The 25-year-old Lovato has long complicated that story. When the former Disney actress first chased mainstream radio, tabloid turmoil accompanied that effort, including suspected self-harm, a physical fight with a backup dancer, and a trip to rehab for an eating disorder. She emerged from that treatment with the aforementioned 2011 victim-to-victory statement “Skyscraper,” a ballad so naked and searching that it still towers today. But as she went on to release upbeat bops about the drama of flirting, she was in a spiral of coke-and-booze-fueled partying, according to interviews she later gave. Her team intervened, and she, to hear her tell it, changed her ways.
“Just officially turned 6 years sober,” Lovato tweeted in March. “So grateful for another year of joy, health, and happiness. It IS possible.” It was the latest in a series of statements that presented her as a beacon shining from the other side of substance abuse. She brought representatives of the recovery clinic that had helped her—and that she’d become a co-owner of—on tour to facilitate preconcert talks. She wrote songs like “You Don’t Do It for Me Anymore,” a seeming kiss-off to an ex (“I see the future without you / The hell was I doing in the past?”) that was actually about her previous drug and alcohol usage. Addiction, of course, isn’t as readily banishable as most exes are, and Lovato made sure to talk about her problems in terms of persistent effort rather than grand epiphany. “Every day is a battle,” she said when accepting the Brent Shapiro Foundation for Drug Prevention’s Spirit of Sobriety Award, before going on to talk about her mental- and physical-health regimens.
Lovato’s October 2017 documentary, Simply Complicated, surprised many fans with its candor. But its faux-vérité style could only somewhat reconcile the treacherous nature of addiction with the cultural need for happy endings. In the opening moments, Lovato talked about how the last time she sat down for a similar interview, it was for the 2012 post-rehab film Stay Strong—and she’d been secretly on cocaine. That admission then had to be in the viewer’s mind when the new movie’s recounting of drugs, bullying, and other issues culminated in a gospel-choir-accompanied celebration of transformation. “I look back and I look at someone who slept 18 hours a day, used drugs every day, and then you see someone today who’s inspired to make better music, to talk about her own story, to help other people, and to make the world a better place,” her addiction coach Mike Bayer testified.
Now, less than a year after that film, Lovato has apparently relapsed. If that’s not an expected epilogue to an inspiring pop doc, it is, certainly, a familiar chapter in tales of recovery from addiction. Remarkably, Lovato did not hide it (for long, at least). In June, her single “Sober” described falling off the wagon in unambiguous terms, directly addressing the question of whether she’d failed as a role model: “To the ones who never left me / We’ve been down this road before / I’m so sorry, I’m not sober anymore.” It was promoted with a lyric video clearly evoking an overdose, complete with ambulance lights. It may seem invasive to scrutinize such a song for personal meaning, but she clearly wanted to be open about it: Her Instagram caption for “Sober” read, “My truth.”
Soon after, she appeared to have a falling-out with Bayer, and she fired her longtime manager. And then came the overdose: An assistant found Lovato passed out at home, and reportedly feared she had died. Narcan, an opioid treatment, was administered. Initial reports that she’d taken heroin have been disputed, and some sources have told journalists that meth was involved. Lovato has now checked into rehab, reportedly cut “enablers” out of her life, and issued the aforementioned statement thanking loved ones and fans for their support. It refers to addiction as a “illness,” and it opens by saying, “I have always been transparent about my journey with addiction.”