Iconic supermodel Beverly Johnson, who made history in 1974 as the first Black model to grace the cover of Vogue, has recently opened up about her struggles with cocaine addiction and extreme dieting during the height of her modeling career in the 1970s.
Years of Starvation and Drug Abuse Take Their Toll
In interviews and her new one-woman show “Beverly Johnson in Vogue,” the 71-year-old candidly discusses how she would use cocaine to suppress her appetite and stay thin, at times surviving on just two eggs per week in addition to a daily bowl of rice and regular cocaine use (Daily Mail). This extreme starvation diet and drug use led to a dangerous addiction that took Johnson years to overcome.
“I got hooked on drugs after living on a diet of cocaine and two eggs a week,” Johnson told Page Six. “It was the ’70s, and drugs were just part of the culture of the fashion industry. Everybody was doing cocaine to stay thin.”
According to Johnson, she was encouraged by her agents and other insiders to use cocaine and starve herself to maintain the extremely slender frame considered ideal for models during that era. “My agents told me to do whatever it takes to stay chiseled to the bone,” she told The Wonderwall. This led to a dangerous downward spiral of addiction and health issues that took her years to recover from.
Negative Health Impacts Prompt Eventual Change
In her one-woman show, Johnson details how her cocaine use resulted in paranoia, depression, fainting spells, and toxicity in her liver. “I would hear noises outside my door and was convinced people were after me to kill me,” she told The New York Sun. “I barely slept … I look back now and can’t believe what I put myself through and how I managed to survive it.”
|Becomes first Black model on cover of Vogue
|Develops cocaine addiction and engages in extreme dieting
|Begins recovery process and focuses on health
|“Beverly Johnson in Vogue” show debuts off-Broadway
The physical and emotional toll eventually prompted Johnson to begin her recovery process in the early 1980s. “I knew I had to turn my life around. With therapy, a 12-step program, and the support of family and friends, I beat my addiction,” she told Essence magazine.
Pioneering Model Brings Story to the Stage
After decades out of the spotlight, Johnson has returned with her revealing one-woman show “Beverly Johnson in Vogue,” which opened off-Broadway in late 2023. The show chronicles her groundbreaking career, while also providing an unflinching look at the ugliness that existed behind the glamorous facade. It was recently extended for an additional week at 59E59 Theaters due to strong audience demand.
“I feel it’s important for people to know the truth about what went on during my modeling days. As a young Black girl breaking barriers, nobody prepared me for the dark side of the industry,” Johnson told CBS News. “By opening up about my struggles, I hope I can inspire other women dealing with similar pressures.”
Legacy as Barrier-Breaking Model Endures
Despite the difficulties she faced, Johnson leaves behind a groundbreaking legacy as the first-ever African American model to appear on the cover of Vogue in 1974. Her appearance marked a pivotal turning point for diversity and inclusion in fashion.
When asked about being a trailblazer by CBS Mornings, the age-defying beauty said: “It’s wonderful when I travel across the country and women come up to me — especially Black women — and they thank me for kicking that door open. I opened the door so wide for everybody else.”
Decades later, Johnson’s historic Vogue cover is considered one of the most iconic images in fashion history. The pioneering model paved the way for women of color and forced the industry to become more inclusive. Though her story has its share of darkness, her resilience and refusal to be defeated ultimately shine through.
At 71, Johnson remains an inspiration to women everywhere – a beautiful reminder that strength comes through overcoming life’s inevitable challenges. Her willingness to open up about past difficulties shows her commitment to empowering other women facing similar struggles. Though the ugliness existed, the beauty of what she achieved remains.
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