Over the years James Taylor has been candid about his personal struggles, from opening up about spending time as a teen in a psychiatric hospital to descending into heroin addiction during the early stages of his career. While the singer-songwriter spent years facing his own demons, he wasn’t the only Taylor family member tormented by personal troubles — a particularly intimate topic he reflects on during a recent appearance for “Oprah’s Master Class.”
“There’s a mysterious sort of darkness in my family tree,” Taylor says.
For instance, Taylor’s father, whom he describes as functional and brilliant, was also an alcoholic.
“People argue about substance abuse and whether or not addiction is genetically predisposed,” he says. “I think it probably is. There’s definitely that gene in my family. Whether it’s nature or nurture, we tend to be addicted.”
Taylor’s eldest brother also struggled with addiction. “I lost my brother to it. Alcoholism killed him. Just, literally killed him,” Taylor says.
And addiction wasn’t the only issue that Taylor believes he and his siblings were susceptible to, adding that they were also all “so subject to depression.”
“That’s a double-edged thing — it’s not entirely negative,” he says. “In dealing with it, in contemplating it, in trying to get relief, I think a lot of art is generated.”
Each of the five Taylor siblings did eventually become recording artists in some respect, and Taylor was often inspired to write and sing songs about the relatively taboo subjects of depression and addiction himself. The future Grammy winner certainly had material to work with, especially around the 1960s.
“There was this period of time when my family kind of came off the rails,” Taylor says. “My dad’s drinking became an issue… I think that sort of came to a head, came to a crisis, in the late sixties. My folks broke up. I don’t know what sent the Taylor siblings into such a tailspin, but three of us ended up in psychiatric hospital.”
It was also a tumultuous period for the country. ”It was at a time in the popular culture when things were really coming unglued,” Taylor says. “It was a very exciting time and very unsettling.”
This is when he first tried heroin.
“The drummer from my band, The Flying Machine, was a heroin addict,” Taylor says. “It was a matter of time before I got my first taste. And I was gone. As soon as I was introduced to opiates, I was gone.”
Now sober for more than three decades, Taylor also shares what he learned from his experience.
“The main thing I would say about it is: Avoid an addiction. That means if you like something an awful lot and it’s an addictive substance, run like hell,” Taylor says. “If you love it, let that be the last time you ever touched it.”
“Oprah’s Master Class” airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on OWN.
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