On the Paula Abdul post a couple weeks ago, I commented that I had a write-up that was almost ready to go. This goes far more in depth than that post and was heavily requested so hopefully it does not get removed this time.
In July I saw this comment
and decided to look up the plane crash story, expecting it to be easily explainable one way or another. But instead I wound up with differing accounts from Paula Abdul herself, articles claiming she was lying, and lots of random gossip
. So I figured I’d try to piece it together myself.
The story goes like this:
In 1992 1,
Paula Abdul was flying from a performance in St. Louis to Denver while on her Under My Spell Tour (sometimes called the “Spellbound” tour, the name of the album she was promoting at this time). Then, over a cornfield in Iowa
, Abdul in 2019 said the following took place:
“It all happened when I boarded a seven-seater plane and an hour into the flight one of the engines blew up and the right wing caught fire and everything went black...I woke up in the hospital only to find that I had crushed my cervical spine, leaving me partially paralyzed.”
She also stated that she underwent 15 spinal surgeries
as a result of her injuries both from this and prior incidents.
But 2019 was not the first time she told this story. According to Abdul in 2005
, she took one day off and she continued to perform. The 2005 account mostly matched her earliest mention
of the accident in 2003. Then, in 2019, she described waking up in the hospital, partially paralyzed. The story changes in bits every time, and there is no documented mention of it at all before Abdul’s 2003 NBC interview. It’s stranger the more you read about it, and there don’t seem to be concrete answers.
What we do know for sure is that Paula Abdul’s career took a hit shortly after the time she claims the crash took place. Abdul’s next era following Spellbound, Head Over Heels, was her worst selling release
. She was divorced twice between 1994 and 1998. Between her Spellbound era and about 1996, Abdul seemed to stay out of the spotlight. Part of this was due to her seeking treatment for her bulimia
in 1994, which came with rumors
that she was being treated for opioid addiction at the same time. Her career and personal life seemed to have gone downhill after her Under Your Spell tour, and it’s debated whether this was because
of her plane crash, or whether the plane crash was invented to sweep this under the rug.
There are a few aspects of Abdul’s story that are pointed to as proof that she is lying. Dates:
Abdul claims to have performed in St. Louis before the fateful flight, heading to Denver, and to have boarded immediately following this performance. Her own website
does not list a St. Louis tour date (although there is a date for Greenwood Village, near Denver, on June 10, 1992). The Wikipedia page for the tour uses the same dates as Abdul’s website. This has been used by some theorists as proof that the whole story is fabricated, since it gives the appearance that there wouldn’t have been a St. Louis to Denver flight at all. However, while Abdul’s own website lacks any mention of these dates, there is some evidence she may have flown from St. Louis to Denver between June 19 and June 22, 1992. 2
Rich Juzwiak at Jezebel dug up records
that give us a possible date for the alleged crash. The Jezebel article cites a St. Louis Post Dispatch article
from June 21, 1992, talking about a Paula Abdul concert the previous Friday at the Riverport Ampitheater. This sets a date of June 19, 1992 for St. Louis. The same Jezebel article also cites an Entertainment Weekly article
from September 25, 1992, which refers to Abdul performing a show at the Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre in a suburb of Denver on June 22. Abdul’s website lists no shows between the June 10 show in Greenwood Village and the June 23 show in Seattle. This means that there is a gap that these other two shows fit into, although it is odd they aren’t listed as part of the tour despite being
part of the tour.
EDIT: As referenced in footnote 2, the Jezebel article had an edit claiming that a reader had found a Kansas City Star article listing a June 20, 1992 date at the Sandstone Ampitheater in Bonner Springs, outside of Kansas City. I couldn't find this as I was writing, but u/bookdrops
dug up this
Springfield News-Leader article from June 19, 1992 that references the same June 20 date at the Sandstone Ampitheater. This means that there was
a date between the St. Louis and Denver shows that have been found, and to me this rules out there being a St. Louis to Denver flight at all. She could have mistaken Kansas City for St. Louis or misremembered, but her stated flight path doesn't seem to have happened. Possible drug addiction:
Abdul’s 2009 Ladies Home Journal interview describes her spending Thanksgiving 2008 weaning herself off of a painkiller addiction:
The rumors that her sometimes-bizarre behavior was fueled by drugs just may have been true. Abdul was taking heavy-duty pain killers, though she claims she never shot an Idol episode under the influence. But last Thanksgiving, determined to overcome her habit, she checked into the La Costa Resort and Spa, in Carlsbad, California, to wean herself off her medications in one fell swoop. "I could have killed myself.... Withdrawal -- it's the worst thing," she says. "I was freezing cold, then sweating hot, then chattering and in so much pain, it was excruciating. But at my very core, I did not like existing the way I had been.”
