The Slow Suicide of Bill Evans

By: Michelle Inherst

The life of Bill Evans’ truly painted a portrait of heart break.

bill evans slow suicide

Jazz pianist Bill Evans, the younger of two children, was born August 16, 1929 in Plainfield, New Jersey. His father was an alcoholic who managed a golf course and his mother was a Russian Orthodox. Evans’ childhood was fairly uneventful. He learned to play piano in his mothers’ church and also by mimicking the chords his older brother played. Later, in his childhood, Evans also learned to play other instruments including violin and flute. During his career, Evans recorded over 50 albums, received five Grammy’s, and even travelled with well known singers and musicians including; Billie Holiday and Tony Bennett. He played piano for Miles Davis’ band. Evans’ time with Davis’ band was difficult from time to time because he was the only white band member. So what was it that drove the talented musician to a life of drug use and an early demise?

     Bill Evans enlisted in the United States Army from 1951- 1954 and served during the Korean War. While in the Army, he used marijuana and experimented with heroine. Later, during his musical career, Evans also began using cocaine and eventually methadone.  According to some of his close friends, Evans’ drug habit was a means of escape from hardships he experienced in his adult life. Evans saw his drug habit as a way to cope with the stress of being a musician. One friend described Evans’ addiction as ‘being cyclical’. He would kick the habit of using one drug, only to start using the next one.

     Evans joined Miles Davis’ band in 1958 and, at one point, had his own band.  In 1965, Evans’ bass player, Scott LaFaro died unexpectedly in a car accident at the age of twenty- five. Evans survived two failed marriages; the first wife committed suicide in 1973, and the second died at an early age. The final blow came when Evans’ older brother, whom he idolized, committed suicide in 1979.  After years of drug abuse, Bill Evans died September 15, 1980 at the age of fifty- one from complications due to cirrhosis of the liver and hepatitis that was left untreated. His life of drug use was looked upon as a ‘slow suicide’.

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