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SXSW 2021: In new docuseries, Demi Lovato reveals her overdose led to 3 strokes, heart attack

Demi Lovato and Michael D. Ratner answers questions about the SXSW Film Festival premiere of YouTube Originals docuseries "Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil" during SXSW Online on March 16, 2021.

The new YouTube Originals docuseries “Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil,” which premiered at South by Southwest's online film festival on March 16, contains no shortage of shocking revelations.

Spoilers for the series follow.

In the achingly vulnerable four-part series on YouTube on March 23, the pop star reveals that the 2018 drug overdose that landed her in the hospital was much worse than most people realized. After taking a cocktail of OxyContin laced with fentanyl, she suffered three strokes and a heart attack. Though Lovato still struggles with vision blind spots and is unable to drive, she is lucky to be alive with minimal brain damage. 

The singer and actress opens up about a history of sexual abuse, identifying her first sexual experience as a rape and alleging that the drug dealer who left her for dead on the night of her overdose had sex with her when she was unable to give consent. 

And Lovato says the overdose was not her final experience with hard drugs. She relapsed and used heroin again in 2019. While she says in the docuseries that her days of hard drug use are over — the high she got from the fentanyl that almost killed her made even a heroin high feel inadequate, she says — she is no longer sober. Instead, taking a harm reduction approach to controlling her addiction, she said she is drinking and using marijuana in moderation.  

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Before her overdose, Lovato was working on a documentary of her 2018 “Tell Me That You Love Me” tour, and the film cuts performance and behind-the-scenes footage from that project with a series of brutally honest interviews with Lovato’s friends, family, staff and medical team. 

Pop singer Demi Lovato opens up about her struggles with addiction in the documentary series "Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil."

The project also uses archival footage to craft a narrative about how Lovato — a child star with a stunning voice, a knack for writing broadly relatable pop confessionals and abundant gregarious charm — has spent her entire life working through her issues in the public eye. 

Industry pressure led to eating disorders and early alcohol and drug abuse. Lovato first went to rehab at 18. She was open about her recovery, and in the years that followed, her sobriety was lauded. In the documentary, she discusses how she struggled with being a “poster child for mental health” and sobriety, while inside, she was crumbling. 

In 2018, Lovato decided she was going to “see if I could handle drinking and smoking” again, she said. Unbeknownst to her friends and her professional team, she also began secretly using hard drugs including heroin, crack cocaine and methamphetamine. She wrote the song “Sober” on a trip to Bali when, away from her dealer, she realized that she was physically addicted to heroin. 

Since the overdose, Lovato has been working on her recovery. The series chronicles her ups and downs, including her brilliant performance of “Anyone” at the 2020 Grammy Awards and a whirlwind quarantine romance that led to a jubilantly announced and then hastily canceled engagement. Lovato brushes off the breakup, saying  she is “too queer to marry a man” anyway.

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In a SXSW Q&A session after the screening, Lovato described the process of making the docuseries as “the ultimate catharsis,” saying that the journey has helped her. 

In part, the project is a mediation on the way celebrities work out their pain in public. During the Q&A, Lovato said she “knew from the moment she woke up (after the overdose) she wanted to do this” docuseries. Throughout the four episodes, she comes off as strong, but not necessarily stable, and the viewer is left hoping that the triumphant tone is not premature.

Grade: B

If you are struggling with drug addiction, the National Drug Hotline is available 24/7 online or at 1(844) 289-0879.