Grease fans’ hearts were broken when beloved actor Jeff Conaway passed away of an accidental drug overdose on May 27, 2011, 17 days after being found unresponsive inside his friend’s home.
For years before his death, the star struggled with severe back pain, which led to him becoming addicted to pain medications and alcohol.
Doctors marked his final cause of death as pneumonia but agreed that the plethora of pills in his system at the time did not help.
Dr. Drew Pinsky, an addiction medicine specialist, said on the Dr. Drew show that Conaway may have aspirated on his own vomit after being knocked out by the meds, which led to him to catch pneumonia.
“Jeff was a severe, severe opiate addict with chronic pain, one of the most serious and dangerous combination of problems you could possibly interact with,” he said at the time.
Now, REELZ’s new docuseries, Autopsy: Jeff Conaway, is looking back at the actor’s final days and giving viewers new details about his deadly addiction.
“I’ve discovered that Jeff had a long history of chronic addiction to prescription medications as a result of long-term back pain. He had made various attempts over the years to give them up,” says Dr. Michael Hunter in the show.
“In the weeks before he died, his friends and family claimed they noted nothing out of the ordinary. It appears he was functioning as he usually did,” adds Hunter.
On May 10, 2011, Jay Gagerman, a friend of Conaway, received a call from the actor’s on-and-off girlfriend, Vikki Lizzi.
“She called me to ask him to get him up and ready as she was coming to pick him up to take him for rehabilitation for his back,” he says in the docuseries.
Gagerman went to wake Conaway — who was sleeping on the couch in his Encino, California home at the time — and remind him of his appointment.
“I tried to wake Jeff. He was lying down on my couch, he was covered by my sleeping bag. I couldn’t get him up,” says Gagerman.
This was not an unusual occurrence, as the actor was often knocked out by the amount of heavy pain meds he regularly took.
“There were times where he was out and tough to wake, so it didn’t really strike me as unusual at all, it really didn’t,” he adds.
Gagerman decided to leave his friend alone, thinking he just needed some extra rest.
“I went back in into my room, messed around with the computer, looked at the news or whatever, and Vicki showed up a short time after. As soon as she walked in she said that she knew something was wrong and that we should call 911,” recalls Gagerman.
Conaway was rushed to the hospital and remained in a coma for 10 days before his family took him off life support.
Autopsy: Jeff Conaway airs Sunday, March 17 at 8 ET / PT on REELZ.