Fans and tabloids during Abdul’s run as an American Idol judge often commented
on her strange behavior, although she was quick to explain
. The LHJ interview had direct quotes from her talking about her struggle with drug addiction.
...And then Paula Abdul went on record saying she had never said those things
. In fact, according to her, she has never even been drunk
. Abdul does not seem to have refuted that she went to a place called La Costa in Carlsbad, California, but she was adamant that it was just a normal spa and she had been there for only three days. While there is
a rehab center
in Carlsbad called La Costa, the article refers to “La Costa Resort and Spa”
, which is an actual resort and spa.
Despite Abdul’s denials, there is still rampant speculation that she is or was addicted to painkillers. There’s certainly no clear-cut evidence proving she was ever an addict, but it’s also nearly impossible to disprove something. Especially when there is so much circumstantial evidence, such as her “strange” behavior that the tabloids latched onto.
Worth noting for this point is the fact that Abdul has consistently been open about her diagnosis with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, an incredibly painful condition. This, in conjunction with her (also consistent) story about a cheerleading accident in high school followed by several smaller car accidents over the years, means that Paula Abdul already has a pretty good reason to be using painkillers. RSD and any severe chronic pain can sometimes also cause people to seem “spacey” or “loopy”, which could also explain why so many people thought she was acting strange during the time she was on American Idol. Crash records:
The strongest piece of evidence cited by those who believe Paula Abdul is lying is the lack
of evidence. There seems to be no record of this crash ever having happened. Her tour ran from October 1991 to August 1992 and despite having searched accident records 3
for that timespan I have been unable to find any record of this crash. I’ll admit to not being knowledgeable about aviation records, but it also seems telling that no one else has been able to find these records either. Abdul has denounced those who doubt her claims and while I can’t speak definitively, I would think she or her publicist would have pointed to an NTSB report if there was one.
Additionally, Abdul has been quoted several times as saying the plane landed in a cornfield in Iowa
. This doesn’t fit with her claim that the flight was from St. Louis to Denver. The flight she claims to have taken is pretty much straight west, and crashing in Iowa would require a significant detour north. Not impossible, but certainly implausible at least from a layman’s understanding of air travel.
an NTSB report
for an eight seater (not seven) plane crashing into a field in Nebraska (not Iowa), a full month before the Under My Spell tour began. It also seems to have taken off in Nebraska with an intended destination elsewhere in Nebraska, rather than going to either St. Louis or Denver, and it crashed shortly after takeoff rather than the claimed forty minutes to an hour into the flight. I cannot find any news about what Abdul would’ve been doing in Nebraska in September 1991, so I don’t believe this is the accident. There is also a record
of an accident in Englewood, Colorado on June 10, 1992. Paula Abdul had a concert in nearby Greenwood Village on the same day, but the description of the plane and accident do not match her story at all. These two are the only records that I have seen that match any part of her story, and neither is a good fit.
Theories: Theory 1:
Paula Abdul was actually in some sort of incident on a plane in 1992, but has embellished what happened and this is why no one has been able to track down records of the event. The most common theory in this camp is that the plane experienced some turbulence, she wasn’t wearing her seatbelt, and she experienced an injury. This possibly compounded with previous injuries (such as the cheerleading accident she often mentions in conjunction with the plane crash story) and caused severe harm, but the plane did not crash. There’s a lot of overlap between this theory and the others, and how much overlap exists between theories depends on who you ask. Theory 2:
Paula Abdul was not in any aviation accidents in 1992 and she is using this story to cover up painkiller use and/or her extended absence from the limelight before her American Idol job.
