Oscar-winning actor Tatum O’Neal opened up about overdosing and experiencing a stroke that led to a six-week coma during the height of the covid pandemic.
“I almost died,” she told People. “I’ve been through a lot.”
During the lockdown, O’Neal, 59, felt alone and had experienced persistent neck pain and aches from rheumatoid arthritis. In May 2020, she overdosed on pain medications, opioids and morphine. A friend found her, and she was taken to the hospital. Her family shared how the difficult conditions of the pandemic made her vulnerable.
“She had become very isolated,” son Kevin McEnroe, 37, told People. “With the addition of the morphine and heavier pharmaceuticals, it was getting scary. COVID, chronic pain, all these things led to a place of isolation. In that place, I don’t think, for her, there was much hope.”
The hospital stay was rough for everyone. Her children, including daughter Emily, 32, and son Sean, 35, couldn’t visit her for the most part. What’s more, her health was in such a precarious state that it seemed unclear whether O’Neal might live.
“She also had a cardiac arrest and a number of seizures,” Kevin McEnroe said. “There were times we didn’t think she was going to survive.”
O’Neal was in a coma and experienced “damage to her right frontal cortex,” he added. Doctors diagnosed her with aphasia, which occurs when brain damage harms a person’s ability to read, write and communicate with other people.
“At times, it was touch and go,” Kevin McEnroe said. “I had to call my brother and sister and say she was thought to be blind, deaf and potentially might never speak again.”
When O’Neal first awoke from the coma, she struggled to talk.
“She didn’t know where she was,” Kevin McEnroe said. “She couldn’t say, ‘I’m scared.’”
O’Neal has made a great deal of progress. With therapy, she’s trying to improve her memory, and she’s bolstering her vocabulary. She also attends 12-step meetings to grapple with “the things that made (her) want to take drugs in the first place,” Kevin McEnroe said.
O’Neal has fought to be in recovery for many years.
“I’ve been trying to get sober my whole life,” she told People. “Every day, I am trying.”
O’Neal made history when she became the youngest Oscar winner at age 10 for her role in “Paper Moon,” which she starred in with her father, Ryan O’Neal. Over the next few decades, O’Neal had a rocky relationship with her father and then later a challenging marriage and divorce to tennis star John McEnroe. She had used drugs over the years, including a heroin addiction, and visited rehab centers, hoping to become sober for her family.
“I was an addict my whole life, pretty much on and off for the past 30 or 40 years,” she said.
While Kevin McEnroe and his siblings have seen their mom work to be sober many times, he sees a difference this time.
“She has embraced this attempt at recovery,” he said. “She was always a very loving mom, but when isolated, I think it was hard to find any love for herself.”
O’Neal said: “Every day I am trying. I want to be with my beautiful three kids.”