Barbara Eden on Son's Overdose

ByABC News

Jan. 30, 2002 -- If Barbara Eden found a magic bottle with a genie inside, or if the I Dream of Jeannie star could really just blink her eyes to make almost anything happen, perhaps she would turn back time.

Last June, Eden's only child died of a heroin overdose, and the world discovered that she had been keeping a heartbreaking secret. She talked to Connie Chung about the tragedy she could not blink away.

Dreaming of a Family

Though I Dream of Jeannie only ran on network TV for five years, from 1965-1970, the show has been re-running almost continually ever since.

Eden almost gave up the role because she had wanted to start a family. After being married for seven years to TV actor Michael Ansara, she learned she was pregnant on the very day the pilot for I Dream of Jeannie sold.

She told the producer, and instead of replacing her, the network agreed to shoot around her pregnancy. For the first 13 episodes, they hid her pregnancy with props and veils. In August 1965, while the series was on hiatus, her son Matthew was born.

Though Eden wanted to keep extending her family, her second pregnancy was a stillbirth, which she had to actually carry full term, even though the fetus was dead.

Eden said she never considered going to therapy, which she now realizes was a mistake, since she never really grieved for her lost child. She continued working, and ultimately broke down. Her marriage unraveled and she divorced, which was when her son Matthew, then about 9 or 10, started using drugs.

When Matthew was about 12, Eden remarried and moved to Chicago. She planned to bring her son with her, but Matthew wanted to stay in Los Angeles, and she said her ex-husband threatened to sue for custody.

So for the next six years, Matthew lived with his father, while Eden became a commuter mom who saw her child usually every three weeks.

A Different Child

In 1983, she divorced again and moved back to Los Angeles to find that her son was a moody and withdrawn teenager.

"He wasn't the happy warm boy that I'd known," she said.

Like many parents, she didn't recognize the signs that Matthew was fighting a drug addiction."We didn't know any better," she said.

She finally learned the horrible truth when Matthew was 19 — and had been using drugs for nearly a decade. She and Matthew's father forced their son into rehab.

It was the beginning of a 16-year battle. Eden said Matthew was in and out of rehab seven or eight times, when she finally resorted to tough love.

"He was told he did not have a home with me if he was going to use drugs, he had to leave," she said. "And he left! His father and I were frantic. We were looking for him everywhere. We didn't know where he was … He was sleeping on the streets."

Matthew's bouts of homelessness tested his mother's resolve.

"I would always bring him food," she said. "I wanted to see my son, but I didn't trust him."

Making Progress

By the time he was 31, Eden said, Matthew was staying sober longer and longer. He became a dedicated body builder, bulking up, shaving his head and getting movie roles.

He also fell in love.

"His life was on an even track," said Eden. "He had a lovely, lovely girl he was engaged to and they were going to get married in another month."

But Matthew had found a new temptation in the world of bodybuilding: He started injecting steroids. Then, last July, he drove into a gas station where a security camera picked up his truck at about 6:30 p.m. Two and-a-half hours later, he was found slumped over his steering wheel.

"Apparently he had taken a hit of heroin and he hadn't had it in quite a while, I guess," said Eden. "It killed him. It stopped his heart."

In Matthew's truck, investigators found small amounts of heroin, marijuana, anabolic steroids and a syringe.

Eden had been optimistic about her son, she said, "because he was making progress … he was winning the war." Though he lost the war, Eden is determined not to lose hers. She is now dedicated to helping parents who may find themselves in a similar situation.

"I think we have come to a point in our lives now where we have to give up a little bit of that privacy with our children," she said, pointing out that parents may need to get nosy and more involved if they suspect anything. "You get in those drawers. You find out what's going on."