We rarely hear about Generation X, those individuals born between 1965 and 1978. Out-muscled by larger masses of Baby Boomers (1946-1964) and Millennials (1979-1995), the voices of Gen X had been initially silenced, criticized for being less significant than their demographic counterparts.
Generation X has always been under siege with scapegoating emanating from the scientific community and media. Consider the destructive spin that the popular press placed on this group of individuals. They were called “A generation of animals,” and “The Doofus Generation,” by The Washington Post, “The Blank Generation,” (The San Francisco Examiner), “The Numb Generation,” and “The Unromantic Generation,” by The New York Times and “The Tuned Out Generation,” and “an unsung generation, hardly recognized as a social force or even much noticed at all” by Time Magazine.
The ringing of the doomsday bell even resonated from a Boomer Commander in Chief. President William Jefferson Clinton emphasized the plight of this “Doomed Generation.” He stated:
Years of neglect have left America’s economy suffering from stagnant growth and declining incomes…they have left a mountain of debt and a federal Government that must borrow to pay more than a fifth of its current bills. Perhaps most sadly, they have left the great majority of people no longer dreaming the American Dream. Our children’s generation may be the first to do worse than their parents.
Died before realizing
If all GenXers had attended one mythical high school, they would boast a number of over achievers with Kurt Cobain, Philip Seymour Hoffman, River Phoenix, and TuPac Shakur as worthy valedictorians. At the opposite end, Anna Nicole Smith and Rodney King represented class clown and juvenile delinquent, respectively. Sadly, these classmates will never walk those academic corridors again, victims of depression, violence, and rampant substance abuse.
The following ten personalities are the most recognizable faces of Generation X, individuals who died before realizing their full potential. Heroin played a significant role in the majority of these fatalities, but other obscure drugs, including PCP and chloral hydrate, also came into play.
1. Chester Charles Bennington (1976-2017) was an American musician, singer, songwriter, and actor. He was best known as the lead vocalist of rock bands Linkin Park and Dead by Sunrise. Bennington was addicted to cocaine and methamphetamine as a result of childhood sexual abuse. He committed suicide on July 20th, 2017, just two months after the death of his friend, Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell, who also took his own life. He was 41.
2. Kurt Cobain (1967-1994) was the founder of Nirvana and the innovative grunge paradigm. Grunge music, created in the isolated Pacific Northwest, stood in direct contradiction to the mainstream corporate music culture of Los Angeles and New York. Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” became the unofficial anthem for a disconnected generation with Cobain a reluctant unofficial spokesman. After writing a suicide note, Cobain injected a large dose of heroin and killed himself with a 12- gauge shotgun. Cobain’s body went undiscovered for four days. His death became part of an alleged conspiracy that argued, “He was worth more dead than alive.” A suicide note, found next to his body, ended with “I love you.” He was 27-years old.
3. Phillip Seymour Hoffman (1967-2014) was called “the greatest actor of his generation” and “the gold standard.” His performances in a huge body of work including Boogie Nights (1997) and Almost Famous (2000) demonstrated a diverse range and an ability to understand and project subtle nuances. He won the Oscar for Capote in 2005 and was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Charlie Wilson’s War (2007), Doubt (2008), and The Master (2012). Hoffman, 46, was discovered February 2, 2014, on the bathroom floor of his Greenwich Village apartment. A syringe protruded from his left arm. Police found nearly 50 envelopes filled with heroin, stamped in purple ink with the street names “Ace of Hearts” and “Ace of Spades.” The actor represented another life snuffed out by the horrific opioid crisis. When Hoffman died, U.S. Attorney Eric Holder described the prescription drug – heroin emergency as an “urgent public health crisis.”
4. Rodney Glen King III (1965-2012) became known, not for accomplishment, but for notoriety. On March 3, 1991, King led the California Highway Patrol on a 100-mile-per-hour chase and when police finally stopped the car, four white officers unleashed 56 baton blows and six kicks to King, in a period of two minutes.
The assault, videotaped by George Holliday then broadcast on global news outlets, left King with 11 skull fractures, brain damage, and kidney damage. Police officers who beat King argued that he was on phencyclidine, which can make users seemingly invulnerable to pain and gave them almost superhuman strength. The four officers, charged with assault with a deadly weapon and use of excessive force, were later acquitted. The verdict was believed to have triggered the 1992 Los Angeles riots, responsible for more than 50 deaths and $1 billion in property damage.
