“Nobody knows what really happened in my life until I tell them” – Stevie Nicks
One of the most important figures of music in recent memory, Stevie Nicks isn’t just the enigmatic lead singer in Fleetwood Mac, she’s a double Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and a creative visionary. An expert writer and a supreme vocalist, Nicks’ command of music is a natural gift. However, the pleasure-seeking instincts of Nicks in the late 1970s are notoriously unparalleled, with her party binges on the same level as her incredible musical prowess. It’s a marvel that she was even able to perform as finely as she did.
What started out as recreational activity escalated rapidly into something much more serious. Nicks suffered through several incidents throughout her partying career, one of which almost left her blind— even that didn’t stop her from consuming her powder of choice a matter of moments later. The singer has since got hold of her substance issues and used her influence to help spread the dangers of cocaine abuse.
Nicks’ drug addiction had escalated from casual recreational abuse to a pure reliance on cocaine and, by the time that Fleetwood Mac’s seminal album Rumours swung around, the singer was infatuated with the drug with absolutely nothing standing in her way of getting her high. Joining Fleetwood Mac was something that Nicks was initially reluctant to do and, in actual fact, was quite happy making music with Lindsay Buckingham — but one phone call from Mick Fleetwood would be a life-changing moment.
Bob Welch had put the future of Fleetwood Mac into turmoil when he tendered his resignation on New Year’s Eve, a decision which left Mick Fleetwood in a quandary and he needed to replace Welch quick. Even though it was a celebratory evening, Fleetwood wasn’t in a mood for partying and instead spent the night thinking of who he could find to fill Welch’s boots in the band. He knew Keith Olsen had produced the second Buckingham Nicks record and asked him to put the feelers out to see if Buckingham wanted to jump ship to join the Mac. However, Olsen said that wouldn’t happen unless Nicks came too and, in Fleetwood’s eyes, it was the more the merrier.
It was with the band, now growing rock stars, that Nicks’ penchant for powder first grew. Whether they were in the studio or when they went out on the road, drugs were everywhere. It soon became a pre-show ritual of sorts for the band to have a bump of coke immediately before going on stage — an introduction which quickly becomes much more and saw Nicks enter into the inescapable trap of addiction.
Nicks has often struggled with stage fright and there’s a fair theory which suggests that her only relief from that was a bump before going on. More than anything else, however, it offered momentarily escape from touring. Nicks was struggling to cope with rigorous schedules and began to get incredibly lonely with nobody of her own to turn to. The fascination with the drug continued and, during the recording of Rumours, she and Christine McVie purchased ladylike coke vials of which McVie described as “little beautiful coke bottles” that they wore around their necks which, she said, were encrusted with “gold, turquoise, and diamonds.”
While the surroundings were spiralling out of control, Nicks was still painfully lonely despite dating Don Henley. While on the surface they may have appeared as the perfect rock couple, their busy schedules meant that they weren’t much of a couple at all and this led to her starting a cocaine-fuelled affair with Mick Fleetwood. She later opened up to Oprah about the ‘doomed’ affair, saying they were the “last two people at a party,” and that, “It was a doomed thing [that] caused pain for everybody.”
Prior to the first night of the Rumours World Tour, Nicks had a party with the rest of the band that was wild even by their own heady proportions. The group celebrated the news that the album had just gone platinum the only way they knew how—but the party almost had dire consequences. This celebration almost lasted 48 hours straight, and the singer forgot to remove her contact lenses which wore off her cornea, almost leaving Nicks blind. Thankfully, the band’s tour manager bandaged up her eyes at the venue for the first tour date and prevented her from losing her sight.
Nicks has been open in recent years about her prior issues with substance abuse and, more specifically, about how she completely lost control of her behaviour during this hedonistic period. The disregard for her health also resulted in physical injury, the snorting had burnt a hole the size of a dime in her nose. Her addiction was worsening more rapidly than ever before.
Even after the band took a break in 1982, Nicks didn’t step away from her heavy drug use which, if anything, increased under the pressure of being a solo performer. The singer was in a dark place at this time, her personal life was in turmoil as she watched several relationships breakdown and her best friend passed away. In those turbulent times, drugs remained a constant despite everything else in her life seemingly disappearing.
When Fleetwood Mac returned to the studio to create Tango in the Night, Nicks kept constantly blacking out and was then told by a doctor that she was on the cusp of suffering from a brain haemorrhage. Nicks says that she was told that “the next time you do cocaine. It won’t be pretty.”
“All of us were drug addicts, but there was a point where I was the worst drug addict,” she would later recall. “I was a girl, I was fragile, and I was doing a lot of coke. And I had that hole in my nose. So it was dangerous.”
In 1986, Nicks would listen to her bandmates and go to the Betty Ford Clinic to get clean from coke, which worked. However, it did lead to a nine-year addiction with Valium as well as other drugs that were prescribed to her by doctor’s to keep her clean. The only way she managed to get clean from those particular prescriptions were to make her PA take the drugs she was being given. It was a move met with horror from her doctor which confirmed to the singer that by taking so many prescription drugs, she was on as equally a deadly path as cocaine. In response, she decided to kick them all into touch and turn her hand to sobriety, something she is now in total control of.
There’s no denying that Stevie Nicks’ battle with cocaine isn’t a groundbreaking one. Countless people across the globe suffer from a similar addiction. While Nicks was able to have so many close shaves and yet still find a pathway out of the mire of addiction is not only proof of her iconic status as a rock star, but as her determination as a human. Stevie Nicks smartened up and straightened out just in time to enjoy her legacy as a true great.