Tragic deaths happen every day, but when someone famous dies it sends reverberations throughout the culture. In a small way, the shock of a celebrity death is good, because it makes us reflect on our mortality. Hopefully, this reflection wakes us up to the reality of how short life really is, and in turn, helps us to slow down, enjoy life and make the right decisions.
Musicians have a reputation for living on the edge, and many have paid the ultimate price.
For this playlist I have selected my top picks for musicians who died too soon. Specifically, before the age of thirty. As I looked through this completed list what amazed me most was not the tragedy of a life cut short, but the accomplishments achieved by those so young.
Dead Too Soon: Musicians Who Died Before Age 30
1. Robert Johnson
Cross Road Blues - Robert Johnson
May 8, 1911 — August 16, 1938
The legendary tap root of popular music, Robert Johnson, died at a cross roads near Greenwood, Mississippi. It is rumoured that he was poisoned by a jealous boyfriend or husband of a woman whom he had become involved with.
2. Eddie Cochran
Summertime Blues - Eddie Cochran
October 3, 1938 — April 17, 1960
Eddie Cochran was touring overseas when he got into a taxi at Chippenham, Wiltshire, England. Unfortunately, his driver was reckless and crashed into a lamp post killing Eddie after he was thrown from the vehicle. The cab driver went to jail for 6 months and lost his license for 15 years.
3. Buddy Holly
That'll Be The Day - Buddy Holly
September 7, 1936 — February 3, 1959
Charles Hardin Holley, better known as "Buddy Holly" was killed in what is arguably the most famous musical tragedy in history when the Beechcraft Bonanza aircraft he was travelling in crashed. The accident was immortalized by Don McLean in the song "American Pie".
4. Ritchie Valens
La Bamba - Ritchie Valens
May 13, 1941 — February 3, 1959
Ritchies Valens is the forefather of Chicano rock and had an extremely bright future ahead of him. Unfortunately, he was on the same plane that Buddy Holly was on "the day the music died". Also of note that day is the death of J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson" (Age: 28) who was also on the plane and known for his hit song "Chantilly Lace".
5. Jimi Hendrix
Castles Made Of Sand - Jimi Hendrix
November 27, 1942 — September 18, 1970
There is some mystery around Jimi Hendrix's death in London. He was found dead by his girlfriend when she awoke, and the official reports show that he drown in his own vomit consisting mostly of red wine. It is also said that he had taken nine of his girlfriend's prescription sleeping pills, which may have led to his inability to awaken and save himself.
6. Kurt Cobain (Nirvana)
Heart-Shaped Box - Nirvana
February 20, 1967 — April 5, 1994
On March 30, 1994 Kurt Cobain arrived at a detox center in L.A., inspired by the urging of his family and friends. However, the very next day he jumped the fence and returned to Seattle. Less than two weeks later he would be found dead of a shotgun wound to the head. A suicide note was found by his body.
7. Ronnie Van Zant (Age: 29) (Lynyrd Skynyrd)
Steve Gaines (Age: 28) (Lynyrd Skynyrd)
Cassie Gaines (Age:29) (Lynyrd Skynyrd)
Gimme Three Steps - Lynyrd Skynyrd
After the tragic airplane accident that took the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper, I would have to say that the next most tragic music related airplane crash would be the one that took the lives of three members of Lynyrd Skynyrd on October 20, 1977.
8. Otis Redding
(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay - Otis Redding
September 9, 1941 — December 10, 1967
Otis Redding was taken from us by yet another tragic airplane crash. His Beechcraft 18 airplane crashed into Lake Manona in Wisconsin on December 10, 1967. Authorities were never able to determine the cause of the crash.
9. Randy Rhodes (Ozzy Osbourne)
Crazy Train - Ozzy Osbourne
December 6, 1956 — March 19, 1982
Ozzy Osbourne's legendary and extremely talented guitarist was also taken from us in a plane crash. But this time the cause of the crash was pure stupidity. The pilot (Andrew Aycock) who had promised a safe flight (as Randy was afraid of flying) thought it would be a great idea to "buzz" the tour bus and wake the rest of the band. On the fourth attempt a wing clipped the bus and crashed killing all onboard the plane instantly. No drugs were found in Randy's body, but the pilot tested positive for cocaine.
10. Brian Jones (The Rolling Stones)
Paint It, Black - The Rolling Stones
February 28, 1942 — July 3, 1969
Brian Jones was found on the bottom of the pool at his East Sussex, England home by his girlfriend Anna Wohlin. The coroner reported that his heart and liver were enlarged due to drug and alcohol abuse and listed his official cause of death as "death by misadventure".
11. Tim Buckley
Wings - Tim Buckley
February 14, 1947 — June 29, 1975
Drugs and alcohol are one of the biggest killers of musicians and Tim Buckley is one of the great talents who succumbed to them. The official cause of death is listed as "acute heroin/morphine and ethanol intoxication due to inhalation and ingestion of overdose". Tim's son, Jeff Buckley, was a superb talent in his own right and met an untimely death by drowning. Jeff did not make this list because he was able to reach the age of 30.
