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Dave Navarro talks mental health benefit, childhood trauma: 'Suicide has been a viable option in my past'

Lyndsey Parker
Dave Navarro of Jane’s Addiction seen at KAABOO 2017 in San Diego. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)

On April 16 in Los Angeles, Jane’s Addiction/Red Hot Chili Peppers veteran Dave Navarro and Billy Idol/Cult guitarist Billy Morrison will host Above Ground, an all-star MusiCares benefit to raise awareness for mental health struggles and suicide prevention. It’s a cause that’s extremely important to Navarro, who tells Yahoo Entertainment, “As someone who suffers from mental health issues, suicide has been a viable option in my past,” and notes, “We have lost a lot of friends this year, due to mental health issues.”

Navarro is referring to, among far too many others, Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell and Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington, who both died by suicide last year. “I don’t have any insight as to what their mental health issues were or weren’t, so I don’t want to lump them in that category. … I’m not a doctor. I can’t sit here and say what they did and didn’t have, and what caused them to do what they did,” he muses. “But I would say that going to Chris Cornell’s funeral and seeing Chester Bennington sing a beautiful song for his friend, and then [Chester] taking his life a month later, really had a massive impact on me. … I couldn’t help but be brought back to the times when I had felt that lonely, that desperate, that suicidal, and I just want to change the playing field [with Above Ground] and let people know that there are options out there. [Suicide] isn’t the final answer. It’s OK to reach out for help.”

Perry Farrell, left, and Dave Navarro attend the funeral for Chris Cornell at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery on May 26, 2017. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Navarro has always been open about his struggles, be it in his 2004 memoir, Don’t Try This at Home, which chronicled his downward spiral into drug addiction, or his 2015 documentary, Mourning Son, which detailed his mother’s shocking 1983 murder by her ex-boyfriend. Navarro was supposed to visit his mother that night, but at the last minute stayed at his father’s house, and he understandably traces many of his issues back to that tragedy.

“In some cases [of rock star suicides], drug addiction was a massive factor, but you’ve got to look at the underlying thing. And usually, drug addiction comes from some early trauma,” Navarro explains. “That is something that lends itself to a mental health issue. I mean, trauma sufferers tend to reach for drugs. I can tell you for sure, suffering a massive trauma as a child, drugs were the natural option.

“I was 15 years old when that happened, when my mother was killed,” Navarro continues. “And just naturally, I started finding myself gravitating towards drinking, and smoking weed, and the occasional line of coke, and some psychedelics. And then, before I knew it, by the time I was 17, 18 years old, I was a full-blown heroin addict. And I stayed that way for many, many years. … I don’t know that I would’ve turned into the drug addict that I became, had that [murder] not happened. I don’t know, I can’t read the future — perhaps I would have. Some say that alcoholism is a genetic thing, and then there are some that say it derives from trauma. I’m not a doctor, I’m not a medical expert, but in my own experience, it definitely came from trauma.”

Navarro’s mother’s killer, John Riccardi, was apprehended eight years after the murder, thanks to a viewer’s tip on America’s Most Wanted. And while Navarro said the arrest “alleviated some fear, because having your mother’s killer on the loose is a terrifying thing,” it didn’t provide closure, nor did it curb his appetite for drugs. “You can’t really find closure on the death of a loved one like that. The fear subsided, and yet I was still deeply invested in my drug addiction,” he says.

Navarro is pleased that mental health has become less stigmatized and, relatively recently, has become a topic of national conversation — because when he was 15, that was very much not the case. “I felt isolated and alone, and the drugs made me feel included, and made me feel OK,” he recalls. “I can tell you that when my mom died, I didn’t have a support system. I didn’t have a therapist. I didn’t have a psychiatrist. I didn’t have friends who could understand. And I always felt kind of like the odd man out, because I had this horrific trauma, this bag of bricks that I was carrying around with me, that my friends didn’t.

“In 1983, those types of things weren’t talked about as often, freely. And so, for whatever reason, I never did talk about it. And I wish I had,” Navarro continues. “And I guess the message we’re saying here is, it’s not too late to get in and see someone. Sometimes, when it comes to trauma, telling your story in a linear fashion really helps alleviate some of the suffering.”

For years, Navarro has been into meditation and yoga, and he regularly visits a therapist whom he met through another tragic rock-star casualty, his friend Scott Weiland. “I go to therapy whether I’m feeling good, or whether I’m feeling bad. That keeps me on an even keel,” Navarro asserts. “I don’t feel any shame in saying that. I feel that it’s an incredible strength to be able to ask for help. Had it not been for the support team I had around me, I very well may have been one of the statistics.”

That is why Navarro and Morrison feel it’s so important to give back, whether it’s with events like Above Ground or just openly discussing mental health in their interviews. “I can’t tell you how many people have reached out to me, telling me that they felt the same way, and they felt not alone, and they were really moved, and inspired to get help on their own, because of the stories that are shared. And so, for me, that’s the reward,” says Navarro.

In fact, Morrison — who, like Navarro, has grappled with suicidal thoughts and is an active member of the sober community — thinks that it’s “absolutely the responsibility” of musicians and celebrities to speak out. “We lead the most incredible lives, and when people who lead these lives don’t at least try and use that voice for some kind of good … Look, we’re not saviors of the universe, but Dave and I have love and healing in our hearts,” Morrison explains. “Chris and Chester were friends that were the catalysts that made Dave and I want to do this, but this [Above Ground] event is for everyone. I mean, whether you’ve got millions in the bank and you’re playing arenas, or whether you just sit in your bedroom playing guitar, wanting to be in a band, you can still suffer from depression. And so, we’re just trying to use whatever voice we have to reach out.”

Above Ground will take place Monday, April 16, at L.A.’s Belasco Theater, and will feature Navarro, Morrison, Courtney Love, Billy Idol, Slipknot’s Corey Taylor, Eagles of Death Metal’s Jesse Hughes, and other special guests performing two of Navarro and Morrison’s favorite albums, Adam & the Ants’ Kings of the Wild Frontier and The Velvet Underground & Nico, in their entirety. Get tickets here.

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