The Tragedy and Torment of Lil Peep
It was five hours before showtime and Lil Peep was in the back of his tour bus, getting high with two young fans. They were smoking dabs, high-potency doses of concentrated weed that are vaporized, then inhaled. This was Tucson, Arizona, in November 2017, and the afternoon heat hovered in the mid-80s. In the back lounge, the AC was cranked, and Peep, wearing a black, studded vest and multicolored checkered pants, had folded his long, lean frame onto an upholstered seat. Between him and the fans was a plastic table scattered with lighters, pens, rolling papers, scissors, ground-up bits of marijuana and a black sticker with the phrase alive + well on it.
For then-16-year-old Nick Dowd, a massive Peep fan who’d come to the venue with his friend Mariah Bons, sitting on the bus with Peep was a dream come true. “He was the guy who spoke for me, things I could never put into words,” Dowd says. “I felt like he understood me.”
Peep’s tour bus had already crossed North America twice in six weeks, and the Tucson show was to be the tour’s second-to-last stop. The shows had been going well — most dates sold out, with mobs of kids trying to get close to Peep. For a 21-year-old who’d only started posting his songs online two years earlier, it had been a head-spinning rise.
Peep’s music was often tagged as SoundCloud rap, though he was as much rocker as rapper, sampling his favorite bands (Modest Mouse, Thirty Seconds to Mars, Death Cab for Cutie) and singing over low-fi trap beats in an intoxicating seen-it-all voice. In his lyrics, he talked shit about girls and his favorite drugs — Xanax, weed, cocaine, “cheap liquor on ice” — and grappled openly with depression and anxiety. In 2017, Pitchfork called him “the future of emo.” Peep, in his song “Crybaby,” tossed off a phrase that fit much of his catalog: “Music to cry to.”
Peep idolized Kurt Cobain, and it was easy to imagine him turning into a Kurt-like figure himself: an achingly pretty, blithely self-destructive superstar that a generation of kids could look to and see their pain reflected back at them. “He had this vulnerability to him, in the same way that Kurt did,” says Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz. Peep’s music, says Wentz, “unapologetically traversed genres in a weird way that my generation and generations older than me probably would’ve been too cautious about.”
In the two years since he began releasing music, Peep had scored a Top 40 album, walked as a runway model at Fashion Week in Milan and Paris, and collected close to 2 million followers on Instagram, where he posted photos and videos of himself drinking, smoking, getting tattoos and chopping up cocaine. “He probably had one more record before he hit critical mass,” says Wentz.
Although life on the road wore him down, Peep seemed genuinely happy to connect with Dowd and Bons that day in Tucson. The three talked video games, clothes, music; Peep even said he’d consider hiring one of them as a personal assistant. “He was in a very good mood,” says Dowd. At one point, Peep looked out the bus window at the clear late-afternoon Arizona sky. “Today is a good day,” he said. “Not every day is a good day, but today is. I feel good.”
Less than 30 minutes later, he nodded off and never woke up again.
On a frigid December evening more than a year later, Liza Womack sits at her kitchen table with the wreckage of her son’s death scattered all around. Womack, an intense, fiercely intelligent woman with long gray hair that makes her look more than a little like Patti Smith, lives in a small white house, barely set back from the road in Huntington, New York. The smell of fresh-baked cookies wafts from the oven, and a small dog named Taz is a hyperactive presence, barking fitfully. He used to belong to Peep.
On the table and counter in her kitchen, stacks of police reports, autopsy summaries and newspaper clippings mix with grocery lists and homework assignments from students in the elementary-school class she teaches. Womack, who separated from Peep’s father in 2012, lives here with Peep’s brother, Oskar, who’s two years older than Peep. “I had three days off for grief and then went back to work because somebody has to pay the rent,” she says.
Lil Peep’s autopsy ruled that his death was an accident caused by a combination of fentanyl and Xanax. The toxicology report found extremely high levels of both substances in Peep’s system, along with cocaine, marijuana and a slew of opiates. Womack has spent the long months since Peep died trying to make sense of it. “At home, he didn’t do drugs like this,” she says. “He knew not to do crazy stuff.”
