On Thursday, nearly two months after Angus’ death, the Alameda County Coroner confirmed to PEOPLE he suffered acute intoxication from an accidental overdose of drugs. Fentanyl, benzodiazepines — depressant drugs often used to treat conditions such as anxiety disorders, insomnia and seizures — and cocaine and methamphetamine were found in his system.
“It was predominantly the central nervous system depressants. It started to slow his heart and slow his breathing,” says Lisa, her son’s jacquard Gucci shawl draped around her shoulders back in the living room. “He got tired from lack of oxygen. Everything just slowed down, and eventually his heart stopped and he went to sleep. But he didn’t kill himself.” In her grief she’s been buoyed by the outpouring of love from her son’s fans. “He went out at his total power, his total beauty, his total influence, and the reaction that everyone has had is very moving to me. You know, he’s not just an actor who overdosed. He was a beautiful soul, and that’s why people miss him so much.”
In the months leading up to his death, Angus had been grieving the loss of his father, Conor Hickey, who died on May 18 at 65 just three months after receiving a mesothelioma cancer diagnosis. A week before his fatal overdose, Angus spread his father’s ashes in Ireland with his family, including his twin sisters Molly and Fiona. “My son and his twin sisters were deeply grieving about their dad,” Lisa shares. “They were all devastated.”
But the day before Angus died he was in decent spirits, Lisa remembers. With his uncle Kevin Cloud’s help, he moved a disintegrated loveseat out of his bedroom to the front porch and swapped it for a bookcase from the basement. He also paid tribute to his late grandfather, Dr. Preston Cloud, a renowned scientist, placing his ashes on the mantle with a shell in the shape of a human brain on top. “I was the one of the last people to see him alive,” Kevin says. “We spent about four hours of his last afternoon together. It was an easy and happy time. He seemed supremely fit and healthy. The last thing I said to him was, ‘God, you are beautiful.'”
Later Angus and his friend Daniel Aguilera, who had also lost his father in recent years, spent two hours painting a cardboard canvas and spray-painting a yellow skateboard over the jacuzzi cover in the backyard, which left a permanent stain. Angus hugged Lisa when she went to bed that night. “I love you, mama. You’re the best,” he said. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
Then Aguilera and Angus headed into the city. Exactly six years ago their close friend had died from a fentanyl overdose, and they wanted to honor him by spray painting a memorial. “It was so f—ing perfect,” says Aguilera, wiping away tears as he pulls up to the street where Angus tagged the side of a building. “Conor really wanted to honor him that night. It meant a lot to him. I got to spend the last night of his life with him creating artwork.”
When they finished around 4 a.m. Angus and Aguilera returned to Lisa’s house. “He wasn’t messed up or anything when I was with him,” says Aguilera, who has been clean from hard drugs for several years. He starts to cry as he acknowledges the guilt he feels about leaving Angus, who he believes began using after he went home. “I lost two of my best friends basically on the same day from fentanyl. I feel cursed,” he says. “I should have stayed with Conor. I don’t know how to live with myself. But I am blessed I had them both in my life.”
In 2019 Angus gained overnight stardom with his portrayal of Fezco, the lovable, low-key drug dealer with a heart of gold in HBO’s Euphoria. Casting director Eléonore Hendricks discovered him on the street in Manhattan, plucking him out of his job at a chicken and waffle restaurant where he served for about a year. “I remember my son calling me once and he’s like, ‘Well, I got a day off, but I’m so tired because I’ve been on my feet for the last 16 hours serving,” Lisa recalls. “He had no life plan, but I just knew something special was in store for him.”
Based on an Israeli series, Euphoria is largely inspired by creator Sam Levinson’s struggles as a teenage drug addict. (He entered rehab at 19 to get off opiates and methamphetamines.) Speaking publicly for the first time about Angus’ death, Levinson, 38, grows emotional at a restaurant in Beverly Hills as he reflects on the star’s trajectory.
“Angus was supposed to die at the end of the first season, but I loved him so f—ing much,” he says. “The first thing I noticed about him was he had those Paul Newman eyes … and his audition tape where he said that his name was Angus Cloud and he’s ‘five foot 12.’ It killed me. He was perfect. I think part of the problem is I would sometimes put actors ahead of the show at times. So I was like, ‘Okay, I can’t kill him because then what is he to look forward to?'”
