Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

Cindy McCain: rodeo queen to first lady?

Both privilege and challenge have marked her life, and now Mrs. McCain could follow her husband to the White House.

(Page 4 of 5)

It was also during this time that Cindy developed an addiction to the painkillers Percocet and Vicodin. Initially, they were prescribed to deal with back pain, but she soon ended up taking between 15 and 20 pills a day. To support her habit she stole painkillers from AMVT and had the charity’s doctors write prescriptions in other people’s names. Her behavior was erratic, according to people who worked with her at the time.

Skip to next paragraph

“She was very much of a loner, even though she was busy all the time,” says a former employee, who asked that his name not be used because of former legal dealings with the McCain family. “She had these sudden, unexplainable mood swings.”

Her parents noticed, too. Eventually they confronted her. She has said that that was enough to shock her into treatment and never taking a pill again. But about the same time, an AMVT employee became concerned that she was stealing from the charity and tipped off the federal Drug Enforcement Agency.

Acknowledging a drug problem

Two years later, just before a local paper published an account of the episode, she went public with the story on her own. Betsey Bayless, a close friend and former Arizona secretary of state, says she was surprised to see Cindy at a Republican women’s luncheon the very day it was in the newspapers.

“The fact that she was there, I thought, ‘My God, this is very good for her to be out and to face this,’ ” says Ms. Bayless. “I just went over and I said, ‘We’re with you, Cindy,’ and I hugged her. And all of these Republican women were so nice to her.”

In a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, Cindy agreed to shut down AMVT, pay the government for the cost of its investigation, begin treatment, and join Narcotics Anonymous.

She now speaks openly about that time in her life.

“It is a problem, a national problem particularly for women, so I try to talk about it as much as possible because I don’t want anyone to end up in the shoes I did,” she told Jay Leno on “The Tonight Show” earlier this year.

In the years that followed, Cindy turned inward, focusing primarily on her family. She and her father also started the Hensley Family Foundation, a children’s charity. Friends say she could regularly be seen carpooling loads of kids around the neighborhood.

But in 2000, she was again thrust into the public spotlight when her husband decided to run for president.

Friends say she was at best reluctant. It was inevitable that the problem she’d had with prescription drugs, plus the Keating Five scandal that had embroiled her husband in 1989, would come up again.

But in 2000 Cindy decided that if her husband wanted to run for president, she’d support him. And she wasn’t shy about getting support herself.

Before the New Hampshire primary, she and a group of friends went to New Hampshire and took over the “Straight Talk Express” – the campaign bus stocked with John’s favorite foods: Cheetos, Oreo cookies, and Krispy Kreme donuts.