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Singer Aaron Neville Opens Up About Doing Drugs at 16 and Stopping After Nearly 25 Years of Heroin Addiction

Aaron Neville is set for the release of a new memoir, in a story where he’ll reveal how he was addicted to heroin as a teen — a fight that cast a profound shadow for roughly under half of his 82 years on this earth.

The New Orleans native allowed to release an excerpt from the book that gives fans a glimpse into his life before he became an international superstar and five-time Grammy Award winner.

In “Tell It Like It Is: My Story,” the singer digs into what it is like to be of Black and Indigenous American heritage, growing up in public housing, the time he stole a car and went to jail at 19, and even taking on different jobs such as loading cargo, painting houses and digging ditches in order to care for his family.

At the center of much of his destructive behavior was a drug addiction that he could not shake for decades that started in 1956.

On his 60th birthday, he gifted himself a lifelong tattoo — a dagger on his face. He and a school friend sat on his parents’ back steps, where two needles were attached to a matchstick for the tattooing. That same year, he said, he tried heroin for the first time.

“I’d heard people talking about it way back in the Calliope,” he said of the housing projects where he grew up. “And I knew plenty of other people who were doing it. They seemed to be having a good time with it. I wanted to do it too,” Neville said.

The “Don’t Know Much” singer said he tried the drug on his friend’s stoop. Always a musician, he was able to make money performing to fund his habit.

He also said he was a thrill seeker, always wanting new experiences, and describing his teenage self as “inquisitive.”

Once he got a hit of the drug, Neville says his life was changed and he had an insatiable appetite for the smack.

“The first time you do heroin your brain is hooked in and wants it, even if your body isn’t craving it yet,” he said. “It’s a kind of curiosity, and then it turns into a yearning that you shake off on the weekends, and then before you know it, you’re in the game, running and looking for it everywhere.” 

He said he clearly remembers when he decided to walk away from his addiction demons.

It was after he and his brother scored a new recording contract in the ’80s. He decided to go into rehab so that he could be his best self.

“I was really tired of running. I drew a picture of myself on a cross with syringes as the nails,” he said.

“It was killing me slowly. I was ready to kick for good. I was excited and afraid. I knew what mainlining did to me,” he continued to write. “I knew what withdrawal feels like. But begging off the drugs entirely — that was a new venture. I was 40 years old, and I hadn’t been clean since junior high school.”

His book is receiving raved reviews, including one from Linda Ronstadt, a singer on one of his biggest songs.

She said, “When Aaron Neville sings, he is the mightiest of Archangels. The truth he’s written in these pages is no less powerful.”

She added, ‘He tells his riveting story with all the triumphs and sorrows, joys and frustrations he has experienced in his eight decades of life.”

His new book, set to release Sept. 4, drops gritty details about one of America’s most diverse voices.

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