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How cocaine almost destroyed the life of Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks

“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 and one unlike anything contemporary music has seen before. However, the pleasure-seeking instincts of Nicks in the late 1970s is notoriously unparalleled, with her party binges on the same level as her incredible musical prowess. In truth, it’s somewhat of a miracle that she was even able to perform as finely as she did.

What started out as recreational activity soon escalated rapidly into something much more severe. Nicks suffered through several incidents throughout her partying career – one of which almost left her blind – but even that didn’t stop her from consuming her prefered powder of choice a matter of moments later. The singer has since got ahold of her substance issues and, with it, used her influence to help spread the dangers of cocaine abuse.

Nicks’ drug addiction had escalated from casual recreational use to a pure reliance on cocaine and, by the time that Fleetwood Mac’s seminal album Rumours swung around, the singer was in the grips of addiction. 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 prove to be a life-changing moment.

Bob Welch had plunged the future of Fleetwood Mac into turmoil when he tendered his resignation on New Year’s Eve, a decision that left Mick Fleetwood in a quandary, and he needed to replace Welch swiftly. Despite it being a celebratory evening, Fleetwood wasn’t in a mood for partying and instead spent the night plotting potential names that he could use 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 omnipresent. It soon became a pre-show ritual of sorts for the group to join in a ceremonial 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 that suggests that her only relief from the issue 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 suffering incredible loneliness 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 coin in the side of 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 pursuing life as a solo performer. The singer was in a dark place at this time, and her personal life was in turmoil as she watched several relationships break down and, to compound the misery, 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 repeatedly blacking out and, as a result, was told by a doctor that she was on the cusp of suffering a brain haemorrhage. Nicks says that she was told, in no uncertain terms, “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 the advice of her bandmates and visit the Betty Ford Clinic in a bid to get clean from coke which, thankfully, proved successful. However, the stint in rehab did lead to a nine-year addiction to Valium as well as other drugs that were prescribed to her by doctor’s to keep her clean. In a spiralling system that many have endured, the only way Nicks managed to get clean from prescriptions was to ask her PA to take the drugs she was being forced to take. Of course, it was a move met with horror from her doctor. However, Nicks came to the realisation that, by taking a regimented system of prescription drugs, the path was as equally deadly as the one she endured with 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 one that is out of the ordinary. 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.

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