Ben Vereen Tells Heartbreaking Family Tragedy That Caused His Heavy Drug Addiction
Ben Vereen, best known for his role as “Chicken George” in Roots and as a superb Broadway dancer, revealed that he developed an extremely heavy cocaine addiction that was kicked into overdrive after the sudden death of his 16 year old daughter, Naja. In prior interviews with People Magazine and Ability Magazine, the details and hardships that followed Vereen were revealed.
Naja was killed in a car accident on the New Jersey Turnpike when a truck overturned on her car one night in 1987. Ben was at the height of his career and that was one heartache that he could not soothe on his own, so he started to heavily self medicate and he ultimately fell deep into his ‘medication.’
Five years later, he too, almost died of the same fate as his daughter. After Vereen’s car hit a tree earlier that night, he was walking along Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu and was hit by a car that was being driven by the well-known Grammy-winning producer/composer David Foster (who was returning home from a Hollywood studio after working on a Michael Bolton album that night and has since worked with everyone from Whitney Houston to Mary J. Blige).
Vereen was probably still dazed from his earlier car accident that night and stumbled onto the road on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, Foster swerved to avoid him, but Vereen darted out in the same direction of Foster’s car, causing Foster to hit him. That hit hurled Vereen 40 feet in the air, he rolled for another 50, and then he landed on the road. Vereen then had a stroke, suffered a brain injury as a result, and that’s where he was forced to start pulling himself out of his addiction from the pain of losing Naja.
Vereen explained how his daughter passed away on December 21, 1987, but he still had to put on a front for the world as he continue to do public appearances and performances. One of those appearances being just about a week and a half after Naja’s tragic death:
“On New Years Eve I was wishing the world a Happy New Year’s (on a New Year’s Day TV show) and I was dying inside.
If it were up to me—I know the impact of the pain I suffered—I would have said bye, but something greater than me said no.”
Vereen had a thracheostomy inserted into his wind pipe to help him breathe and over that next year he had to learn to walk and feed himself again, but he pulled through…drug-free.
As for producer/composer David Foster, he had a tough time recovering after Vereen’s accident and he ultimately had to see a psychologist to help with the flashbacks of the accident. He said “My recovery was totally tied into Ben’s. Every little tidbit of news we got [about Ben’s recovery] was like a feast.” Two months after Ben’s accident, he called Foster and said “David? “Good hit!” LOL. After visiting Vereen in the hospital several times, David Foster ended up writing a song for Ben titled, “Live Each Day.”
Here’s what Vereen explained about his addiction and moving past the pain he suffered:
Ben Vereen: We all have lessons we have to learn and they hit us at various times in life. But when we get the lessons, we can either lie there and pity ourselves in that place of pain or we can move on to the next lesson. Life is lived on very thin ice, and it all depends upon you. You never know when the ice is going to break and they’ll have to reach down there to pull you back.
Interviewer: So you’re thankful if you learn how to swim early.
BV: (laughs) Yes. It’s always good to give praise and thanks. It’s hard sometimes because we deal with our human problems, but we must also remember we are really spiritual beings experiencing a human incarnation. Giving praise is not a religious thing, it’s a spiritual thing. There are many trails to the top of the mountain but there is only one mountaintop. Let’s get up to the mountaintop together so we can all sing and dance.
“The universe,” Ben says smiling, “is very good.”
When Vereen recovered, he began working toward turning the New York home he grew up in, into a drug rehab center for youths. He also created his foundation called Celebrities for a Drug-Free America where he asked his celebrity friends to donate hundreds of thousands of their dollars to help their communities and fight drug addictions.
Source: People.com; Ability Magazine
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