Peep often spilled his darkest thoughts into his music, lacing his songs with lyrics like “I don’t want to die alone right now, but I admit I do sometimes.” But there is no indication he intended to die alone that afternoon. His death, the Tucson Police Department concluded, was an accident. Peep almost certainly didn’t realize he was taking fentanyl, which is deadly in even minuscule quantities. But something he took contained so much that he ended up with more than twice the lethal dose in his system.
This story is the result of more than two dozen interviews with friends, family and collaborators, as well as a review of police, autopsy, toxicology and EMT reports and thousands of text messages. It paints a picture of an artist who was headed for stardom, but who was also taking a variety of drugs and struggling with depression, anxiety and career pressures, all of which he talked about openly. Two and a half months before he died, Peep summed up the storm in his head in a text preserved on his phone: “I’m under a lot of pressure from a lot of people and I’m on a lot of drugs with no sleep.” Many questions still remain, and no one is more desperate for answers than Peep’s mom. “I just want to know what happened,” says Womack.
It was Womack who gave her son his nickname. Peep was born Gustav Ahr, and many who were close to him still call him “Gus.” When he was in kindergarten, the family hatched chicks at home, and Womack noticed a resemblance between her son and the hatchlings. “He was so cute, small and blond, like a little yellow chick,” she says. “So I started calling him ‘Peep.’ ”
Womack’s father was a well-known Harvard historian who wrote extensively about Marxism and labor movements in Latin America, and her mother worked as a young journalist in London and Mexico, then later became a community organizer. Womack met Peep’s Swedish father, Karl Johan Ahr, while the two were students at Harvard. Peep grew up in Long Beach, New York, a seaside community on Long Island’s South Shore. Peep rarely talked about his father, a history professor, beyond making it clear he had no real relationship with him after the divorce.
As a child, Peep excelled at sports, but his interests shifted toward video games, skateboarding and punk rock as he got older. Although English teachers saw a spark in him, he lost interest in school. He got his first tattoo at 15, but it was a peculiar act of rebellion: Fearful of his mother’s disapproval, he got her initials and birth date inked on his forearm. Peep began to loathe his hometown and, according to Womack, felt angry at the way wealthier kids looked down on him. (“I wanna burn my old high school into the ground/I hate everybody in my hometown/Tell the rich kids to look at me now,” he’d rhyme on “Cry Alone.”)
Peep developed intense anxiety around age 16, sometimes vomiting in the morning at the thought of going to school. “Gus was full of emotion and energy,” says Oskar. “He noticed things and reacted intensely. I recently got diagnosed on the autism spectrum, and I think Gus had elements of that. But I can apply my brain to things that have a logic to them, so I found solace in school.” His brother did not.
Womack was aware of Peep’s problems with anxiety and repeatedly tried to get him to see a psychologist. Instead, he self-medicated, mostly with weed and Xanax. He got his first face tattoo, a broken heart, at 17, as a sign of his commitment to avoiding the straight life. “A tattoo on your face,” he explained later, “is gonna stop you from getting a lot of jobs.”
Womack had raised her sons as budding socialists with a healthy distrust of authority, so it wasn’t particularly upsetting to have a tattooed, weed-smoking teenager who loved punk rock and hip-hop and hated school. (She didn’t know about his Xanax habit until much later.) “Look, we think American capitalism is a horrible thing,” she says, sitting beside Oskar on a couch in her living room. She and her sons had bonded over a mutual love of the rabble-rousing punk band NOFX, particularly the anti-corporate music-industry screed “Dinosaurs Will Die.”
Peep stopped going to school during his senior year, though he got his degree via a home-schooling program. He moved to L.A. to live with a friend, and briefly attended community college, but soon returned to Long Island. He began making music in his bedroom, using a MacBook outfitted with GarageBand and a microphone he bought at Guitar Center. He was thrilled with the idea of uploading his songs to SoundCloud. “He showed me a thing with [NOFX frontman] Fat Mike talking about this stuff and said, ‘It’s over! Anybody can do it! I can do it!’ ” Womack recalls. “I said, ‘Can you make any money doing this?’ And he said, ‘I just want to be able to support myself and not do some shit for somebody else that I don’t like doing.’ That’s all he wanted.”
