The rapper known as Mac Miller, whose real name was Malcolm James McCormick, was considered one of the most promising up-and-coming young musicians in hip hop. Having collaborated with other artists such as Wiz Khalifa, Ariana Grande, and Post Malone, Miller was due to go on tour for his fourth album, Swimming, in the autumn of 2018. However, the world was stunned when he was discovered dead in his home in Los Angeles on the morning of September 7, 2018.
What Happened on September 7, 2018?
On September 7, 2018, Miller’s personal assistant arrived to get his day started. She usually woke him at 11:30 a.m., and he was due to shoot a music video that day. In just a few days, Miller was to hit the road on his next tour.
The assistant found him unresponsive in his room. There was alcohol nearby as well as drug paraphernalia. The singer had a $20 bill in his pocket, containing white powder. Not finding a pulse, the assistant immediately contacted emergency services. Directed by the operator, she moved Miller’s body from the bed to the floor and began performing CPR.
Paramedics arrived swiftly but could not resuscitate him. He was officially pronounced dead at 11:51 a.m. at his home in Los Angeles, only 16 minutes after the emergency call. He was 26 years old.
The Los Angeles County Coroner performed an autopsy and put his official cause of death as mixed drug toxicity—an overdose due to a combination of cocaine, alcohol, and the deadly opioid fentanyl.
The original ruling was that the overdose had been accidental. But further investigation would uncover disturbing details that indicated that, although Miller himself had no idea that the drugs were tainted with fentanyl, it wasn’t entirely an accident.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid. It is officially estimated to be 50 times more potent than heroin, and a tiny amount can cause a fatal overdose. It can be particularly deadly when mixed with cocaine.
Miller was, sadly, not the first high-profile figure to lose his life from tainted drugs. superstar Prince died in April 2016 from an accidental overdose of fentanyl, which had been disguised to resemble hydrocodone. A year later, singer Tom Petty died from mixed drug toxicity after an accidental overdose.
The Days Before His Death
Friends and family were stunned by Miller’s sudden death. Of course, it was no secret that he had struggled with addiction, fueled in part by mental health issues, for many years. But he had been improving over years of trying to get sober. At one point, Miller had once said, he had been using drugs every day.
His last few years, however, involved long stretches of sobriety. Though Miller fell off the wagon more than once, he had been working hard to stay sober. In mid-2018, he was happy and healthy. However, his personal assistant noted that he was prone to drug binges—in fact, he had had one on September 4, just three days before his death.
Miller was in a relationship with pop singer Ariana Grande from 2016 to May 2018. It was rumored that they split up, at least in part because of his drug use. In the wake of the breakup, Miller continued his trend of stretches of sobriety followed by drug binges; he was also charged with driving under the influence during this time.
Nevertheless, his life throughout the middle of 2018 was more positive than negative. Friends described him as excited for his upcoming tour and his ongoing work. The night before his death, Miller spoke to his mother on the phone; she said that he sounded happy and expressed looking forward to his tour.
Past Struggles With Addiction
Miller had been open about his struggles with depression and drug addiction. He stated that he had begun using drugs as a teenager. In 2011, he was arrested for possession of marijuana in New York state.
Miller said that his addiction peaked in 2014; at the time, he had started taking promethazine to try to manage his anxiety while on tour. He also regularly used lean.
During his relationship with Ariana Grande, the pop star helped him remain sober for long stretches of time. Nevertheless, Grande constantly worried about him while she was on tour, and his relapses were a source of contention between them. In the fall of 2016, Miller succeeded in remaining sober for three months; he stated that, while sobriety was difficult for him, he appreciated how it helped him be more creative and work with more concentration.
Neither Grande nor Miller confirmed that his drug use was the cause of their breakup; however, sources around both artists confirmed that it was a significant source of stress. After his death, Miller’s mother confirmed that, while her son had always been open about his struggles to stay sober, he had never overdosed before as far as she was aware.
