Travis Barker rarely discusses the aftermath of the devastating 2008 plane crash that killed his assistant Chris Baker and security guard, Charles Monroe Still Jr., as well as two pilots. The fiery accident left Barker with burns over 65% of his body and required 26 surgeries and several skin grafts during a three-month hospitalization.
In an interview with Men’s Health magazine, the Blink-182 drummer describes what it’s like to be the lone survivor from the accident — his close friend and musical parter, DJ AM (Adam Goldstein) was also injured in the crash and died a year later from a drug overdose — and how his injuries and the long rehab from the accident inspired him to get clean. The drummer and in-demand producer hasn’t stepped foot on a plane since that awful day in 2008, though the story hints that he has an agreement with someone “very close to him” that some day, they will surprise him with a surprise trip.
“There’s a million things that could happen to me,” he told the magazine. “I could die riding my skateboard. I could get in a car accident. I could get shot. Anything could happen. I could have a brain aneurysm and die. So why should I still be afraid of airplanes?” The crash happened after DJ AM and Barker played a show in South Carolina, and the private plane they were taking had its tires blow out during takeoff.
Barker and AM escaped, with the DJ using his shirt to put out the jet fuel flames that engulfed his friend. The drummer was in the hospital for three months, and was unable to attend his friends’ funerals. And though it’s understandable that he might not fly again, Barker said, “I have to … I want to make the choice to try and overcome it.”
The drummer said after the incident, he and AM were “each other’s therapists,” searching together for a support network of other people who’d survived plane crashes, but found that they didn’t really exist. “So it was just him and me,” he said. “When he left, I was like, ‘Oh, f—. I’m the only one in my club. It’s just me.”
The aftermath and the brutal recovery inspired Barker to quit abusing subscription painkillers and smoking copious amounts of weed and to flush all the medications he was sent home with from the hospital down the toilet. According to the interview, the musician had developed such a high opioid tolerance that he’d sometimes wake up during surgery.
“People are always like, ‘Did you go to rehab?’ ” Barker said. “And I [say], ‘No, I was in a plane crash.’ That was my rehab. Lose three of your friends and almost die? That was my wake-up call. If I wasn’t in a crash, I would have probably never quit.”
He’s continued his recovery since then with the launch of his vegan CBD line, Barker Wellness Co. While he still has the occasional drink and a taste of his company’s THC edibles, he mostly uses his CBD products to manage residual pain from hours of drumming and to help him sleep.
“I was told I wasn’t going to run again because I had so many grafts on my feet, and there was even talk of me never playing the drums again,” Barker shared of the initially grim prognosis for his recovery. But he took it as a challenge, even teaching himself how to drum right-handed. “As soon as I could walk, I could run. As soon as I could move my hands and my hands healed, I was playing drums. And now I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been.”
His recovery also included therapy to deal with PTSD and survivor’s guilt, which included many sleepless nights.
“I was dark. I couldn’t walk down the street,” he said of the aftermath. “If I saw a plane [in the sky], I was determined it was going to crash, and I just didn’t want to see it.” Even on his tour bus, Barker described constantly feeling like he was bracing for impact, waiting for something terrible to happen for a long time afterwards.
A vegan since 2009, he now runs three or four miles a day and does boxing workouts with a trainer, has begun doing guided breath work and, of course he practices his highly physical style of drumming every day. “It’s gotten better the further I get away from it,” Barker said. “The closer I was to it, it felt like I was closer to the bad stuff than I am to the good stuff. I felt closer to the experience of trying to escape, [to] being in an accident and being burned, trying to grab my friends from a burning plane. That haunted me for a long time. And as long as I was closer to that than this good stuff, I was always thinking about that. Now it’s been so many years, it’s getting easier for me. There are days where I’ll wake up and never think about it.”
And, his friends are never far from him. He has memorial tattoos on his legs from everyone he lost in the crash, as well as others who’ve died over the years, including his mom, Gloria, who died from cancer when he was 13. “You have to constantly practice it, letting go of the trauma,” Barker said. “You know what I mean? Just to be like everyone else.”