By 2015, Peep felt confident enough in his abilities to return to L.A. and pursue a music career. He released his first mixtape that September, and soon after wrote in a text to a friend that “the best remedy for [depression] is not a pill it’s releasing music.” Peep started building a following online, but despite the buzz he was getting, his living situation was precarious. He couch-surfed a lot, eventually landing in a crowded loft on Skid Row with a rotating cast of rappers, producers and drug addicts.
Despite his emotional turmoil, Peep seemed to have an almost physical need to be around people, and they were drawn to him like a magnet. He connected with Lil Tracy, Fish Narc and Coldhart, all members of the emo-rap collective Gothboiclique (GBC). Peep was a fan of the group, and he jibed with Gothboiclique’s mix of influences — emo, punk, trap — and its dirtbag visual aesthetic. When they asked him to join, he jumped at the opportunity.
Oskar, who’d been instrumental in introducing Peep to much of the music he loved, was impressed with the way his brother had channeled his vulnerabilities into his music. But Oskar worried about the drug-fueled, social-media-saturated lifestyle that came with it. “Gus always was a person who mixed terribly with all that stuff,” he says. Oskar believed that the Xanax-popping, death-obsessed lothario of Peep’s songs was merely a persona. Peep himself would draw that distinction, later telling a friend that “Lil Peep is not well, but Gus is fine.” Over time, the line between the two seemed to disappear.
In the summer of 2016, someone showed Sarah Stennett a photo of Lil Peep. The Liverpool-born executive had co-founded a prominent British entertainment law firm before becoming CEO of First Access Entertainment, and helped launch the careers of Iggy Azalea and Ellie Goulding. She was floored by the photo. “I was like, ‘Oh, my God, he’s so beautiful,’ ” she says. “I was very taken with the visuals.”
Peep was stunning to look at — tall, graceful with an androgynous charisma that made him a magnet for both women and men. (In 2017, he came out as bisexual.) Stennett met with him, and says she asked about the drug use he’d flaunted in his songs. As she recalls it, Peep told her he “ ‘smoked weed, took Xanax,’ and I can’t remember what else,” but didn’t take heroin and wasn’t an addict. Stennett says she made it clear she discouraged drug use. “I said, ‘Look, I’m not here to chastise you for taking drugs — that’s not my job. What I can tell you is it’s very hard to reach your potential if you’re a drug user.’ ”
Soon after, Peep met Chase Ortega, a former punk musician who owns a merchandise company called the Hyv. Peep enlisted Ortega to run his merch, but he soon evolved into Peep’s manager, as well as a levelheaded presence in Peep’s chaotic orbit. Several record labels were circling, but Ortega encouraged him to sign with First Access, a division of the multinational industrial conglomerate Access Industries. “Sarah was the first one to be like, ‘I really believe in you. I’m willing to help you,’ ” says Ortega. “No one even came close to her enthusiasm.” “I felt very protective of him from day one,” Stennett says. She asked what he wanted from his career. “He said, ‘I want to be the biggest artist in the world and play stadiums,’ ” she says.
Peep signed a joint-venture agreement with FAE that paid him a $35,000 advance, devoted $300,000 to recording, tour support, marketing and brand development, and gave him a $6,000-a-month stipend. In return, he was bound to the company for a minimum of three years. (Stennett’s attorney says the relationship between FAE and Peep was not a management relationship, and though Stennett gave personal support, it was never in the context of management.) In Stennett’s interpretation, by signing, Peep “was effectively accepting that he was not part of Gothboiclique, that he was on his own. He knew he couldn’t bring everyone with him.”
Peep moved from Skid Row to his own place in L.A.’s Echo Park neighborhood, but the scene moved with him. The place became a virtual refugee camp for struggling SoundCloud artists. GBC co-founder Wicca Phase Springs Eternal, who visited the Echo Park house, says Peep was hospitable to a fault. “He felt guilty about being the one to rise to the top really quick, and as a result was overly welcoming,” he says. Drugs were a constant in the house. “Somebody screwed a dealer over, and a guy came in and put a gun to Gus’ head,” Womack says. “It was a shitshow.”
By the time Peep released his fourth full-length mixtape, Hellboy, in September 2016, his songs were starting to rack up millions of streams. Early in 2017, Peep launched his first headlining tour, playing dates in Russia, Europe and North America. As one person on the tour put it, “It was like Beatlemania — kids running in the streets.” Some fans lobbed bags of Xanax, cocaine and other drugs onstage while he was performing. Others cornered Peep to share their personal traumas. Peep was flattered by these encounters, but listening to stranger after stranger unload their problems also seemed depleting. “I don’t know what it was about Gus, but I think because he came up on the internet, kids just thought he was accessible to them, in every way,” says Sherwin Shapouri, Peep’s onetime tour manager.
