High Note: Gregory Isaacs battled his demons
Gregory Isaacs once described his cocaine use as the greatest college he had ever attended, yet the one with the most expensive tuition. On the sidelines witnessing his deleterious education, was his wife June, who confirmed his substance abuse when she caught him snorting cocaine at a hotel in Stony Hill, St Andrew, in the late ’80s.
Speaking to The Gleaner, June said she decided to face her husband following a series of strange behaviours. “He would be missing in action from home for two or three days, and when we find him, he had some sleazy excuses, and then there were excess withdrawals from the bank,” she said. “At the time, I wasn’t aware of what was happening until someone told me and I actually went on the scene and saw him. I was shocked, but not too shocked, because when I heard of cocaine, I didn’t know what it was, it was regarded as an elite snorting.”
She would come to understand the drug’s implications in more ways than one, as she says that Gregory’s lifestyle soon changed, and “he was hanging out more with friends, some popular names; he became aggressive, paranoid, and was very insecure.” This was quite different from the Gregory she had met in 1980 and married three years later.
Though the two did not have any children together, June said 10 of his children lived with them, and he tried to hide his activities from them. But his habits were never hidden from her, and she witnessed the financial, social and mental effects of his drug abuse.
One of the biggest blows was being dropped from an international label. “It was a very, very expensive habit, to the extreme point where we lost a house. he consumed so much in that time, I can’t even tell you. I had to take what I could to make sure everything else was okay – a lot of cash went along that wayside,” she said. “It was also hard for him to keep his appointments; he kept being late for flights; he was a constant no-show for shows, which was a big problem, and because of that Island Records had to drop him. He didn’t have any regard for time, he would just spend hours locked away smoking.”
Along with Gregory’s mother, June sought to get treatment for her husband, which proved tedious as he did not believe he needed help. Despite his resistance, he implored his wife to refrain from using drugs.
“Seeking rehab for him was a no-no, and if you approached him with that, he thought something was wrong with you instead,” she said. “You’re not allowed to force people to rehab, so every doctor we spoke to said he had to come on his own will, which he would not do because of pride. We tried everything, even home doctors, and it worked for a few days, and then it was right back to square one, because he didn’t think what he was doing was wrong, yet he encouraged us never to smoke.”
No need for change
Consultant psychiatrist Dr Geoffrey Walcott explained that most addicts will not recognise a need for change until they have hit rock bottom.
“They usually reach a turning point after they have destroyed their lives. There are several changes in this process; pre-contemplation – where they have no thoughts of changing; then there are those who are thinking about changing; those that have been taking the steps to change; and those who are engaged in the change process. And after the change process is the most critical – you have to maintain it. It just doesn’t happen on spot.”
He pointed to rapper Eminem, who recently celebrated 11 years of sobriety after a life riddled with drug and alcohol abuse. Walcott notes that successful cases are few and far between, as users will spend their life recovering and struggling to kick the habit.
“It’s a relatively small population that will actually be as successful as Eminem, about a third. You have another third that will struggle for most of their lives, and then there is another third who will not have any transformation whatsoever, and will continue until they destroy their lives and die. It’s a very difficult situation to deal with, but it really depends on the individual’s level of resilience and the strength of the social support system around them.”
After years of trying to get her husband help, June said it finally took a toll on their marriage and the two separated.
“Being there with him, it started to get hard. In the end, that is what caused me to leave, that is what caused the separation,” she revealed. “I think, way down the line after it started to take a toll on him, he came to the realisation that it was bad for him. But it was so embedded in him that he couldn’t change, and his body could not allow him to do otherwise.”
Gregory died from lung cancer in the United Kingdom in 2010. He was 59.