Featured on PEOPLE. Author: Joelle Goldstein
Mac Miller never shied away from discussing his drug usage but even he knew it inevitably had a dark ending.
The rapper, who died Friday at age 26, struggled with substance abuse for years, often writing songs about his daily drug usage, mental health, and desire for sobriety.
Miller’s career took off in 2011 when he released his debut album Blue Slide Park. Following the chart-topping album’s release and his move from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles, Miller began to rely on marijuana to cope with stress while touring. But soon, the rapper turned to promethazine, codeine, and cocaine to manage his mental state.
During a Complex interview in 2013, Miller admitted to using lean — a combination of promethazine and codeine — to cope with his depression. The rapper explained that criticism and stress from his Macadelic mixed tape tour in 2012 led him to rely on the addictive drug.
“I love lean; it’s great,” he told the magazine. “I was not happy and I was on lean very heavy [during the Macadelic tour.] I was so f–ed up all the time it was bad. My friends couldn’t even look at me the same. I was lost.”
Miller told Complex he attempted to quit lean multiple times, but wasn’t successful until November 2012, before beginning production on his MTV2 reality series Mac Miller and the Most Dope Family.
In May 2014, the rapper released his tenth solo mixtape, Faces. On it, Miller discussed his battle with depression, explaining how “a drug habit like Philip Hoffman will probably put me in a coffin.” He also made references throughout the songs to cocaine, codeine cough syrup, and angel dust.
A year later, Miller seemed to be doing better, both physically and mentally. Speaking to Billboard after the release of his 2015 album GO:OD AM, he discussed his path to sobriety, his changing mindset and acknowledged how his new album was much different from his “depressing” previous work.
“I was doing a lot of drugs around that time,” Miller revealed. “Which is another difference now: I’m not doing as many drugs. It just eats at your mind, doing drugs every single day, every second. It’s rough on your body.”
He also admitted to having suicidal thoughts before releasing his album, on which he claimed “every single song is about coke [and] drugs,” in 2014.
“That was the plan with Faces: [Closing song] “Grand Finale” was supposed to be the last song I made on earth,” Miller explained. “I don’t feel that way as much anymore.”
When asked about his mental and physical health, Miller was confident about his progress and claimed he was “way healthier” than he was in the past, though the rapper acknowledged he still struggled with substance abuse.
“I still smoke cigarettes. I’m not completely sober, but I’m way better than I was at that point,” he said. “I was afraid of what my life had become. But once you just breathe and relax, you come to terms with it. This is my life, I enjoy it, and it’s OK that I enjoy it.”
Although Miller admitted to feeling ashamed of his addiction and “hiding” parts of his life, he was still able to find the silver lining in his complicated world.
“You’ve got to look in the mirror and tell yourself to stop being a little bitch: ‘OK, dude, you’re 23 and this is your f—ing life. Go out there and do it, stop hiding,’ because that was me before,” he said. “Great music came from it, but I’d rather be in the place I’m at now… I’m not 100 percent clean, but I’m not a piece of s— anymore. I can look in the mirror and be like, ‘I look OK.'”
Added Miller: “I was too worried about the legacy that I would leave behind — how I would be remembered if I died. That was my whole thing. Like, you never know, man, so I’ve got to make sure I make all this music so when I die there’s albums and albums. But now, I’m going to make sure I do some s— in life, too.”
“I don’t believe in absolute anything, but I think not sharing that type of information, because it becomes like, ‘Oh he’s sober, oh he’s not, oh he has a beer, oh my God.’ I just realized some things are important to just keep for yourself,” he added.
In February 2016, the rapper released a personal documentary, Stopped Making Excuses. In it, Miller got candid about his drug use, claiming he would “never stop” and also revealed that “overdosing” — which became the ultimate downfall for the rapper — was “not cool.”
“I get f—ed up, let’s keep it real,” he said. “I get super f—ed up, still, all the time. That will never stop. But I’m in control of my life. I’m not f—ed up right now. I’m chillin.”
Added the “Donald Trump” singer: “I’d rather be the corny white rapper than the drugged-out mess that can’t even get out of his house. Overdosing is just not cool. There’s no legendary romance. You don’t go down in history because you overdosed. You just die.”
The Pittsburgh rapper also explained exactly how he spiraled from using marijuana into harder drugs.
“I needed to get a drug that was a little more numbing, if you will,” he said in the 12-minute doc. “I think that’s what really sparked me doing other drugs because I hate being sober. I wanted a drug to do.”
August of that year saw a positive turn for Miller when he started dating pop-star Ariana Grande. After collaborating on “The Way” for Grande’s 2013 album Yours Truly, the pair made things official, but even Grande’s clean image couldn’t help the rapper, whose substance abuse problem became a dealbreaker for the two.
In May 2018, Grande, 25, and Miller ended their two-year relationship, claiming their busy schedules got in the way, though Grande also noted the relationship was “toxic.”
Just a few days after the news broke, the rapper allegedly crashed his Mercedes SUV into a power pole near his Los Angeles home. Miller fled the scene but later confessed when police arrived to his home, reporting that his blood-alcohol level was nearly twice the legal limit at 0.15.
In one of his final interviews before his death, published on Aug. 3, 2018, Miller denied rumors that he was a “drug addict” to Rolling Stone, acknowledging that his DUI made matters worse for his reputation.
“If a bunch of people think I am a huge drug addict, OK. Cool. What can I really do?” he said. “Go talk to all those people and be like ‘Naw man, it’s really not that simple? Have I done drugs? Yeah. But am I a drug addict? No.”
He added: “I loaded the gun for them. I got into that s—. That’s my mistake. What does that specific event mean for my whole character? That’s a different conversation. But people are going to draw their own conclusions. And I have a past history with that s—, so they’re going to naturally assume that that means I’m back going through it. I can’t change it. I’m not going to lose sleep over it, though. I’d rather just continue living my life and see where that goes.”
A little more than a month before his death, Miller had released his fifth album Swimming. Many of the songs on the album focus on the aftermath of his breakup with Grande, as well as his own struggles with depression and anxiety. He was also slated to kick off a national tour in October.
On the track “Small Worlds” off of his new album, Miller grimly raps, “Tell myself to hold on/I can feel my fingers slipping/In a motherf—in instant I’ll be gone.”
When asked about his new album on Sept. 6, Miller told Vulture that he enjoys — and actually prefers — the ups and downs in life.
“I really wouldn’t want just happiness,” Miller said. “And I don’t want just sadness either. I don’t want to be depressed. I want to be able to have good days and bad days … I can’t imagine not waking up sometimes and being like, ‘I don’t feel like doing s—.’ And then having days where you wake up and you feel on top of the world.”
Mac was a “bright light in this world for his family, friends and fans,” the musician’s family said in a statement.
If you or someone you know is in need of help, please contact the SAMHSA substance abuse helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.