The day of the tour’s last show, in L.A. May 10th, Peep arrived virtually incoherent. Fish Narc says Peep was slumped, vomiting, nodding off and stammering about having taken an “oxy,” likely meaning the opioid oxycodone. Ortega wanted to cancel the show: “I called Sarah and said, ‘Maybe I’ll just call the fire department. We can make a play that it’s a capacity thing so we’re protecting Peep’s reputation and not saying, ‘He’s overdosing.’ ” Stennett agreed the show should be canceled. “I went to Peep,” says Ortega, “and he was adamant: ‘No, I can do it.’ ”
When the show started, Peep ambled listlessly onstage and began half-singing, half-mumbling along to the backing track for “Hellboy.” Moving to the center of the stage, he hid his face behind his arm as clouds from the smoke machine billowed around him. After the song, Peep managed to pull himself together and finish the set. But, says Fish Narc, the whole episode “hurt to watch.”
Stennett says she and Ortega tried on a regular basis to seek counseling for Peep, eventually persuading him to see a therapist who specialized in trauma and drug dependency. (He went once and never returned.) Stennett also encouraged Peep to get out of L.A. “We financed a house in London, and he made a home there,” she says. “It was a very different environment. There was no chaos. I always made sure we had food for him in the fridge. . . . There were no people just dropping in.”
Peep loved London but seemed conflicted about the distance he was putting between himself and his friends in GBC, and was also increasingly conflicted about First Access. He grew frustrated about the sluggish pace of the release schedule for his debut album, Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 1, and seemed unenthused about the long tour that was to begin in Europe in September. Ortega assured him by text that the album would drop “this week for sure. Sarah and I are on it.” (Ortega doesn’t recall sending this text.)
Peep wasn’t appeased. He could be difficult — he was impulsive, he was stubborn, and as Womack herself says, “He could have temper tantrums.” “I’m not enjoying my life,” he replied in a series of texts to Ortega on August 13th. “I don’t want to be lil peep g I’d rather work at Starbucks. . . . I just feel like I should be doing everything that first access is trying to do for me because they don’t have shit on me and they should be paying me to do their job. They’re all fucking dumb and suck at their jobs or they just aren’t from the new generation and don’t get it.” According to Gothboiclique’s Mackned, “Peep was going to leave First Access. He told us that many times.”
On August 16th, Stennett was due to fly to New York. In a pair of texts preserved on Lil Peep’s phone, Ortega wrote, “Cool for sarah to call you? She’s about to get to NYC. Also she has canal for you lol.” “*xanax.” On the same day, Stennett texted Peep: “I’m about to land at JFK. I have one 2m x and 4 x .25. Are u close to airport,” she wrote in texts preserved on Lil Peep’s phone. “I can pop by and say hi or u can get in morning. Let me know.” Stennett’s text seems to refer to two common Xanax pills — a 2-milligram and .25-milligram. (Ortega says he has no recollection of sending that August 16th text and that it’s not on his phone. Through her attorney, Stennett categorically denies ever giving any form of drug, prescription or otherwise, to Peep. She says that on this one occasion, Peep was entering an “anxiety spiral” over a series of upcoming interviews and she “felt it would make him feel better and calm him if she said what she thought he wanted to hear . . . although she actually had no intention of giving him any medication.”)
With the European leg of the Come Over When You’re Sober tour looming, Peep began to bristle under Ortega’s management. Peep suggested taking several GBC members with him on the North American segment of the tour, to begin on October 2nd in Seattle. “We were getting the feeling that one or two individuals in GBC were sort of bullying him, making him make these decisions,” says Ortega. “We just said, ‘We want you to be healthy and productive, and don’t think that GBC should be on this tour.’ Also, at that point, GBC were telling him to fire me. He made the decision: ‘No. They’re coming on this tour.’ ”
By the time Peep landed in Poland to start the tour, he and Ortega had stopped communicating. Daisy Quin, who worked in Stennett’s office at FAE, became a liaison between Peep and the company. Steve Paul, who had previously worked with Peep and FAE in London, tour-managed the European dates.