PCP also played a role in King’s untimely death, listed as accidental drowning. He was found at the bottom of his backyard pool, and according to the coroner’s report, he was under the influence of cocaine, marijuana, alcohol, and PCP.
5. Christopher George Latore Wallace A.K.A. “Notorious B.I.G.” (1972-1997) graduated from a Brooklyn Bedford-Stuyvesant street hustler to become the embodiment of East Coast hip-hop. He was considered by many to be the best rapper of all time. Much was made of the feud between Biggie and his rival, Tupac Shakur. Notorious B.I.G. died of a drive-by shooting, ironically much like the lyrics of his 1994 release “Ready To Die.”
6. River Phoenix (1971-1993) was a Hollywood actor who starred in several motion pictures including Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Stand By Me, Running On Empty and My Own Private Idaho. The promising actor died outside the Viper Room on Sunset Strip at the age of 23, from a deadly combination of heroin, cocaine, Valium, marijuana and possibly GHB.
7. TuPac Amaru Shakur (1971-1996) was an eclectic American rapper and social activist who holds the Guinness Book of World Records for selling over 75,000,000 albums worldwide. Born Lesane Parish Crooks in Brooklyn, NY, his mother renamed him Tupac Amaru, after the Inca Indian revolutionary, “Tupac Amaru”, meaning “Shining Serpent.” He moved to Oakland, CA and released his album 2Pacalypse Now with the hit single “Brenda’s Got A Baby.” Shakur netted roles in Juice, Poetic Justice and Above the Rim. He was shot by unknown gunmen during a drive-by. He was 25 when he died on September 13, 1996.
8. Anna Nicole Smith (1967-2007) the former Vicki Lynn Hogan began her unlikely career as a Playboy model and then a reality TV actress. New York magazine featured a degrading photograph of Smith eating potato chips in its 1994 issue that was titled White Trash Nation. Used and abused, she died at the age of 40 from an overdose of a prescription drug cocktail that included chloral hydrate and several benzodiazepines.
9. Layne Staley (1968-2002) was the lead singer and cosongwriter of grunge group Alice in Chains that he founded with guitarist Jerry Cantrell. He was also a member of the super groups Mad Season and Class of ’99. Staley struggled with addiction and depression for much of his life. He wrote about his pain in songs such as “Junkhead,” “Angry Chair,” “Nutshell” and “Frogs.” He stepped away from the public spotlight and never performed after the late 1990s. He died on April 5, 2002 of a heroin-cocaine overdose. He was 34.
10. Scott Weiland (1967-2015) of Stone Temple Pilots dominated the alternative rock charts in the mid-to-late ‘90s with songs like “Plush,” “Interstate Love Song” and “Vasoline.” Weiland also released five solo albums and fronted Velvet Revolver. He died at age 48 of an accidental overdose of cocaine, alcohol, and methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA). Chester Bennington headed the Stone Temple Pilots from 2013 to 2015 after Weiland left the group.
Gen X lived through the Watergate scandal, energy crisis, and the end of the cold war. They came of age as America was losing its status as the most powerful and prosperous nation in the world. The family structure of Gen X households begets dual-income families, working mothers, and an increased divorce rate. They saw the first generation of Latchkey Kids, children raising themselves without adult supervision. Single parents and grandparents raising kids became part of the demographic.
But Gen X are not the slackers they had been called. They have graduated from college, raised families, and are entrenched in the workforce. The Global Leadership Forecast 2018 – looked at more than 25,000 leaders spanning 54 countries and 26 major industry sectors and found that Gen X now accounts for 51 percent of leadership roles globally, with an average of 20 years of workplace experience. They are between the ages of 41 to 54 and share memories of both joy and sadness with their aforementioned cultural icons.
Maxim W. Furek has a rich background that includes aspects of psychology, addictions, mental health, and music journalism. His book The Death Proclamation of Generation X: A Self-Fulfilling Prophesy of Goth, Grunge and Heroin explores the dark marriage between grunge music and the beginning of the opioid crisis. Learn more at www.shepptonmyth.com