors are circulating that he had moved on to harder drugs in recent years.
In retrospect, all that weed now looks like a warning sign. Did it help keep him together—did it leave him sane and happy? Even if it did, there was obviously something else afoot with which George Michael never came to grips.
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