Shortly before the first show on the North American leg, the vans of previous tours were replaced with a bus, and a new tour manager, Belinda Mercer, was contracted to work alongside Paul. According to Stennett, Quin found Mercer, then Ortega interviewed her. “Chase then calls me and says, ‘She seems very firm and tough,’ ” says Stennett. “ ‘I think she’ll be a great solution.’ ” Stennett and FAE, through their attorney, say that Peep ultimately made the decision to hire her.
The bus, which had 12 bunks, was crowded and grimy. Along with Peep, Mercer, Paul and the bus driver, the traveling crew included a merch guy, a lighting director, a videographer, a British opening act named Bexey, and a rotating cast of GBC members, some of whom served as opening acts. Others traveled with the tour for stretches, including Arzaylea Rodriguez, an Instagram influencer Peep met the day of the tour’s L.A. show. She became his girlfriend, mostly staying on tour until leaving for work the night before Peep died.
Peep spent nearly all his time on the bus, rarely leaving to walk around a city, get a meal or even just pop into a hotel room. “He was keeping weird hours, too,” says Wicca, who was on the first few weeks of the tour. “He’d go to bed in the afternoon, wake up a half hour before he had to play, then be up all night. When your main hours awake are when the bus is traveling to the next city, there’s not much to do except drink, do drugs or play video games.”
The division of responsibilities between Paul and Mercer wasn’t clear. As Paul understood it, “Her involvement was to run the tour. My involvement was to look after Peep.” New to the job, Mercer was, in Paul’s view, trying to “make an impression” on Peep. “It was just like, ‘This girl’s a bit too close. She’s trying too hard to win him over.’ ”
One person on the bus says, “I’ve never seen that many drugs before in my life.” And it wasn’t only weed, booze, Xanax and cocaine. Mackned, another of the tour’s opening acts, admits he was a heavy opiate user at the time. He looked to score at most tour stops, though he insists, “It was all for personal use.”
According to someone who was on the tour, “The drug that seemed to be popular with Gus, with Belinda, was ketamine. When I’d see Gus on ketamine it was alarming because it really wiped him out, made him nonfunctioning. . . . And I’d known it was Be-linda who got it for him at least once.” Several others on the bus confirm Mercer was using and giving people on the tour ketamine. Mackned says she employed it at times as leverage to get people on tour to do what she needed. “Belinda, she’s kind of a pimp,” he says. “She kept us in line with drugs. We were like her ho’s. We were fucking ketamine ho’s.” (Mercer did not agree to an interview for this story and responded through her lawyer to an initial series of questions, including queries about whether she used and gave out a variety of drugs on the bus, that “these accusations are inaccurate and untrue.” Further, Mercer’s lawyer stated that others on the tour were frequent drug users whose accounts may be unreliable. Mercer also did not respond to a subsequent comprehensive set of questions about her time as tour manager, declining the opportunity to answer the allegations that she used and gave out ketamine on the bus.)
On October 22nd, Peep sent Mercer a text: “Ket.” She responded, “Don’t have any left. It’s coming in the morning.” Later that day, she texted to ask him, “How many blue.” Peep’s next text to Mercer: “Perc! Plz,” a likely reference to the painkiller Percocet.
According to Wicca, FAE warned Mercer about giving out drugs. “There was a day where [Paul] sat me, Yawns, Fish Narc, Mackned and Bexey down and said, ‘Listen, we talked to Belinda, Daisy talked to Belinda, First Access talked to her. They said one more mishap like that and she’s out.” Mackned recalls the same conversation. Fish Narc remembers hearing that message, if not that exact conversation. (Both Stennett’s and Quin’s attorney, as well as Paul, say that no such conversation ever took place. In an interview, Paul claimed to be in the dark about Mercer’s alleged behavior, saying, “I never knew she was leaving to get drugs and bring it back,” though at least four people on the tour say that Paul knew.)
