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Billie Holiday Was Arrested on Her Deathbed

Despite being one of the most renowned jazz singers in history, Billie Holiday didn’t have a very easy life. From personal troubles in her childhood to struggles with drugs and the authorities during her illustrious career, Billie could never quite catch a break. Despite the massive success and recognition she achieved through her music, Billie struggled to find her place in the society of her time. She lived a tumultuous life until the time of her death at age 44. In fact, she couldn’t even find solace on her deathbed. Join Facts Verse as we explore why Billie Holiday was arrested on her deathbed.

Billie Holiday is one of the most prestigious singers in the history of jazz music. Despite her influence and recognition, the star had an incredibly tough journey in life and died at the young age of 44. Throughout her short life, Billie struggled to find her place in an industry that didn’t especially favor African Americans. Because of this, in addition to the singer’s troubled childhood, she turned to opiates in order to cope. This habit lead the singer down many dark paths, and arguably contributed to her life ending much too early.

Despite the numerous hardships that Billie faced during her career, the music industry was far from being the only source of the young singer’s troubles. In fact, it wasn’t even the main one. Billie had an incredibly difficult childhood, and the traumatic memories of her early years stayed with her until those final days on her deathbed.

Billie was born to teenage parents that didn’t have the means to give her the life that she deserved. At the age of 10, a neighbor molested her. Although this didn’t happen as a direct result of her poor parenting, the neglect certainly didn’t help. Her parents had hard times throughout her childhood, resulting in them being separated by the time that Billie came of age.

In the later half of the 1920s, Billie was living with her mother in New York City when she experienced another traumatic sexual assault at the age of 14. Her father was a jazz musician, and he had a hard time finding the time in his life to make room for his daughter. Because of this, the young woman continuously struggled to find a fatherly figure.

In her early teens, Billie turned to substance abuse in an effort to try and fill the void in her heart created by the lack of parental love and stability. Billie has often explained away this urge to escape from reality as an incidental result of her own “personal demons”, meaning the memories of her childhood trauma. She has also called her desire to seek stability in substances a “pursuit of pleasure” as compared to the traditional “pursuit of happiness”. As her dependency on substances increased and her dependency on her parents decreased, Billie turned to prostitution in order to fill the void in her life. She was immersed in these damaging experiences before she hit the age of 18, and they left their impression on the young woman.

By the time she came of age, Billie had found her way onto the jazz stage. However, she brought her traumatic memories with her. As well, more were soon to follow. A producer by the name of John Hammond caught young Billie singing jazz standards at the club, and he was soon hot on her heels trying to make her the next big star. For better or worse, John was the one that offered Billie the opportunity to become a household name. However, it was a relationship that wasn’t always going to favor the young star.

With the help of John Hammond, young Billie was able to get a recording contract. In 1934, she recorded her first hit to reach the Top 10. This was “Riffin’ the Scotch”, and it only marked the beginning of her illustrious career. Throughout the remainder of the decade, the young singer’s star continued to rise. However, this came with a few temptations, ones that went by the name of drugs and alcohol. By the time she was famous, Billie was already looking to escape from her prior traumatic memories by delving into substance abuse.

Billie’s first husband was a man by the name of Jimmy Monroe. Jimmy was a trombonist that worked alongside Billie as she performed, and the two hit it off while performing their respective duties. It was this man that introduced Billie to opiates, and this was an addiction that was going to last the young star for the rest of her life. If you’re enjoying this video so far, be sure to hit the like button to show your support! As well, subscribe to Facts Verse if you’d like to be among the first to know when more videos are on their way! 

By the time 1943 came around, World War II had caused an opium shortage. This shortage greatly affected Billie’s drug habits. However, her rising star was increasingly allowing for her to have a larger budget when it came to drugs and alcohol. Despite the heroin scarcity, Billie made sure that her newfound fame allowed for her to maintain the habit of her choice. She maintained her marriage with Jimmy Monroe for a number of years, and continued to use her exuberant performance fees to fuel their drug habit.

