The folk-rock star was arrested 14 years ago

By David Browne
Updated March 29, 1996 at 05:00 AM EST

The spring of 1982 brought David Crosby some of his biggest hits — and they weren’t on the charts. On March 28, driving to an antinuke rally near San Clemente, Calif., the 40-year-old folkie rammed into a highway divider. When a loaded .45-caliber pistol and cocaine were found in his car, he was booked on weapons and drug-possession charges (eventually plea-bargained down to a reckless-driving violation, for which he got probation). Two weeks later, Crosby gave an unasked-for encore: This time he was caught freebasing backstage at a Dallas club. Convicted of that offense as well as a gun charge, he was sentenced to five years in prison. While out on appeal, Crosby fled a New Jersey rehab. The stoned-hippie-on-the-run-from-the-law seemed a plot straight out of a Cheech & Chong movie, but this story was more pathetic than funny.

With his beatific stoner smile and walrus mustache, Crosby looked the part of a ’60s guru. As espoused by the former Byrd, free love and folk rock would transport us all back to the garden. But by the early ’80s, Crosby’s need to support his drug habit had reduced him to playing dives. ”I became one of the most awful examples of drug addiction anybody knows about,” Crosby said in 1989. ”I did it because I had a lot of money, and I did it to such an extreme that I came very close to dying.”

Unlike many junkies’ stories, Crosby’s had a relatively happy ending. After serving 11 months in two Texas jails in 1985, he resumed his career and wrote his memoirs. His liver gave out in 1994 after years of abuse, but a transplant enabled him to carry on; CSN will be straining to hit those high notes again in amphitheaters this summer.

Still, it’s hard to listen to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Deja Vu without wincing a little. After his arrests, Crosby’s problems first seemed symbolic of the dark side of the sex-drugs-and-rock & roll dream of the ’60s. Bloated, strung out, his face dotted with open sores, Crosby circa 1982 embodied the death of the hippie archetype, and the aftereffects of his descent linger like brown acid. In one fell snort, Crosby reduced the positive contributions of the decade to a bad punchline. His decline also fed into the emerging just-say-no mentality that sought (and still seeks) to discredit the cultural changes of the ’60s. As the poster boy for the decline of morals, Crosby may have recovered, but the image of his era hasn’t.

Time Capsule: March 28, 1982
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts proclaimed ”I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” and hit No. 1; TV fans loved Joanie Loves Chachi; Jane Fonda’s Workout Book climbed up the nonfiction list; and Charles Bronson was loose in the movie Death Wish II.