Judy Garland Drug Addiction

Estimated reading time: 19 minute(s)

As the early American cinema began to thrive, many stars appeared in front of the public, capturing their heart. Among these rising stars was Judy Garland, one of the most beloved and iconic actresses of her time. Even today, people adore her, particularly for her childlike innocent demeanor and her gorgeous voice. Her role as Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz, which screened in 1939, is still many people’s favorite.

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Despite having a shiny, successful career, Judy did not have a very exciting life. Instead, she had to undergo some callous times as she ascended to fame. Today, the entire world knows about Judy Garland drug addiction that ultimately caused her tragic death.

Judy Garland Addiction: How It Began?

Judy spent her childhood in a disturbed household where her father and mother did not have a good relationship. For her, her father had always been more emotionally supportive; however, he died unexpectedly after contracting meningitis in 1935. With a supportive figure gone from her life, Judy’s like suddenly faced a shock. She was never too close with her mother, and in the absence of her father, their relationship grew more tense and fragile. Even after signing a deal with MGM to progress her career, Judy always lacked support which led her to abuse drugs and develop addictions.

Judy’s mother, Ethel, was a highly frustrated performer herself, and sources suggest that she was the one to push her daughter into an acting career at a very young age. At the age of only two and a half years, Judy was performing on the stage along with her siblings. The constant pressure from her mother made her so stressed that she would recall Ethel as the Wicked Witch of the West later in life. Some people also believe that her mother pushed Judy to try pills even before she turned ten. The purpose was to increase her energy levels and boost her sleeping quality to perform better on stage.

The Fueling of Judy Garland Drug Addiction: The Stress to Maintain a Slim Body

After signing a deal with Metro Goldwyn Mayer during her teenage years, Judy worked in more than 24 films under the studio banner. As a part of her contract, she constantly experienced an in-depth scrutiny process by the studio bosses, which heavily targeted her body weight. Garland’s first feature film was released in 1936 when she was only 14. This film was a musical comedy sequence about football coaches. During its filming, the studio bosses continued to pressure Judy, especially regarding her body weight. According to reports, they called her a “fat little pig with pigtails.”

As a consequence, Judy had to undergo the most severe form of diet with heavy restrictions and close monitoring. To maintain an optimal body weight, the studio insisted she consume black coffee, chicken soup, and cigarettes, in addition to forcing her to take pills for appetite reduction. Judy remained on a heavy diet or Benzedrine and sometimes both. Because she couldn’t camouflage any extra weight like other actresses, as she had to sing and dance in revealing costumes, she had to go the extra mile to remain underweight.

When Judy Garland Addiction Became a Way of Life

Soon into her career, Judy was constantly taking drugs, but she wasn’t alone in her struggles. Rooney, her co-star who worked with her in many famous films like Strike Up the Band, Love Finds Andy Hardy, and Babes In Arms, was also reportedly forced to use them. Both actors continued to suffer the abuse and never spoke of these injustices for years.

Garland mentioned to her biographer how the studio forced her and Mickey to work for long hours and take pills to keep their energy levels high when exhausted. Following the long, strenuous work, the studio would take them to the hospital and use sleeping pills to knock them out. Shortly after, both had to wake up and load on the pep pills, followed by working for 72 hours straight in a row. The studio bosses were reportedly caught sending each other memos regarding Garland’s food intake a year before The Wizard of Oz was released. By the time the film shooting began, Judy was already taking uppers and downers.

Judy Garland: A Walking Advertisement for Sleeping Medication

Garland was reportedly heading towards early womanhood as a fleshy teenager at the age of 17. To ensure her young, wholesome appearance that does not raise any questions from the audience, the studio started strapping down her breasts while using corsets to maintain her slimmer look. These measures were in addition to her very limited food intake and steady use of drugs. It is only a miracle how Garland continued to perform so brilliantly under such extreme circumstances.

All these years of reliance on pills and yo-yo dieting led to many nutritional issues in addition to setting the platform for Judy Garland alcohol abuse. According to her, she would have easily been a walking advertisement for sleeping medication in many instances. Despite having a doctor’s prescription for sleeping pills, the medications put high stress on the nervous system. In 2017, Garland’s daughter called her mother a victim of the studio system but also acknowledged how it helped her channel her talent to the world, calling the circumstances a double-edged sword.

The Final Days: What Did Judy Garland Overdose On?

Judy Garland married five times before dying at an early age of 47. In 1966, her fifth husband, Mickey Deans found it unusual when he found Garland’s bathroom door locked with no response from her. Mickey tried calling her several times, but after receiving no response, he had to break down the door only to find the actress dead.

According to rumors, Garland had already tried committing suicide plenty of times before her death. Her lifelong struggles with drug addiction finally led to death when the cause was found to be a barbiturate overdose. Many people believe that Judy’s mother never batted an eye about her health and did not care about her future. In her father’s absence, the actress did not receive any guidance, further exacerbating her dependency and causing her death.


What problems did Judy Garland experience in terms of health?

There was a lot going on in Judy’s life, leading to exhaustion, nervous breakdowns, kidney issues, body weight issues, near-fatal drug reactions, and injuries secondary to falls.

How many pills had Judy taken when she died of an overdose?

Reports suggested that Judy’s death was due to a barbiturate overdose. According to the investigating officers, she took a little more than ten tablets, leading to her death.

Was Judy Garland a drug addict?

Due to the constant pressure from the studio to maintain a low weight and perform endlessly for long hours, Judy had to take high doses of various drugs, leading to addiction. Sources reveal that she was taking barbiturates and amphetamines to cope with the pressure. Some example drugs that she abused included Ritalin, Thorazain, and Valium. The drug abuse got so bad at one point that by 1968, the actress used to take up to 40 pills of Ritalin every day.

What was Judy Garland mental health like?

Judy Garland reportedly suffered from depression and anxiety. Additionally, she experienced several mental breakdowns and burnout during her career due to the high workload.

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