Fezco not only survived, but became a standout amongst a stacked cast. At their first table read, Levinson recalls the actors were all nerves. But when they cut to a scene with Fez at a gas station dealing to teenage drug addict Rue (Zendaya), Angus delivered his lines with ease. “He started just reading the lines off the paper — it was like laughter. He had such a unique cadence, humor and sort of pathos to him. There was something unusual and empathetic. His lack of training was a benefit because he wouldn’t overthink.”
“He felt like a little brother instantly; ironic because we played characters with the exact opposite dynamic,” says Zendaya over email. “I’m lucky because I got to experience the most beautiful parts of him. I got to watch him create and I got to watch him discover the fact that he was an actor. A damn good one at that, and as many times as I would tell him or compliment his performance, I don’t think he ever truly believed it.” Hunter Schafer, Sam Levinson, Zendaya, Angus Cloud season two premiere of ‘Euphoria’. Jeff Kravitz/Getty
Early in season two Angus’ character gets bashed in the skull, leaving Fez with a giant scar on his scalp. The story behind the wound was even more harrowing in real life. In a 2022 interview with Variety, Angus revealed the near-death experience that left him with minor brain damage at age 15. While walking through downtown Oakland, he fell into a construction pit he hadn’t seen in the dark and woke up 12 hours later. “I was trapped. I eventually climbed out after — I don’t know how long. It was hella hard to climb out, because my skull was broken, but my skin wasn’t, so all the bleeding was internal, pressing up against my brain,” he told the publication. “But they wasn’t gonna find me down there. I found myself. Or God found me, whatever you want to call it.”
He underwent surgery and was prescribed pain medication — his first introduction to opioids. After the accident Angus frequently suffered from headaches. “The drug use most likely had something to do with his need to relieve his pain. They were fierce,” says Lisa. “I mean, there were [other] things that may have worked, but he never did any of them. And when you have that much pain, you just want relief.”
Angus brought his best friend Lilita to set during his first week of filming. She recalls smoking weed with him after he wrapped his first scene with Zendaya. “I’m like, ‘Bro, we can’t,” she recalls. “But he’s like, ‘It’s good. The cast members are cool as long as the little f—ing asshole errand runners don’t see us.”‘
During their early days on set Levinson wasn’t aware of Angus’ drug use. “I would have kicked him off the set if he was smoking weed,” says Levinson. Lisa knew her son smoked marijuana, but hadn’t realized he was using other substances. “He went into these moods that were really awful, and he wasn’t himself, and I now realize that’s because he was on drugs,” says Lisa. “I think he had very deep feelings, and sometimes this world was… he just couldn’t handle it and didn’t want to handle it. Was that the demands of being a celebrity and everybody trying to make money off him? Or was that pills that he took for pain? I don’t think you can really separate it.”
During the pandemic Angus suffered another injury while running from the police after he almost got caught tagging in Los Angeles. He cracked his calcaneus in multiple spots on his heel and had to walk with a cane. He refused further treatment. “That’s really what started his drug-seeking behavior, I think,” says Lisa. “It was hugely painful. I was pushing him. I’m like, ‘You’re not going to start season two for at least four months. Do that heel surgery. It is a four-month recovery. Do it now,’” Lisa remembers telling him. “But he just became unhappy, and he couldn’t figure out how to deal with it.”
It wasn’t until Levinson suggested rehab that Lisa knew there was a problem. One day wearing a full Gucci jumpsuit with his cane, Angus entered Levinson’s office and took a seat. “I looked him in the eye and I knew that he wasn’t doing well,” Levinson recalls, his eyes misting. “At the same time I’ve been in these situations before where you’re trying to get someone clean. And I just said to him, ‘I love working with you and we’ve got this amazing season planned and stuff, but I need you to be sober because I got to be able to rely on you.'”
HBO paid for his treatment, and Angus entered a 30-day in-patient program. After returning to set he continued outpatient rehab for three more months. “I could always feel that he didn’t want [sobriety] as much as we all wanted it for him,” Levinson says. “That’s where it gets tricky because the whole world can want it for you. But he didn’t want it. It’s just the self-destructive side of addiction and it outweighs everything. But you can’t give up on people. I wasn’t going to let anyone give up on him.”
Midway through the season Angus fell into drug use again, and Levinson had another serious intervention with his actor. He told Angus, “You’ve got to get help and you’ve got to get help right now.” After wrapping the fifth episode of the season late at night, Angus — who threw on Rue’s signature red hoodie — hopped in a car with Levinson and his wife Ashley, who was pregnant at the time, to enter rehab again. At a stoplight in the backseat of the car, he looked down at the hoodie and said, “Oh, s—, I feel just like Rue,” recalls Levinson. In the intense moment they found levity — a marker of their bond. “All right, well, do us a favor and don’t run,” Levinson told Angus, who burst out laughing.
