Matthew Ansara started using drugs when he was around 9 or 10 years old after his parents got divorced.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on March 1, 2021. It has since been updated.
Barbara Eden became America's sweetheart, clad in a crop top and billowing harem pantaloons as a 2,000-year-old genie, with her character in I Dream of Jeannie. While she fulfilled the wishes of the characters in the TV show with a nod and a blink, her fans wished to meet her one day. The actress was nominated for the Golden Globes twice and co-starred with legendary icons like Elvis Presley.
Even though she smiled all the time and looked like a person whose life was all sorted out, nobody knew about the things she was going through in her personal life. She experienced two failed marriages and suffered a heartbreaking miscarriage. But nothing compared to the anguish she went through when she lost her only son, Matthew Ansara. If she really was a genie who could grant wishes, she would have wished for him.
Ansara, a fitness trainer and actor, passed away in 2001 at the age of 35. He had a history of drug abuse that ultimately led to his tragic demise. Eden almost gave up her career for him because she found out that she was going to be a mother on the day the pilot for I Dream of Jeannie sold, according to ABC. Instead of replacing her, the producers decided to hide her pregnancy with props and veils.
She gave birth to Ansara when the popularity of the show was hitting the roof. At the time she was married to TV actor Michael Ansara. However, following the stillbirth of her second child and the depression that accompanied it, her marriage crumbled and she found herself at the foot of divorce. Ansara, who was only about 9 or 10 at the time, found his solace in drugs.
While he stayed with his father in Los Angeles for six years, Eden remarried and moved to Chicago. After she divorced her second husband and moved back to L.A., she met her son and found that "he wasn't the happy warm boy that I'd known." It was not until he turned 19 that the actress got to know that her son was fighting drug addiction. "We didn't know any better," she said. She and his father decided to send him to rehab.
He battled for 16 years going in and out of rehab but then Eden had to turn her heart to stone and give Ansara an ultimatum. "He was told he did not have a home with me if he was going to use drugs, he had to leave," she said. "And he left! His father and I were frantic. We were looking for him everywhere. We didn't know where he was … He was sleeping on the streets." However, a mother's heart will always be soft because Eden then visited her son on the streets. "I would always bring him food. I wanted to see my son, but I didn't trust him," she said.
By the time he turned 31, Eden saw her son changing or at least trying to change. "His life was on an even track. He had a lovely, lovely girl he was engaged to and they were going to get married in another month," she revealed. But the world of bodybuilding introduced him to steroids and he started using them extensively. In June 2001, he was found slumped over his steering wheel at a gas station. "Apparently he had taken a hit of heroin and he hadn't had it in quite a while, I guess," Eden said. "It killed him. It stopped his heart."
Right before his death, Ansara was making a lot of progress to a point where he told the actress, “Life is great, Mom. I can’t believe I spent so many years not being awake to how green the trees are,” as per People. Even she thought he was "winning the war," but he wasn't, and just like that he was gone.
During her stage show On The Magic Carpet With Barbara Eden, she admitted that Ansara was still in her heart and mind always because “you never lose that hurt." She added, “I live with it every day. The pain may be less sharp with the years but it never goes away. You go on. You choose life. But you hurt,” as per Express UK.
Talking about her grief in her autobiography Jeannie Out of the Bottle, she penned, “I’ve often been asked how anyone can cope with losing a child, and the answer is that you don’t. You can’t. There’s no way. You don’t know how you will get through it, how you can survive. But you just do. There’s no other choice,” reported Closer Weekly.
In the years that have passed by, she's tried finding every possible reason why her son could have chosen the path of substance abuse, but every time, she has failed. "I don’t have any answers. All I know is that I will always miss my sweet son," she wrote.
Cover image source: Getty Images | Photos by (L) Jason Kirk, (R) Jason Merritt