The ‘Extremely Dangerous’ Medication Linked to Judy Garland’s Death

Well known for her portrayal of Dorothy Gale in The Wizard Of Oz (1939), the actress gained international recognition. Throughout the years, her career sparkled; she was nominated for an Academy Award for her part in A Star Is Born (1954). Later, Garland was nominated for an Oscar for the film Judgment At Nuremberg (1961).

While a handful of her films were a success, Garland’s personal life was more turbulent.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Garland had attempted suicide “countless times”, but when Garland was found dead, there was no indication she had taken her own life.

Found by her fifth husband, Mickey Deans, an autopsy revealed she had suffered from hepatitis, exhaustion, kidney ailments, near-fatal drug reactions, and injuries.


Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver, the NHS explains, which can be caused by a viral infection, or by drinking too much alcohol.

If symptoms develop, hepatitis could lead to:

  • Muscle and joint pain
  • A high temperature
  • Feeling and being sick
  • Feeling unusually tired all the time
  • A general sense of feeling unwell
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tummy pain
  • Dark urine
  • Pale, grey-coloured poo
  • Itchy skin
  • Yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice).
  • Exhaustion
  • Feeling tired all the time can be attributed to two factors that Garland may have experienced.

These include too many late nights, and long hours spent at work; additional factors could include: stress, depression, anxiety, and an underactive thyroid.

Kidney ailments

Kidney disease, for example, can lead to a number of symptoms, such as:

  • Weight loss and poor appetite
  • Swollen ankles, feet or hands – as a result of water retention (oedema)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tiredness
  • Blood in your pee (urine)
  • An increased need to pee – particularly at night
  • Difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
  • Itchy skin
  • Muscle cramps
  • Feeling sick
  • Headaches.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m living in a blizzard,” Garland once said. “An absolute blizzard.”

Following the autopsy, the coroner officially ruled the star’s cause of death to be a self-administered accidental overdose of barbiturates, which were then a common sleep aid.

Dr Smitha Bhandari verified that barbiturates, known as “sedative-hypnotics”, produce sleep-inducing and anxiety-decreasing effects.

They have the potential to be “extremely dangerous because the correct dose is difficult to predict”.

“Even a slight overdose can cause coma or death,” Dr Bhandari confirmed.

In the UK, Drugwise noted: “Doctors can still prescribe them and patients take them, but unauthorised possession or supply is an offence.”

Barbiturates have now been mostly replaced by benzodiazepines and nonbenzodiazepines.

This was partly due to the dependency that barbiturates could lead to, and also the small difference between a normal dose and an overdose.

The coroner for Garland, Gavin Thurston, released a statement to the press at the time of her death in 1969.

Thurston said: “This is quite clearly an accidental circumstance to a person who was accustomed to taking barbiturates over a very long time.”

He added: “[Garland] took more barbiturates than she could tolerate.”

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