As Billie Holiday’s career developed, so did her dependency on opiates. Billie met fellow singer Frank Sinatra early in her career. The two were approximately the same age, having both been born in 1915. The two met early on in their careers, and shared a transformative moment that Frank credited his whole career to. During their early meetings, Frank asked Billie for advice and she taught him a singular jazz strategy for blending melodic notes. This strategy changed Frank’s whole approach to performing, but Billie refused to take the credit she deserved, even on her deathbed.

Billie was an adamant soul, whether it came to maintaining her drug habit or maintaining her own artistic integrity. During her career, she had a song called “Strange Fruit” that referenced hate crimes against the black community. While this song was a massive hit with jazz audiences, it wasn’t a massive hit with government censors. There was one man in particular that had an issue with Billie performing this song, and he also had several other issues with the beloved jazz singer. This man was Harry Anslinger, the Chief of the US Federal Bureau of Narcotics. If Billie had a mortal nemesis, this man was it.

Whether it was racism or pure, unadulterated hatred, Anslinger seemed to have it out for Billie from an early point in her career. He campaigned to have her song “Strange Fruit” prohibited from performance, and continued to harass her for her increasing dependence on drugs and alcohol. In the year 1947, Billie was arrested for her drug habit and forced to spend 10 months in a federal penitentiary. Despite the burden of confinement, the burden of Billie’s past still outweighed her desire to get clean. Billie continued the pursuit of her own demons, and more were soon to follow.

In the year 1959, Billie was at the peak of her performing capabilities. Despite her continued dependence on substances, she was drawing in bigger crowds than ever. Despite this success, a 1959 incident in Manhattan saw the singer collapse. After her collapse, she was taken to the local hospital. While there, she was diagnosed with a terminal lung illness that saw the star spend the remainder of her days on her deathbed. However, this wasn’t quite the end of her troubles.

Even as Billie was wasting away during her final days, Anslinger still didn’t feel like he’d gotten quite enough of a victory. Anslinger continued to pursue the dying singer on drug charges, raiding her hospital room and arresting her for possession of heroin. It was for this reason that Billie was arrested on her deathbed, and many contribute this with the singer’s ultimate demise.

Anslinger and his men claimed to have found heroin in the late Billie’s room, and used this as an excuse to confiscate her belongings. Soon after this, the beloved signer was found dead at the age of 44. The reason for her death was given as “alcohol and drug related complications”, but the tumultuous relationship between her and Anslinger left this open to some debate amongst her fans.

Billie died on July 17, 1959, but not before Frank Sinatra popped in to pay his respects. Frank Sinatra had long since credited Billie’s artistic input with initially vitalizing his career, and continued to do so on her deathbed. In a memorable hospital visit, he paid respects to Billie and reminded her of the time she taught him to blend his jazz notes in that singular way. In Billie’s humbleness, she brushed Frank’s compliments aside. However, she did have one request for her fellow singer, and that was to find her some heroin before she died.

Frank reportedly used every last connection at his disposal, yet couldn’t find Billie her final fix. Despite his mob connections, and his connections within the government of New York, Frank’s clean slate just didn’t give him the opportunity to score the heroin that Billie so desperately needed. Regardless of anyone’s best efforts, Billie succumbed to her fates. At the age of 44, Billie became a jazz legend. Regardless of her influence on Frank or any other musicians, Billie’s life was cut short, and there was nothing anyone could do.

Within Billie Holiday’s relatively short life, she was able to create a number of memorable songs. From her controversial hit “Strange Fruit” to her first Top 10 hit “Riffin’ the Scotch”, Billie rarely ever wanted for fame during her adult career. Comment down below to share what your favorite moment from Billie’s legendary career was, or if you think she deserved to live a much longer and more illustrious life than she did. As always, hit the like button to show your support, and subscribe and hit the notification bell if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!

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