‘He Could Get Clean and Then He Would Relapse’: Rickey Smiley Says His Son Brandon’s Struggles with Addiction and Sobriety Led to Their Distant Relationship Before His Sudden Passing

Rickey Smiley is opening up more about the toll the painkiller addiction his late son Brandon Smiley battled with had on their relationship.

The radio personality has been transparent about his grief in the months since the 32-year-old was found unconscious in his Birmingham, Alabama, residence on Jan. 29. The Jefferson County Medical Examiner’s Office has since determined his death was a result of an accidental overdose of fentanyl and ethanol toxicity.

Rickey Smiley, Brandon Smiley
Rickey Smiley, Brandon Smiley (Photos: @rickey smileyofficial/Instagram, @Comedianbrandonsmiley/Instagram.)

In March, prior to an official cause of death, Rickey suspected that drugs may have contributed to his firstborn’s sudden passing. He said that the aspiring stand-up comic began to struggle with addiction around the time of his junior year of high school.

Rickey, who is the father to D’essence, 25, and Aaryn, 21, and brother Malik, 21, described Brandon as “the big brother, the caretaker” in a new interview with People.

The mournful father said that when Brandon “got his driver’s license, he took them everywhere: movies, the amusement park.” While the comedian has shared countless positive memories of his son, he has not forgotten the worst days they endured because of Brandon’s struggles.

The BET “Comic View” alum said he and Brandon had a close-knit relationship until he discovered his son had been consuming beer and smoking weed as a teen.

“It definitely changed our relationship,” he told the publication. After Brandon tried his luck at college — he attended both Alabama State University and the University of Alabama for a short time — things took a turn for the worse.

Rickey said his son became a shell of his former happy self and displayed mood swings. Despite the changes, he noted there was “no violence, no car crash” and “he wasn’t getting in trouble with the law, stuff like that.” The “Friday After Next” actor said that through hearsay he learned that Brandon had begun to abuse prescription pills.

Brandon reportedly never discussed the details of his opioid use with his father, but he did seek his assistance when he wanted to clean up his act. But, like many others who suffer from addiction, his sobriety was a roller-coaster ride. “He would get clean, and then he would relapse. It was just back and forth all the time,” said Rickey.

The ups and downs ultimately led to the once close father-son duo suffering a fractured relationship, at least within the last two years. “I just got overwhelmed, and I didn’t want to resent him. So I had to create space,” he explained. Despite the distance, Rickey said his son knew how much he was loved.  

“I always told him. I always told him how proud I was of him. Everything that I could say to him, I did say to him,” he added. Family and friends said their final farewells to Brandon on Feb. 4 in Alabama through a homegoing service dubbed a standing ovation.

Aside from photos and other fond memories to remember Brandon by, Rickey also has his granddaughter, Storm. The 3-year-old is Brandon’s only child. In April, Rickey revealed that he had not seen her since around the time of her father’s funeral.

He reportedly has since applied for grandparents’ rights in hopes of maintaining a relationship with Storm. In an Instagram Live with fans, he said he was also exploring other options to secure regular visitation.

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