One of these theories revolves around the idea that Paula invented the plane crash in 2003, after regaining the limelight as an American Idol judge, to give herself an excuse for falling out of the public eye and to distract from the downturn in her career and personal life during this period. The other, more popular theory, is that she used the plane crash as an excuse to either explain away her loopy behavior
during her American Idol years as non-drug related (if you believe 2005 USA Today “I have never been addicted to anything” Paula Abdul) or
to excuse it as being caused by medication
prescribed to her for her injuries. Theory 3:
Paula Abdul is telling the truth about being in a crash and her story was brought into doubt due to some unfortunate gaps in information, such as the NTSB records being incomplete/the accident not being reported at all, her own choice to keep quiet for an extended period of time, and miscommunications about whether or not she was using pain medication. There is enough room for the basic story to be true. Admittedly, the story has changed so much that at least some versions will be lies even if one version was the truth. If this is the case I will certainly apologize for fueling speculation otherwise...but I would consider this the least likely option.
Regardless of whatever the actual story is regarding the plane crash, it’s pretty clear that Paula Abdul struggles with chronic pain and I do not intend to make light of this at all or to shame her if she has struggled with addiction. It’s just very strange that there is no proof of this event ever happening. Did Paula Abdul get injured on a plane in 1992? Was she covering for a painkiller addiction, and was that part of why she went to rehab in 1994? Was she covering for being out of the spotlight? Is Paula Abdul actually sober like she claims, and is her strange behavior actually just her being Paula Abdul rather than drugs or alcohol? Was this a ploy for attention that ripped off of Gloria Estefan
’s accident? Why did it take eleven years after the alleged accident for there to be a single documented mention of it? I’m very curious what everyone else thinks about this case.
My personal theory (which is based as much on gut feelings as it is on actual information, since the info is so spotty) is that she was on a plane during the Under My Spell tour, wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, and was injured when the plane experienced turbulence mid-flight. This compounded her existing spinal injuries and her condition deteriorated for several years until around 1994 her health problems prevented her from working. She took a break from the limelight to recover, came back for American Idol, and decided to embellish her story to garner sympathy and distract from the other issues (the relative commercial failure of Head Over Heels, her divorces) that contributed to her break. I’m unsure on whether or not she had an addiction to painkillers but I lean towards “no”. Her story of using alternative medicine in response to her injuries from the crash partially convinced me that the strange behavior people point to as proof of her being on drugs is actually just her being herself. She seems like a bit of an odd duck.
Some articles list 1993 as the date of the crash, including some quotes from Abdul herself, but in the grand scheme of things this did not seem particularly significant. The tour she mentions ran from 1991 to 1992, and most articles state 1992. Because of this I am assuming that this is a mistake rather than an actual lie. Specifically the 2009 Ladies Home Journal interview says she was in a car accident in 1992 that caused a neck injury, and places the plane crash in 1993. This is the closest thing to a “contradictory” date I have seen but it also is not a quote from Paula Abdul herself. Make of this what you will. 2
According to an edit in the Jezebel story, there was a Kansas City Star
article claiming Abdul had performed in Kansas City on June 20, 1992, which would basically rule out a St. Louis to Denver flight. However, I’ve tried searching and can’t find this article. If anyone is able to find it I’d be happy to edit it in, but I’m not including information I can’t verify. EDIT: Link to confirmation of Sandstone Amphitheater concert
, so there is now proof of this and I have edited the post accordingly. 3
This specific link has a disclaimer that records have only been natively uploaded since 1996. So although there are pre-1996 records available on this site, there is no guarantee that these records are complete. The other link provided does not contain the same disclaimer and has far more complete records, but I have no way to verify that they are 100% complete.
Sources/further reading: 2003 NBC interview, earliest mention of the accident
. 2005 People interview, discusses details including plane route
. A 2005 drug allegation and denial
. 2009 Ladies Home Journal interview, discusses going to rehab for painkiller addiction. Page 2 of same interview
. This has been denounced by Abdul herself
. A detailed account of the accident itself, told in 2019. An in depth Jezebel investigation from 2019
. 2020 Yahoo interview where Abdul discusses people doubting her and why she did not speak about the crash earlier
. Paula Abdul’s website page for the tour, which mentions the plane crash but does not list the relevant tour dates