Investigations into Miller’s death continued until September 2019, a year later. The main question was how Miller had accessed the pills that killed him and who knew what they really were.
A year after the rapper’s death, three men were arrested: Cameron James Pettit, Ryan Reavis, and Stephen Walter. Miller had contacted Pettit, asking him to get him Percocet, cocaine, and Xanax. Instead, Pettit brought him counterfeit oxycodone pills that contained lethal amounts of fentanyl. He accessed these from Walter through Reavis.
In 2022, Stephen Walter pled guilty to the charges of knowingly supplying fentanyl pills made to look like oxycodone, resulting in a death. Walter said he did not target Miller, but knew that the pills contained either fentanyl or another federally-controlled substance. Instead, he said that he thought Pettit wanted the pills for himself.
Walter’s attornies negotiated a plea deal to get him 17 years, three years below the federal minimum of 20 years usually required for distribution of fentanyl. However, the opposing attornies said that Walter had continued to distribute fentanyl pills until he was arrested in 2019, a full year after Miller’s death. Walter himself denied that that was true.
Walter was sentenced to 17.5 years in prison. In April 2022, Ryan Reavis pled guilty to charges of distribution of fentanyl and was sentenced to nearly 11 years in prison.
Pettit has consistently pled not guilty to the charges of distributing fentanyl; his trial remained pending as of April 2022.
Friends and family reacted to news of Miller’s death with shock and grief. Celebrities such as Missy Elliott, Chance the Rapper, and Wiz Khalifa took to social media to express their condolences; many of them had collaborated with Miller in the past.
His former girlfriend Ariana Grande shared a post on Instagram expressing her grief at the news.
“I adored you from the day I met you when I was nineteen and I always will,” the pop star wrote. “I can’t believe you aren’t here anymore. I really can’t wrap my head around it. We talked about this. So many times. I’m so mad, I’m so sad I don’t know what to do. You were my dearest friend. for so long. above anything else. I’m so sorry I couldn’t fix or take your pain away. I really wanted to. The kindest, sweetest soul with demons he never deserved. I hope you’re okay now. Rest.”
On September 11, 2018, fans flocked to Blue Slide Park in Miller’s native Pittsburgh. The site was a special place for the rapper, having inspired his debut album. The vigil was attended by thousands and is still considered a part of Miller’s legacy, with a public memorial in his honor.
Miller died at his home in Los Angeles. His body was transported to his hometown of Pittsburgh to be prepared for burial. In mid-September 2018, Miller’s family held a private funeral in the Jewish tradition in Pittsburgh.
The rapper was buried in Homewood Cemetery in Pittsburgh. Ironically, the cemetery was the site of one of his earlier music videos—Nike’s On My Feet, which was filmed in 2010. Miller said he used to hang out at the cemetery as a teen with his friends.
In October 2018, a public tribute concert was held in his honor. Many of his friends and past collaborators performed. The concert was a charity fundraiser for the Mac Miller Circles Fund, which aims to fund youth and community art programs. The charity, which was later renamed the Mac Miller Legacy Fund, raised enough money to issue its first grants in May 2019.
Some of the money went to the charity MusiCares, which started a program called the Mac Miller Legacy Fund; this program aims to provide support for musicians who struggle with addiction.
Miller’s final album, Circles, was released posthumously in January 2020. Miller had been working on Circles at the same time as Swimming and had intended for them to be companion albums. The album was a massive success, hitting the Billboard charts at No. 4 and resulting in a top single, Good News.
The album he had completed before his death, Swimming, was nominated posthumously for a Grammy Award for Best Rap Album; it lost the title to Cardi B’s album, Invasion of Privacy.
Despite his short career, Miller is remembered as one of the most talented and promising young rappers of his time. His tragic death cut his career and his life short long before his time, a sad warning for others who also struggle with addictive tendencies, especially when it comes to opioids.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
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