This article contains triggers for risky substance use, addiction, and mental health
Depending on the perspective, VH1’s "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew" represents either the peak or the nadir of reality television. On the one hand, it’s the complete opposite of frothy, largely superficial reality shows like "The Real Housewives" franchise or "The Bachelor," a stark, unflinching, and non-romanticized look at familiar and beloved famous people attempting to manage or defeat the addictions that have thrown their lives into turmoil while also addressing the deep-seated psychological issues that led them to substance abuse. However, the show, hosted by celebrity physician and radio health counselor Dr. Drew Pinsky, earned some criticism for the perception that it exploited sick people at their lowest point and made their very real struggles into entertainment.
There’s also the sad and shocking legacy of the show: In the immediate years after "Celebrity Rehab" first aired, a number of cast members died, many as a direct result of their illness or continued drug use. Here are all of the people from the Dr. Drew series who have since died.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
Jeff Conaway of Grease and Taxi faced addiction for years
In June 1978, "Grease" hit movie theaters and became the highest-grossing movie of the year, with Jeff Conaway co-starring as 1950s high school bad boy Kenickie. Three months later, "Taxi" premiered on ABC, featuring Conaway as Bobby Wheeler, a cab driver and wannabe actor. Conaway left "Taxi" after three seasons, which, according to a 2008 interview with writer Sam Simon on "The Howard Stern Show" (via MarksFriggin), was due in part to the actor’s drug use. He was cut from an episode after being discovered in his dressing room too high to perform. Conaway worked consistently for the next 30 years, but mostly in B-movies and guest-star gigs.
In the mid-2000s, Conaway re-emerged on VH1, according to The Hollywood Reporter, appearing on the network’s weight loss competition "Celebrity Fit Club" in 2006, but departed after three episodes (and an on-screen breakdown). In 2008, the same year he threatened members of the band Oasis with a knife, he returned to VH1 for "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew" to seek treatment for substance abuse issues. Two years later, Conaway fell down a flight of stairs, enduring a brain hemorrhage and numerous broken bones and attempted to wean himself off the painkillers to which he’d become addicted after another, earlier surgery. In May 2011, Conaway was found unresponsive in his home, with strong indications that the actor had overdosed on painkillers. After two weeks of hospitalization, Conaway was taken off of life support and died at age 60.
The late Chyna was a wrestling star and Celebrity Rehab participant
One of the most imposing, dominating, and therefore charismatic and popular wrestlers in the WWE enterprise during its late ’90s and early 2000s popularity surge, Joanie Laurer went by the ring name of Chyna and helped make women’s professional wrestling an extremely popular form of sports entertainment. Nicknamed "the 9th Wonder of the World," she became the only woman to win WWE’s Intercontinental Championship and won the Women’s Championship, too, before leaving wrestling to pursue big-screen stardom, per The New York Times. That didn’t really pan out, but Laurer found plenty of work in the emerging genre of reality TV, appearing on "Celebrity Boxing 2," "Fear Factor," "The Surreal Life," "Hollywood Squares," and in 2008, "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew," in hopes of getting a problem with alcohol under control.
According to Fox News, Laurer was found deceased in her Redondo Beach, California, home in April 2016 by her manager, Anthony Anzaldo. Per a report issued by the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner (via the Los Angeles Times), Lauer died after consuming a fatal mixture of alcohol, Valium, opioid-based painkillers, and sleeping pills. Laurer was 46 years old.