Others on the bus say they mentioned Mercer’s behavior to Quin, who flew out to meet the tour on multiple occasions. Quin declined an interview for this story, but in a letter, her attorney wrote that she “categorically denies that she had been told by anyone during the tour that Ms. Mercer was allegedly providing drugs to Lil Peep and others,” and that “she does not recall anyone criticizing Ms. Mercer or bringing up her behavior in relation to drugs.” Stennett’s attorney says she and FAE knew nothing of Mercer allegedly providing drugs on the bus. “I can’t get into all of what Daisy was or wasn’t made aware of,” Stennett says. “It’s very hard for me to say what people were doing on that bus. I wasn’t there.”
The bus arrived at the Peace Bridge border crossing between Buffalo, New York, and Fort Erie, Ontario, around 8 a.m. on October 25th. Everyone on board was told by Canada Border Services personnel to exit the vehicle. Peep had on a long white-and-black-checked coat that reeked of weed but had no drugs on him. When a drug-sniffing dog made a beeline for him, he casually smiled and petted the dog. Officers and dogs searched the bus for drugs, and separated Mercer from the rest of the group. Mercer was led to the back of the border-patrol station. “They were interrogating her,” says Yawns, the tour’s DJ. Everyone else sat in the waiting area. Hours passed. Benedict Maxwell, FAE’s senior vice president of legal and business affairs, was notified that the bus had been stopped at the border. At 1:53 p.m., Peep texted his girlfriend, “I been at the Canadian border for 7 hours :/ I think they arrested my tour manager.” In the late afternoon, the bus was allowed to cross into Canada with everyone except Mercer.
The tour raced on to Toronto without Mercer, and arrived in time to do that night’s show. Mercer was later released, crossed into Canada on her own and rejoined the tour later that night. (Through her attorney, Quin says she was told the bus was let through the border after being initially stopped, but that Mercer was detained. Later, she was informed that Mercer paid a $2,000 fine, but did not know the reason for it. Stennett says she was told “the bus was detained, but nobody told me it was anything to do with Belinda.”)
Eleven days later, in Miami, Peep connected with rapper Fat Nick, whom several people, including Lil Tracy, accused of giving Peep, who turned 21 on November 1st, a large amount of Xanax and opiates as a birthday present. Yawns recalls a FaceTime call when Nick asked Peep, “ ‘What do you want for your birthday?’ Gus is like, ‘50 Xans, 50 Percs.’ Nick was like, ‘I got you!’ ” Nick, who’s now signed with FAE, denies having that conversation and giving Peep the drugs.
Whatever the case, Peep soon had a significant stash of Xanax and opiates with him, according to GBC’s Horse Head and Fish Narc. “Those last shows were just more high because Peep shared a lot,” says Fish Narc. “I don’t take opiates, but I did take some of the Xans, and other people did as well.”
Quin joined the tour in New Orleans, and had preliminary discussions about Peep’s plans for 2018, which included a possible tour of Australia with a band featuring Fish Narc and Yawns. There’s conflicting evidence of Peep’s plans for GBC — in one text he had mentioned leaving the group — but nobody really knew what those plans were, probably not even Peep. He had a way of telling people what they wanted to hear. “I think people had different experiences with Peep and he was somewhat chameleonic,” says Fish Narc. “Don’t interpret me as saying he was fake, because he was real about every side he showed. That’s what was so exhausting for him.”
On November 14th, the tour rolled into El Paso, Texas, and Peep found several things that enraged him about the venue — for one, it was too small to fit his stage set. Womack spoke to her son that day for the last time: “He said, ‘I’m in El Paso and I’m fucking not doing [the show]. I’m fucking furious. I’m being a prima donna. They’re putting me in these shit little venues. I should be playing stadiums.’ I said ‘What about the fans?’ ‘Fuck the fans! I’m fucking sick of this!’ ”
Someone suggested that if Peep took a bunch of Xanax and got sick, insurance would cover the cancellation. He posted a video to Instagram that afternoon of him dropping Xanax into his mouth — he claimed to have taken six pills — but by posting the video publicly, he made clear he wasn’t actually sick, which meant, presumably, insurance would no longer cover the canceled date. The show had to go on. Gothboiclique’s Horse Head, who was with Peep in El Paso, says that by this point in the tour “the drugs were kind of normalized.” Although he admits the idea of taking so many Xanax “is fucking insane. I just figured he can handle himself.”
