The dead body of early 20th-century West End star Billie Carleton was discovered by her maid in her apartment at the Savoy the morning after a victory ball at the Royal Albert Hall. London's aristocracy had attended en masse to celebrate the end of the first world war. Now, almost a century later, Carleton's death is the first to be marked with a white plaque as part of a new campaign to draw attention to flaws in the so-called war on drugs.
The scheme, modelled on the blue plaque scheme that recognises the homes of the famous, will see white, cocaine-coloured discs mounted on the walls of places associated with celebrities who have died from drug abuse.
The campaign has been launched to coincide with the British release of the film The House I Live In, co-produced by Brad Pitt and The Wire's creator, David Simon. The award-winning documentary examines US drug policy in particular, and the way it treats drug addiction as a crime, rather than a public health issue.
On Wednesday, the anniversary of the death of Carleton, Britain's earliest "celebrity" drug fatality, the first in a series of biodegradable plaques will go up. It will be placed on the wall of a house in Bernard Street, the actress's birthplace.
Born Florence Stewart in Bloomsbury, London, the daughter of a chorus singer, Carleton became a close friend of Noel Coward. She was a West End leading lady while still in her teens and was later immortalised as the inspiration for Coward's 1924 play The Vortex. She received her first break when the impresario CB Cochran promoted her from the chorus, but when he was told that his new star was attending opium parties, Cochran fired her.
Other white plaques will be affixed to buildings associated with deaths linked to drug abuse, such as Bramwell Brontë, the novelists' errant brother, the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein and the pre-Raphaelite muse Elizabeth Siddal.
[Pic: Part of a mock-up of the London plaque for Billie Carleton, in white instead of blue to highlight her drug-related death in 1918. Further white plaques are planned for celebrities including Beatles manager Brian Epstein]
Vanessa Thorpe, Observer arts and media correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 24 November 2012 16.55 GMT
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