GREGORY ISAACS once described his cocaine use as the greatest college he had ever attended, yet the one with the most expensive tuition. On the sidelines witnessing his deleterious education, was his wife JUNE, who confirmed his substance abuse when she caught him snorting cocaine at a hotel in Stony Hill, St Andrew, in the late ’80s. She decided to face her husband following a series of strange behaviors:
He would be missing in action from home for two or three days, and when we find him, he had some sleazy excuses, and then there were excess withdrawals from the bank. At the time, I wasn’t aware of what was happening until someone told me and I actually went on the scene and saw him. I was shocked, but not too shocked, because when I heard of cocaine, I didn’t know what it was, it was regarded as an elite snorting.
She would come to understand the drug’s implications in more ways than one, as she says that Gregory’s lifestyle soon changed, and “he was hanging out more with friends, some popular names; he became aggressive, paranoid, and was very insecure.” This was quite different from the Gregory she had met in 1980 and married three years later.
Though the two did not have any children together, June said ten of his children lived with them, and he tried to hide his activities from them. But his habits were never hidden from her, and she witnessed the financial, social and mental effects of his drug abuse.
One of the biggest blows was being dropped from an international label:
It was a very, very expensive habit, to the extreme point where we lost a house. he consumed so much in that time, I can’t even tell you. I had to take what I could to make sure everything else was okay – a lot of cash went along that wayside. It was also hard for him to keep his appointments; he kept being late for flights; he was a constant no-show for shows, which was a big problem, and because of that Island Records had to drop him. He didn’t have any regard for time, he would just spend hours locked away smoking.
Along with Gregory’s mother, June sought to get treatment for her husband, which proved tedious as he did not believe he needed help. Despite his resistance, he implored his wife to refrain from using drugs:
Seeking rehab for him was a no-no, and if you approached him with that, he thought something was wrong with you instead. You’re not allowed to force people to rehab, so every doctor we spoke to said he had to come on his own will, which he would not do because of pride. We tried everything, even home doctors, and it worked for a few days, and then it was right back to square one, because he didn’t think what he was doing was wrong, yet he encouraged us never to smoke.
After years of trying to get her husband help, June said it finally took a toll on their marriage and the two separated:
Being there with him, it started to get hard. In the end, that is what caused me to leave, that is what caused the separation. I think, way down the line after it started to take a toll on him, he came to the realization that it was bad for him. But it was so embedded in him that he couldn’t change, and his body could not allow him to do otherwise.
Gregory died from lung cancer in the United Kingdom in 2010. He was 59.