The El Paso show ended up going well. But earlier that day, Peep posted another video, alongside a short sad message. It’s unclear what specifically was on his mind, but his despair rings out: “I just wana be everybody’s everything I want too much from people but then I don’t want anything from them at the same time u feel me I don’t let people help me but I need help but not when I have my pills but that’s temporary one day maybe I won’t die young and I’ll be happy? What is happy I always have happiness for like 10 seconds and then it’s gone. I’m getting so tired of this.”
The last day of Lil Peep’s life began much like any other on the tour. He was still sleeping, around noon, as the bus pulled up to the Rock, a 600-capacity venue on the edge of downtown Tucson. By around 3:30 p.m., he was awake, taking photos and chatting with fans outside the bus. This was when Nick Dowd and Mariah Bons approached him. According to Dowd and Mackned, Bons had corresponded with Mackned, the GBC rapper, via Twitter DM earlier in the day. Mackned had put out a message with a so-called plug emoji, asking if anyone in the Tucson area could hook him up with drugs — specifically opiates. Dowd says neither he nor Bons knew how to get opiates, but he had weed and THC wax, and Bons got some Xanax. (Bons declined to be interviewed for this story.)
Outside the bus, Peep took photos with Dowd and Bons. Dowd says he pulled a few joints from his pocket and asked Peep if he wanted to smoke or dab. Peep invited them on the bus. Dowd says it was around this time that Bons gave her bag of Xanax to Mackned, though Mackned denies this, insisting Peep had the bag.
Fish Narc says he walked off the bus as Peep walked back on. “He offered me a Xan but I asked him to split it in half,” says Fish Narc. “I took it and then I don’t remember anything.” Fish Narc blacked out at a local restaurant. He was led back to the bus and put to sleep in his bunk.
Dowd insists he was with Peep from the time they met until the moment he lost consciousness about 45 minutes later, and never saw him take any pills. Bons, in a series of Instagram direct messages obtained by Rolling Stone, said the same thing. Outside the bus, Bons had told Peep about her brother, a huge fan who was in prison on an aggravated-assault charge. Peep tweeted, “Free my biggest fan Nick bons I love you,” then offered to play them music he’d recently recorded with the rapper iLoveMakonnen.
“This is where things got weird,” says Dowd. As Peep was shutting the lounge’s door, he began nodding off. “His eyes shut and his head went forward. Then me or Mariah was just like, ‘Gus!’ and he snapped out of it.” Dowd says Peep told them he’d taken “Roxys” before meeting them, likely a reference to the opiate Roxicodone. In an Instagram direct message, Bons recalled Peep’s exact words: “Sorry guys, I took 60 milligrams of roxi earlier.”
Peep moved to a longer couch and nodded off again. Dowd and Bons woke him and asked him to play the Makonnen music. Then Dowd lit a joint, smoked some of it and passed it to Peep. “He started smoking it, then fell asleep again,” says Dowd, “and this time it was a hard sleep where his head went back.”
Bons’ brother called to talk to Peep, so Dowd shook Peep’s shoulder and kicked him in an effort to wake him, but wasn’t able to. Dowd and Bons moved to the front of the bus, where they took photos with Mackned and told him Peep was passed out, but according to Mackned, there was no sense of alarm about it. According to Dowd, Mercer stepped on the bus around 5 p.m., and Dowd and Bons left.
Dowd says he didn’t tell anyone other than Mackned about Peep’s state, but Bons, in her direct messages, wrote, “I told EVERYONE on the bus they needed to check on him.”
Mercer would tell detectives she saw Peep sleeping upright on the couch around 5:30 p.m. “He was snoring,” she said. “I tried to wake him up and he sort of reacted. His body wasn’t stiff or loose. He kind of moved around a bit but didn’t really wake up.” She further told police that she checked on him again about 15 minutes later, and saw he was still snoring. (In a letter to Rolling Stone, Mercer’s attorney says, “My client did not give drugs to Lil Peep or anyone else on the tour on the day Lil Peep died.”)
Bexey says he came back from a shopping trip around this time, and says he also saw Peep snoring. He then made and posted a video he intended as a joke. Bexey talks to the camera: “Apparently, Peep’s at the back of the bus doing press-ups, sit-ups, working on his six-pack, his muscles. I’m gonna see for myself.” Bexey pans to Peep, unconscious, mouth open, head back, leaning against a window. Bexey deadpans to the camera, “Oh.” Paul says he checked on Peep around 6:40 p.m. and believed he was sleeping.
