celebrity

A month in a coma and collapsing on stage: The complicated life of Fiona O’Loughlin.

This post deals with addiction, drug use and suicide and might be triggering for some readers.

In 2009, Fiona O'Loughlin slurred her words and insulted the crowd who had come to see her show at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre. Then she collapsed.

Having spent hours each day for weeks before that show rehearsing for Dancing With The Stars, exhaustion was initially blamed for the stand-up comedian's odd behaviour.

But shortly after, the now-57-year-old went public with a previously private battle, announcing her struggle with alcoholism. 

Watch: Fiona O'Loughlin discusses her alcoholism on I'm a Celebrity. Post continues below video.


Video via Channel 10.

"I had an overwhelming sense of relief," O'Loughlin told the ABC's Australian Story in 2014. "And maybe I should've felt more embarrassed. I felt very bad for the people in the audience."

She said she often wondered if making it public was wise, as it set herself up for a lot of falls.

Alcohol had regularly been a punchline of O'Loughlin's jokes, and she told SA Weekend she'd considered herself to have a problem as early as 2000, but husband Chris, with whom she shares five children, disagreed.

That same year, then 36, she performed at the Adelaide Fringe Festival, drinking excessively every day for a month.

In 2008 she was admitted to hospital three times.

Listen: Fiona O'Loughlin speaks to The Quicky. Post continues below audio.


After making her experience public in 2009, O'Loughlin went to rehab, but her sobriety didn't last. 

She had never performed a stand-up show without drinking two small bottles of vodka and didn't think she ever could, so she soon found herself living a double life.

ADVERTISEMENT

By 2012, she had fully relapsed. The drinking was so extreme that one night in Canberra she woke in her hotel bed with a stranger. When her husband Chris called later, she failed to properly hang up the phone, and he heard her speaking to the man. Their marriage was over.

O'Loughlin moved to Melbourne, and in 2013 booked into a hotel under a pseudonym. She intended to take her life.

"I had gone missing and [her youngest daughter Mary] just went to the hotel and asked for me and they said, 'No, she’s not here'," O'Loughlin told Australian Story.

"Mary just knew in her heart that I was there and she would not leave. She described what I looked like and sure enough I was there."

She was then sober for a year. That was until she celebrated her Australian Story episode - focussed on about her journey to sobriety - by drinking.

Fiona O'Loughlin in 2007. Image: Getty.

Around this time, O'Loughlin fell into a coma and was given just a seven per cent chance of survival. 

Over the course of a month, she had become the victim of carbon monoxide poisoning from the heater in her apartment. 

"It went over the course of a month. I forgot things, I thought I was getting early Alzheimer's. I was forgetting things, forgetting my kids' names. But then I did forget I was an alcoholic," she told Gold104.3's Jo & Lehmo in 2017.

ADVERTISEMENT

She was slowly poisoned and ended up in a coma for four weeks.

In 2015, O'Loughlin's friend organised for her to stay with a 'healer' in a Adelaide's beachside Glenelg. The 'healer' was an ex-heroin addict, and part of her 'treatment' was occasional meth use.

While living here, O'Loughlin met her now-manager Sue Underwood, who lived next door and supported her through the lowest period in her life.

She left the drug den and moved back in with her parents on the Yorke Peninsula.

From here, she experienced a series of involuntary admissions to a psychiatric hospital and rehab facilities before returning to Melbourne to restart her career.

A career breakthrough came in 2018, when she was cast in Channel 10's I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here!, but the experience led to another relapse when she consumed alcohol-based hand sanitiser during her time on the show.

"My mind started playing games with me," she told the Daily Telegraph. "It is so nonsensical now, but I felt that I was the schmuck and everyone in Australia was laughing at me and that was why I was so close to winning. I didn't know what was being edited and what was out there.

ADVERTISEMENT

"I freaked and planned to [drink the sanitiser]. In the middle of the night I just f***ing did it."

In an interview with The Project in October 2020, O'Loughlin added, "basically it was a relapse, and I kept having these relapses, and that's kind of what I wanted to really drive home, is part of this disease that people don't really understand, the cruelty of it is when you're in it is the relapsing," she said. "I only knew about hand sanitiser because I'd been to so many rehabs."

O'Loughlin said she drank the product on multiple occasions and that, just a few days shy of winning the series (in which she earned $100,000 for her chosen charity, Angel Flight), producers noticed her stumbling and slurring her speech.

She was treated on set.

"If they'd pulled me out of the jungle and I'd had to explain why, I don't know that I was well enough at that point," she said.

"I think it was probably reckless of me [to do the show]. That is the problem with addicts, we think we do but we don't have our own best interests at heart."

Fiona O'Loughlin on I'm A Celebrity. Image: Channel 10.

The mother-of-five also spoke in detail on I'm a Celebrity about her disease, which she described as being "shrouded in shame" to the point she could barely look at her own reflection.

ADVERTISEMENT

"It is particularly shameful being a mother," she said. "When you’re a chronic alcoholic like I am, there are only three endings. There is death, jail or institution. That is it."

Speaking to Channel 9 last year, she added, "The reason I do continue to talk about it, is in case there is someone out there... Not that I'm a saint at all, but I just get something that I don't think we're understanding [as a society]: As long as there is alcohol there will always be alcoholics; there's a certain amount of us that this stuff is poison to."

O'Loughlin has reportedly now been sober for a year, following a relapse while filming Channel 7's The All New Monty in 2019.

"Not a drink has passed my lips, nor a codeine tablet," since filming that show, she told SA Weekend. "And that's the first time I've been able to say that."

Speaking to Mamamia's daily news podcast The Quicky, O'Loughlin said her high profile career "fast-tracked" her addiction.

"I now recognise my experience of what alcohol did to me was different to normal people. My drinking was never normal, I didn't realise that, but I think my career fast-tracked my alcoholism," she explained.

"It's a progressive disease, and I was about a five, I guess, when I started and I fast-tracked it to 10. I think had I not been a stand-up, I would've still fast-tracked to 10 but it would've taken 10 years longer."

ADVERTISEMENT

She has written a book, Truths From An Unreliable Witness, laying bare her journey. Her family have read it, and O'Loughlin said she wrote it partly as an explanation to them.

"There's a very personal reason for it," she told SA Weekend. "It's not just that people die from it; it's the agony you live in when you are in it.

"It's looking at your children. They look at you like they're broken. You broke them again. And then you did it again. And again. I found that the hardest, to explain myself to them again."

Though now sober, and happier than she's ever been, O'Loughlin is cautious.

"I don't know what I'm made of, kryptonite or something, because our bodies are incredible things and your liver is an extremely forgiving organ but it will only take so much," she said on The Quicky

"I fortunately don't have any permanent damage other than a mild brain injury in my frontal lobe, which is my organisation. I'll live with that for the rest of my life.

"I'm fortunate now that the obsession has left. It's called the obsession of the mind, it's where I don't think about alcohol anymore.

"At the moment I feel amazing, but you've just got to be very careful not to get too cocky. Because the problem is that you feel amazing and then you slack off on the work you've got to do, checking in with another alcoholic every day. I use YouTube, and I'll just Google 'alcoholic stories', but you must do that every day because eventually it normalises again in your mind. Alcohol becomes the poison that it is.

"I've been sober a year at a time before, but I was never knew you could be this happy, because I wasn't emotionally sober."

You can buy Fiona O'Loughlin's book, Truths From An Unreliable Witness, right here.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, please contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue 1300 22 4636.

For drug and alcohol issues, call the Alcoholics Anonymous Helpline 1300 222 222. You can find Alcohol and Drug Information Services in your state here.

00:00 / ???