Cocaine Casualty

David Crosby turned 42 on Aug. 14, but he wasn’t celebrating. “Today is my birthday,” he said. “It’s not a happy one.” Munching on a liverwurst sandwich outside his ranch house in Mill Valley, Calif., the folk-rock star looked haggard and beaten. The choirboy face that graced the Byrds album covers in the mid-’60s is now marred with open sores. His torso is bloated and heavy, his fingernails are black and bitten, and his arms are scarred with wounds and bruises. The man whose voice soared in the harmonies that made Crosby, Stills & Nash a siren of the New Age now speaks in a despondent monotone.

“They’ve decided they’re going to make an example of me,” he says bitterly. “I’m being treated like a murderer.” Crosby throws the remaining half of his sandwich into the parched, dying bushes that line his house. “They put manacles on my hands and put me in solitary. And I didn’t do anything to anybody. I didn’t. This isn’t the old days. This is now. This is happening to me.”

David Crosby is in trouble, desperate legal trouble. In April 1982, police burst into the dressing room at Cardi’s, a seedy Dallas nightclub, and found Crosby sitting crosslegged on the floor, freebasing cocaine, a pipe in one hand, a burning propane torch in the other, and a bag containing a .45 automatic pistol on his lap. They arrested him for possession of a quarter gram of cocaine and for carrying a loaded weapon into a nightclub. This June Crosby was convicted of those charges and on Aug. 5, Judge Pat McDowell sentenced him to five years in prison. People in the public eye “are more likely to be held up to close scrutiny,” explains Judge McDowell. “I think overall the facts and circumstances made the punishment appropriate.” Crosby, now free on $8,000 bail pending a possible appeal next month, is shocked at the severity of the sentence. “They got me for a quarter of a gram of pipe residue,” he exclaims. “For that I’m going to spend five years in the state penitentiary? A quarter of a gram?”

In addition to the Texas sentences, Crosby also faces a 90-day sentence and a $750,000 civil lawsuit in connection with an alleged beating of two women in Culver City, Calif. in 1980. Crosby denies that charge. “I never hit a girl in my life,” he says. “I am a gentleman. I swear to you on my mother’s honor, I don’t hit girls.” He is also on three years’ probation as a result of an arrest in California for possession of drugs and an unlicensed gun—later plea-bargained down to a conviction for reckless driving.

Crosby’s myriad legal problems stem, his friends claim, from an addiction to cocaine—particularly to free-basing cocaine. “David has been basing coke for several years,” says Carl Gottlieb, a prominent Hollywood screenwriter (Jaws 2 and The Jerk) and a friend of Crosby since 1963. “David does it pretty much from when he gets up to when he collapses.” In 1981 Gottlieb and several of Crosby’s Los Angeles friends, including rock singer Grace Slick, surprised Crosby at his Mill Valley home to plead with him to stop his self-destructive drug abuse and check into a rehabilitation program. “People spoke from their hearts in an attempt to help him but the results were nil,” Gottlieb says. “There was a day or two of reform but then it was over. He was faced with a change of life-style, and he opted out of it.”

Graham Nash, who has collaborated on and off with Crosby for 15 years, tried to warn his friend with a “personal plea” in the form of a song called Into the Darkness that appeared on Crosby, Stills & Nash’s 1982 platinum album Daylight Again:

Into the darkness soon you’ll be sinking.

What are you doing? What can you be thinking?

All of your friends have been trying to warn you

That some of your demons are dying to drag you away into the darkness…

Sinking ever deeper into the darkness of his addiction, Crosby was increasingly plagued by paranoid fears that he would be assassinated like John Lennon, and he squandered the millions he earned on best-selling records and sold-out concerts. “I think you can safely say that David has smoked up everything he owns—all the cars, everything,” says Gottlieb. “It is frightening. In the days when he was more in control, he was a connoisseur of quality objects. His houses were full of good paintings and art objects he had acquired over the years. Now it’s all gone, all smoked up.” The Mercedes is gone—replaced by a motorcycle Crosby often rides into town to make phone calls. His phone service at home has been cut off. It was Crosby’s constant need for drug money, says Gottlieb, that led him to play quick solo gigs in second-rate nightclubs like Cardi’s, where he was arrested. “It gave him quick money to put in his pocket—and then in his pipe,” says Gottlieb. “It kept him going between royalty checks that came in quarterly. Quarterly is a long time to a doper. Tomorrow is a long time for a doper.”

Tales of Crosby’s degeneration have become legend in Mill Valley, the affluent Marin County town where he has lived for 10 years. There are stories of bounced checks, gunshots in the night and other strange behavior. “Sometimes he just sits in this beat-up Volkswagen in the Bank of America parking lot,” says local resident Cookie Young. “He’s pretty blitzed, he’s in lala land.” Says one local restaurant owner: “The last time he came in, he was wearing a down jacket with tape all over, trying to cover the holes. He always looks like he’s just been in a fight.” Such bleak reports make Crosby’s adherence to high professional standards the more remarkable. “He’s still pretty strong onstage,” says Gottlieb.

By the time he was sentenced in Texas, some of Crosby’s friends had come to believe that even prison would be an improvement. “It is terrible to say it,” Gottlieb says, “but David has reached a point in his personal life where his friends are probably saying, ‘This is the best thing that can happen to him.’ ” But other friends contend that a jail term would be harmful—or even fatal. Graham Nash expressed those fears in a letter that was read at Crosby’s sentencing. “What David needs at this juncture of his life is help, guidance and professional supervision,” Nash wrote. “I believe that confinement in prison would probably kill him.”

Crosby harbors the same fear. Sitting in his yard, speculating on his future, he shows his fright in nervous, darting eyes and pitiful pleading words. “Please just say this isn’t fair, okay?” he begs. “You’re in a position to help. Just say that I said, ‘If anybody cares, please help me. Please write letters or call. If I ever made you happy with my music, if I made anybody happy out there, if they feel anything for me, help me. I need your help. I need everybody’s help. If there’s anybody out there who loves me, please, try and do something….’ ” Three or four previous attempts to kick cocaine have not convinced Crosby he needs professional rehabilitation: “I’m strung out,” he says, “but what I really need is money so that I can clean up on my own.”

Crosby curls his fingers into a makeshift telescope and peers through it at the dirt between his feet.’ “A lot’s happened in the last 10 years,” he says. “I just can’t understand it. I’m real discouraged and paranoid. I’m going back inside now.” Breaking into tears, he walks away. “If there were anybody to stick up for me…,” he murmurs as he steps into the house, into a curtainless room lit by a dim bare lightbulb.

Related Articles