Several people heard Peep snoring. In fact, he was probably dying. “That’s the story we hear in almost all opioid overdose deaths,” says Jonathan Eisenstat, a forensic pathologist who is the chief medical examiner for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and who was shown the autopsy, toxicology and EMT reports on Peep’s death. “Their respiratory function is decreasing. People lose their ability to protect their airways, so they start snoring.”
Paul told police that around 8:45 p.m. he went to wake up Peep for that night’s performance, as he normally did, and found him in the same position he’d seen him more than two hours earlier. Paul ran and found Horse Head, who accompanied him back onto the bus. When Horse Head saw Peep, he knew it was bad. “He was pale, his lips were blue,” he says. “Immediately, I was like, ‘We have to call the fucking ambulance!’ ” Horse Head retrieved Mercer, and Paul called 911 at 8:53 p.m. Operating on instructions from the 911 operator, Mercer pulled Peep onto the floor and began chest compressions. Three minutes later, paramedics arrived. Peep had no pulse and wasn’t breathing. They administered Narcan, dextrose and epinephrine. Nothing worked. Eventually, they quit resuscitation efforts.
Word filtered out slowly at first. Horse Head performed two songs in an effort to keep fans inside the venue. Once they spilled onto the street, though, it was pandemonium. Fights broke out. Some fans strained to take photos of Peep’s body being removed from the bus. Others wept openly.
So how did the fentanyl end up in Peep’s system? The answer to this question has serious consequences: Under federal law, distributing fentanyl that causes death can carry a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence. Several people have been interviewed by either the Tucson PD or the DEA, but nobody has been charged. The Tucson PD closed the investigation without reaching a conclusion about the fentanyl’s origin. The DEA, following its policy, will neither confirm nor deny whether its investigation is continuing. Eisenstat, the forensic pathologist, says that in opioid overdoses, calling 911 early on can save a life, but there’s no guarantee.
None of this should obscure Peep’s own responsibility for what happened. As Stennett points out, “You could’ve had our Lord himself with Gus on that bus and he still would’ve done what he wanted to. . . . Anybody who takes drugs makes a decision to take a risk.”
The story of a bus full of young dudes barnstorming across America, high on drugs and the first blush of fame, is the story of rock & roll. “When something really starts going, like ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit,’ or like Peep, there’s really not much of a manual you can give somebody,” says Wentz, whose posthumous collaboration with Peep and Makonnen, “I’ve Been Waiting,” was released in January. But the pressures Peep and other young artists have faced are also distinctly modern. SoundCloud rap is only a few years old, but the careers of three of its most prominent stars — XXXTentacion, Tekashi 6ix9ine and Peep — have ended disastrously. In an era when an artist’s rise to fame can be instantaneous, when living your life on social media seems to be a prerequisite for a certain kind of stardom, how does the music industry cope? “One thing I will say is if someone is struggling very vocally in their art,” Wentz says, “our job as the music community is to reach out to them. Peep seemed like someone who had so much more to say.”
Womack controls Peep’s estate and has tried to stay involved in his career and his posthumous releases, including last November’s Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 2, which debuted at Number Four on the chart. She’s also an executive producer, along with family friend Terrence Malick and Stennett, on a new Peep documentary, Everybody’s Everything, produced by FAE’s Benjamin Soley. But she often feels overwhelmed. “I’m a naive schoolteacher,” she says, as she pours herself a cup of tea and sits at the kitchen table. “I didn’t get into the music business by choice.”
Womack has coped with her grief to some extent by wrapping herself in these things — his unreleased music, his merch, the investigation into his death. She has listened to every recording he has ever made, read every police report, and watched videos over and over of her son’s last day. The weeks and months since then have left her exhausted and almost numb. Almost.
As she sits at her kitchen table scrolling through YouTube videos, she accidentally clicks one of Peep flamboyantly swallowing pills for the camera in the last days of his life, and for a moment, the wall she’s built up to protect herself crumbles. Her face visibly breaks. She’s no longer his advocate, his investigator or the administrator of his estate. She’s just his mom. She places her nose inches from the screen, as if trying to get close enough to whisper a warning to him, closes her eyes and shakes her head.
“Oh, goddamn it. Fucking Gus.”
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