Tatum O’Neal experienced a health scare with an overdose in 2020, following decades of substance abuse. Suffering a six-week coma, a stroke and multiple seizures, it was unclear if she would ever recover. Since regaining consciousness, O’Neal has been working hard to build back her strength, with the support of her children.
Tatum O’Neal was a child star
Tatum O’Neal’s acting career began at the young age of 10, when she starred alongside her father, Ryan O’Neal, in the 1973 film, Paper Moon. Her portrayal of Addie Loggins earned her an Academy Award, making her the youngest actor to win a competitive Oscar. O’Neal went on to star in many other films and television shows.
As she grew older, the actor struggled with substance abuse. Her difficult relationships with her father and ex-husband, tennis pro John McEnroe, with whom she shares three children, likely contributed to her addiction. Speaking with PEOPLE, she shared, “I was an addict my whole life, pretty much on and off, for the past 30 to 40 years.”
Tatum O’Neal suffered an overdose in mid-2020
The beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic saw things take a turn for the worse, as Tatum O’Neal’s son, Kevin McEnroe, explained, “She had become very isolated. With the addition of morphine and heavier pharmaceuticals, it was getting scary. COVID, chronic pain, all these things led to a place of isolation. In that place, I don’t think, for her, there was much hope.”
In May 2020, O’Neal overdosed on a combination of prescription medication, opiates and morphine. A friend found her in her apartment, after which she was rushed to hospital. With the overdose, the actor suffered a severe stroke that put her in a six-week coma. She has reflected on the scare, saying, “I almost died.”
Kevin said that he and his siblings were concerned their mother wasn’t going to make it out alive. “There were times we didn’t think she was going to survive,” he said. “It was the phone call we’d always been waiting for.” Even if she did survive, they were scared O’Neal might not be able to walk or speak again.
When she first came out of the coma, O’Neal was unable to speak or communicate. She was subsequently diagnosed with aphasia and had damage to her right frontal cortex. “She didn’t know where she was,” Kevin told PEOPLE. “She couldn’t say, ‘I’m scared.'” During this time, pandemic restrictions were being strictly enforced, so the actor’s family couldn’t visit her to provide comfort.
A long and ongoing recovery process
For the last three years, Tatum O’Neal has been switching between multiple rehabilitation facilities to help her recover from her stroke and coma. It’s an ongoing process, as she continues to work on regaining her memory, as well as the ability to read and write.
Kevin McEnroe explained, “Emotionally the things that made my mom want to take drugs in the first place, those things are still very present.” Along with her physical and mental rehabilitation, O’Neal’s also working to overcome her addiction. She attends 12-step meetings under the strict supervision of her physician.
“I’ve been trying to get sober my whole life,” O’Neal told PEOPLE. “Every day, I am trying.”
Tatum O’Neal and her children are hopeful
While Tatum O’Neal continues to recover, her children are hopeful she’ll continue to get better each day. “She has embraced this attempt at recovery,” Kevin McEnroe explained. “She was always a very loving mom but when isolated, I think it was hard to find any love for herself.”
He continued, “So to me this last chapter where she wants to live, wants to get sober, wants to learn, I think it’s a miracle. I think it’s beautiful. I’ve never been more proud to be her son. She’s full of love and full of heart.”
O’Neal is also hopeful, and is committed to doing what it takes to get better, saying, “Every day I am trying. I want to be with my beautiful three kids.”