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Smokey Robinson Opens Up About Addiction

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Born February 19, 1940 as William Robinson, Jr., “Smokey Joe” is a singer-­songwriter, record producer and record executive. His music career began in high school when he formed a doo-­wop group named the Five Chimes, which evolved into the group we now know as the Miracles.

Smokey Robinson

The rise to fame

Between 1960 and 1970, Smokey Robinson would produce 26 top 40 hits with the Miracles in a role as the lead singer, songwriter and producer. It was during this time that he served as one of the major songwriters and producers for Motown, penning hit titles for Brenda Holloway, the Marvelettes and Marvin Gaye. He retired in 1969 and surfaced a year later with a comeback solo album titled Smokey. The rest, as they say, is history.

A battle with drug addiction

Last month at MusiCares, Smokey Robinson was honored with the Stevie Ray Vaughan Award for his continued commitment to helping fellow artists recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. The Foundation was started in 1989 and serves as a place for musicians to turn in times of financial, personal or medical purpose. The foundation’s programs include emergency financial assistance, addiction recovery, outreach and leadership activities and senior housing. To date, it’s raised $12 million to support this mission.

In a speech he made, Smokey admitted to a two­-and­-a­-half year struggle with substance abuse as the darkest point of his life. He said, “I’m not ashamed to talk about it because I feel like if I talk about it, then I can help some people. I’f I’m silent and try to make it a secret, then I’m not helping anybody.

In his forties, Smokey began using cocaine. “Drugs to not discriminate,” he said. “They don’t  care who you are or what you’re doing or what your status in life is or where you live ­ none of that. When you open yourself up to them, they’re going to come in. So if you do that, then you’re going to suffer the consequences of what goes along with it.”

Getting sober

During his struggle with addiction, Smokey was in denial of their impact on his behavior and career. He thought he was managing his drug use just fine. Even when friends and family tried to intervene, he pushed back and wouldn’t accept reality.

His life would change the night his friend Pastor Leon Kennedy came over. He sat down with Smokey and prayed with him for five hours. Kennedy convinced Smokey to join him at a prayer service the following morning. “I was done with me anyway,” Smokey said. “I could not stand me at that point.”

It was at this prayer service that Smokey felt the change. He felt a profound spiritual moment that provided the clarity he was too fogged up for so long to see. To this day, Smokey practices Transcendental Meditation to maintain a crisp, clear mind.

However you find your strength ­ be it faith or something else ­ everyone needs help and support. The Watershed is here 24/7: 1­800­861­1768.

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