When I think of celebrity drug addicts, names that come to mind include Amy Winehouse, Robert Downey Jnr, Nicole Richie and Pete Docherty.
However – Brenda Dean Paul (1907-1959), the daughter of a Belgian pianist and an English aristocrat, has the inglorious title of being perhaps the first ‘celebrity’ drug addict, living out her addiction in the full glare of the media of her day. She was the ‘It Girl’ at the heart of the ‘bright young people’ – that Bohemian 1920s/30s set whose lifestyle was defined by extravagance and rather grotesque excess. Endless themed parties – each more outlandish than the last, cross-dressing, same-sex shenanigans and masses of drink and drugs were their hallmarks. She became a heroin addict. For some reason I always tend to think of ‘heroin’ as something that ‘started’ in the 1980s, but a cursory search would indicate that it’s been around a lot longer than that – being an opium and morphine derivative synthesised by Bayer in 1874.
Brenda had a rocky life, descending into full scale drug addiction and then bulimia. She had wanted to be a film star but it never quite happened. A detailed bio can be read at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.