Though Angus had a pivotal role in Euphoria’s season two premiere, his character was slated to die in a hail of gunfire in a later episode. When Levinson told Angus on set, “I could just see the blood kind of run out of his face. I think the hardest thing is when you have addiction issues — it’s about finding your purpose and finding your meaning in life,” he says. “The one thing that I knew is he loved making this show. He loved the crew. He loved the actors. He loved everything about it. And I just thought, if this goes away, I don’t know what’s going to happen in his life.”
Again Levinson told his producing partners Fezco had to live: “I can’t do it. I can’t kill him. We got to keep him around. He’s too special. It doesn’t matter what the f—ing story is.” In a last-minute change, Fez’s younger brother Ashtray (Javon Walton) was struck in a police raid.
Toward the end of the season Levinson refused to let Angus come to set if he wasn’t clean. But he also knew it was safer for him to be at work. After shooting for the season wrapped in February 2022, they had a four-hour talk at Levinson’s home about getting sober for season three.
“No, no, I’m good. I’m good,” Levinson says Angus told him. “I could tell, at that time, it was like he wasn’t interested. He wasn’t going to do anything, and yeah, he didn’t want it.”
Angus continued using, and in May of this year Lisa delivered the devastating news that his dad was dying in the hospital. In the midst of shooting an untitled Universal monster horror film directed by Scream and Scream VI‘s Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett in Dublin, Angus received four days off and flew home to visit his father in Oakland. He decorated a pillow for his father using white block letters and a yin-yang sign that read: “I <3 U POPS,” which he always called him. The following morning, his dad died.
Despite flying to Ireland in late July, Angus missed his father’s funeral because he was too high. The next day he visited the gravesite where his grandparents were buried in Glasnevin on the north side of Dublin to spread his father’s ashes, saying, “His heart was overflowing with the love to share, running into the waves, heart filling with the ocean. His smiles and laughs will live on with us forever.”
“He absolutely loved his father,” says Lisa. “He also knew he really loved him. He was so proud of Angus. My son thought of Pops as his best friend. There is no doubt that his father’s death took a toll on him.”
When Angus returned home from the funeral, Lisa says he was a shell of himself. The week leading up to his death, he was feeling sick, withdrawn and suffering from constant headaches. “There were deep troubles. He was not functioning, and it was clear he was grief-stricken. And if you are somebody who turns to drugs, that would be the logical thing to do, and that’s what he did,” she says. “His dad’s death isn’t responsible for his, but he clearly couldn’t cope.”
Before Angus was cremated at the Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland, a handful of his friends decorated the casket in his honor. A week later a memorial service was held at Humanist Hall in Oakland where his Uncle Kevin sang Jackson Browne’s “For a Dancer” for his loved ones, including a few cast members from Euphoria. “I don’t think a spirit like his could be defined,” says Zendaya. “He was one of the most unique and pure hearted people I’ve ever met. I hope he knows how loved he is, how much we miss him and how much better the world is for having felt his glow.”
“It was beautiful,” adds Levinson. “That community in Oakland is a really special community with a lot of love. We’re on set every day for 12 hours, but I didn’t know what his life looked like outside of it. And to see all those people there who just loved him just as much as everyone did, it was beautiful. It meant a lot to be there.”
At his mother’s home on a chilly September night, a handful of his Oakland crew gather and promise to keep their best friend’s memory alive. They spend hours sharing stories of Angus’ kind nature and fearless spirit. “He hyped us up, and there’s so many thing I wouldn’t have done without his influence of always turning up with the vibe of, ‘You could do whatever you want to do. You’re forever young,'” says Lilita.
Mike Oz, Angus’ grade school math teacher, now the executive director of the Oakland School for the Arts where he and Zendaya both attended, often skated with Angus after school. The two had remained close through the years.
Oz is raising $2 million to build a skate park in Angus’ honor that will be called Cloud Park and provide students a safe place to skate. “This terrible situation should amount to something good,” says Oz. “The name Cloud Park is not just in honor of Conor, but in memory of all the OSA students that we lose too young. Green space for young people to engage in subculture and escape all other powers — that saves lives.”
“I always knew he was special and I’m so glad the world also found out he was special,” says Lisa. “My son will always shine bright.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, please contact the SAMHSA helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.