What is life after death like? If you’re Depeche Mode singer Dave Gahan, it involves still playing arenas. But since May 28, 1996, when he was technically dead from an overdose for a couple of minutes, Gahan hasn’t looked at anything quite the same.
The frontman was in Los Angeles at the Sunset Marquis Hotel when he overdosed on a speedball – a combination of heroin and cocaine. When he came to, he asked the paramedic if he’d overdosed again. “No, David, you died,” the paramedic responded, as recounted by Gahan to the Chicago Tribune. “You flatlined for a couple of minutes. You were actually dead.”
Afterward, a friend informed him that he had to be revived three times. “I was clean for a few weeks when I came back [to Los Angeles] from New York, where I was working with the band,” Gahan told the Los Angeles Times. “I went out and shot a speedball one time. The dealer left, and I went green. Luckily, there was someone to call 911.”
His momentary death came less than a year after a suicide attempt. Following his overdose, Gahan was arrested, incarcerated and forced into a court-mandated diversion program that included a year of required counseling as well as mandatory drug tests. He’s been sober ever since.
“What I really felt was this overwhelming feeling of whatever it was I was doing to myself was clearly wrong,” Gahan told Rolling Stone about the experience in 2005. “And all I really saw was blackness. I was kind of a goner.” That blackness may have impacted Depeche Mode’s next album, 1997’s Ultra. Gahan’s bandmate Martin Gore told the Chicago Tribune that the near-death incident led to “a couple of points where it seemed very improbable that we would carry on.”
Both Gore and Gahan had submerged themselves into worlds of excess following the band’s 1994 tour supporting Songs of Faith and Devotion. Depeche Mode found themselves in need of a break, but they were also uncertain about their future when Alan Wilder, who played synths in the band, decided to leave. Although the remaining members got it together to record Ultra, they didn’t tour in support of the album. Gahan felt he was still too fragile in his sobriety, and the temptations of the road would be too much.
Depeche Mode keyboardist Andy Fletcher told MTV at the time that the Songs of Faith and Devotion Tour “nearly destroyed the band.” “I think the fans know what we’ve been through,” he said. “I think they understand that we’re not physically as able as perhaps before to tour at this time.”
The singer has been candid about his death ever since. “When I died, there was only darkness,” he told The Guardian in 2007. “In the two minutes my heart stopped, this humungous voice inside of me went: ‘This is wrong.’ Like I don’t get to choose when this is over. It scared the shit out of me.”