Walsh has been in long term recovery from alcohol use disorder for more than 25 years.
Last October, Facing Addiction with NCADD hosted its 74th-anniversary gala at the famed Rainbow Room in New York City. The event celebrated recovery and raised awareness about their work to address the nation’s addiction crisis. Leaders and luminaries shared their personal stories of recovery and inspired the packed room with their honest portrayal of the shame and struggle they carried with their addiction but the hope they have after working for their recovery.
Facing Addiction with NCADD honored individuals whose outstanding efforts have been vocal and visible in their support of the recovery movement, from celebrities like Marjorie and Joe Walsh and Sir Ringo Starr and Lady Barbara Bach Starkey to game-changing philanthropists like Matt Harris and Jennifer Harris who have, through their Bedari Foundation, made important contributions to advancing mental healthcare.
Joe Walsh, the legendary Eagles guitarist, and his wife Marjorie received the night’s highest honor of the Humanitarian Award. Walsh is one of the performers who has supported Facing Addiction with NCADD from the beginning, including the UNITE to Face Addiction concert on the National Mall in October 2015. Walsh’s contributions helped to propel the organization to the forefront of the national discourse on addiction and establish it as a leader in the recovery space.
Walsh has been in long term recovery from alcohol use disorder for more than 25 years. Walsh was joined on stage by his wife, Marjorie Bach, and in-laws, Ringo Starr and Barbara Bach. The four have over a century of collective recovery.
In her speech, Marjorie Bach said, “I want to thank my sister and brother in law for coming this evening and from my heart thank you to my family for facing addiction with us. We trudge this road together and as a result, our lives are better for that. I want to thank Facing Addiction with NCADD for their great work, we have to and we are battling this disease of addiction together.”
The Rainbow Room gala was star-studded, with a band playing The Eagles’ favorites. The band included country singer-songwriter Vince Gill, the Doobie Brothers’ Michael McDonald, and Butch Walker.
Backstage, Walsh and Starr were interviewed by Sarah Grant for Rolling Stone. The musicians spoke about the impact of substance use disorder and recovery on their personal lives, families, and careers. They emphasized that addiction is a chronic mental health issue that can be in remission, but never goes away. They expressed hope that recovery will become more prevalent in the music industry.
Walsh said his sobriety started with an epiphany in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, which is a holy place for Maori people. He was 45 years old. Remembering the experience, Walsh said, “I had a moment of clarity, which was you can either die or you can stop.”
After this insight, Walsh went to treatment and learned to live without substances. Decades later, he’s still in recovery. In the past, he said, he was terrified to perform sober. “I always tried to hide it. I had my vodka in a bag. Nobody knew. When really, half the world knew I was a mess. So, anonymity didn’t exist for me.”
Later, Starr commented, “The discussion is very difficult, because we did as much as anybody did and we’re still here and we’re sober, and there’s no telling when that day is when you leave. I don’t know why Tom [Petty]’s gone and I’m here. It’s unanswerable. But I know in the bands I hang out with, there’s a pretty—not absolutely—but a pretty large sober mentality going on now.”
Rolling Stone: What are your thoughts on the opioid crisis?
Walsh: Well, I don’t think America’s aware of how bad it is out there. And I’m talking about addiction across the board. Opiate addiction, it’s killing young kids by the hundreds – by the thousands.
Rolling Stone: A lot of young musicians, in particular, are overdosing. Do you think the pressure to constantly be on tour, to always be “on,” is connected to this trend?
Starr: Well in my case, early on, the pressures were just there. You’d have a drink and later on, it got to be cocaine or whatever.
Rolling Stone: What about for older musicians, who may push themselves with painkillers to keep up unsustainably rigorous schedules?
Walsh: We need to have a look at this, yes. The problem is if you hurt physically, you can get prescription pills for that. If you hurt mentally, you can drink – drink your way through it, you know? The problem is that after that pain is gone, whatever substance you used very subtly convinces you that you can’t do anything without it and then you have to deal with that. And people don’t know that.
Starr: The good news is, though, a lot of new artists are sober people. The part of it where musician felt it was their right to get crazy has changed. And we lost a lot of really good [musicians] because of that. Why we’re [gestures to Walsh] still here, I don’t know. That’s just how it is. But I think now in the new music age, it’s getting a bit cleaner. I think their rebellion is to stay clean. Like they’re going back to vinyl [smiles].