In the late 1980s, Debbie Gibson was pop music’s teen sensation, charting on the top 40 with 10 songs, including two No. 1 hits. (In 1988, “Foolish Beat” was her first song to top the charts, making her the youngest female artist to write, produce and perform a No. 1 single – a record that endures today.)
But despite her massive success, everything wasn’t perfect for Gibson.
Gibson, 46, shares the dark side of pop stardom on this week’s episode of Where Are They Now? While Gibson never fell into the trap of illegal drug usage, she does talk about self-medicating to cope with a rigorous travel and performance schedule.
“Starting so young in the business had many challenges, and how I dealt with those challenges might surprise many people,” she tells the show. “The truth of the matter is that I remember being on the road at like 25, touring with the theater and doing my own cocktail of Tylenol PM and Xanax.”
A veteran of Broadway, Gibson saw evidence of this self-medication among her peers. “Performers use prescription medications to get through their careers and their lives, to get a good night’s sleep and to get that body on the stage because they have to deliver,” she says. “It’s a really serious problem and it’s as prevalent – or more prevalent, maybe – than it is with athletes.
“The athletic community takes all this heat and gets all this attention,” she continues. “They should rescind so many Tony Awards because half of Broadway is on prednisone! It’s the truth, and it makes you sing higher and it makes you have more energy, and it then gives you this terrible emotional fallout afterwards and it crashes your immune system. It’s horrible!”
Coping with Lyme Disease
Gibson has always been health conscious. In 2009, she told PEOPLE about losing 17 lbs. by eating clean, healthy meals and getting plenty of exercise.
Gibson tells the show about how it all began.
“People always saw me as being this Energizer bunny,” she says. “A few years ago, I started feeling really, really crazy symptoms . ..I was having musculoskeletal issues, GI issues, memory problems. I literally would get out of bed and try to move myself to the couch, and that was, like, my activity.”
It took doctors nine months to diagnose her with Lyme disease.
“I had doctors telling me, ‘Oh, you’ll never sing or dance again,'” she recalls. “All the tricks of your youth do not work at a certain point. I think that the health challenges I went through illuminated that so much. It makes you stronger, it makes you braver, it makes you freer.”
Where Are They Now featuring Gibson will air on Saturday, Oct. 29 at 10 p.m. EST on OWN.