12. Chris Bell (Big Star)
September Gurls - Big Star
January 12, 1951 — December 27, 1978
Chris Bell was driving his Triumph TR-6 home from his family's restaurant in Memphis where he worked when he lost control and slammed into a light pole. He was killed instantly.
13. D. Boon (Minutemen)
This Ain't No Picnic - Minutemen
April 1, 1958 — December 22, 1985
D. Boon had been sick with fever, so he was lying down in the back of his van while his girlfriend drove on route I-10 close to the California border. She ran off the road, Boon was thrown from the vehicle and was killed. Bandmate and bassist Mike Watt would go on to dedicate every post-Minuteman album he's created to the memory of D. Boon.
14. Cliff Burton (Metallica)
Creeping Death - Metallica
February 10, 1962 — September 27, 1986
Cliff Burton was asleep and riding on the tour bus with the rest of his bandmates through Sweden on a European leg of the Damage Inc.tour when the bus ran off the road and flipped. Burton was killed when he was thrown out of a window and pinned under the bus.
Rock Da Boat - Aaliyah
January 16, 1979 — August 25, 2001
The young and talented Aaliyah is yet another musician killed in a plane crash. The investigation showed that the crash, which happened shortly after takeoff in the Bahamas, was due to the plane being loaded past its weight limit and an inexperienced pilot who was not licensed for the aircraft. An autopsy also showed that the pilot had cocaine and alcohol in his system.
16. Janis Joplin
Piece Of My Heart - Janis Joplin
January 19, 1943 — October 4, 1970
Janis Joplin looked older than her young 27 years. This was no doubt due to her hard-living rock and roll lifestyle, which included large amounts of drugs and alcohol. It caught up with her in early October, 1970. The official cause of death is listed as an overdose of heroin.
17. Jim Morrison (The Doors)
The End - The Doors
December 8, 1943 — July 3, 1971
Jim Morrison died in his Paris apartment. No autopsy was performed since under French law it's not required if the medical examiner finds no evidence of foul play. The most widely held theory is that Morrison snorted a bunch of his girlfriend's heroin thinking it was cocaine and overdosed.
18. Bradley Nowell (Sublime)
Santeria - Sublime
February 22, 1968 — May 25, 1996
Brad Nowell had everything to live for. A new wife and child, and a major label record deal. Just weeks before the band was to embark on a European tour in support of their major label debut, bandmate and drummer Bud Gaugh awoke to find Nowell dead of a drug overdose.
19. Hillel Slovak (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
Freaky Styley - Red Hot Chili Peppers
April 13, 1962—June 25, 1988
Hillel Slovak was born in Haifa, Israel to Jewish parents who were survivors of the Holocaust. After moving to the states, Hillel blossomed into a pioneering guitarist and unfortunately, a heroin addict who tried, but failed to kick the habit. He died of a speedball overdose.
20. Chuck Wagon (The Dickies)
Eep Opp Ork (Uh, Uh) - The Dickies
Born Bob Davis, Chuck Wagon was a member of the punk rock band The Dickies. He fought drug problems, but it was a broken heart after a break up with his girlfriend that led him to commit suicide with a bullet to the head.
21. Shannon Hoon (Blind Melon)
No Rain - Blind Melon
September 26, 1967 — October 21, 1995
Shannon Hoon found fame in 1992 with the huge single "No Rain". He was a drug addict well-know for bizarre behavior. In 1995, Shannon welcomed a baby girl named Nico Blue with his longtime girlfriend. This event prompted him to make an effort to get clean and he entered drug rehab. However, his effort to quit drugs failed and he overdosed on a speedball while on tour.
22. Gram Parsons
Love Hurts - Gram Parsons
November 5, 1946 — September 19, 1973
Gram Parsons was a key figure in the birth of the country rock and alt-country genres. He had a great love for the Joshua Tree National Monument and this is where he overdosed on a combination of morphine and alcohol. His wish was to have his ashes spread in Joshua Tree and when his stepfather planned a private burial in New Orleans his road manager and a friend stole his body and tried to do a cremation in the desert with gasoline.
23. Hank Williams
There's A Tear In My Beer - Hank Williams
September 17, 1923 — January 1, 1953
Hank Williams is a genuine country music legend. Sadly, before leaving Knoxville for Canton, Ohio in a chauffeured Cadillac, Hank injected himself with morphine and vitamin B12. He never made it to the show in Canton. His driver found him dead when he pulled over in Oak Hill, West Virginia.
24. Ian Curtis (Joy Division)
Love Will Tear Us Apart - Joy Division
July 15, 1956 — May 18, 1980
Ian Curtis was an artist and a tourtured soul. His marriage was ending after an affair, and his health was challenged due to epilepsy. In the early morning of May 18, 1980 Ian watched the Werner Herzog's film Stroszek, listened to the Iggy Pop album The Idiot, and then hanged himself in his kitchen.
25. Nick Drake
Pink Moon - Nick Drake
June 19, 1948 — November 25, 1974
Nick Drake did not know fame during his lifetime. Unfortunately, his music was only really discovered on a large scale well after his death in 1974. He lived on a $20 per week record company retainer and suffered from depression. Nick died young after he overdosed on the antidepressant amitriptyline. Some think it was suicide, others think it was accidental.
26. Pete Ham (Badfinger)
Day After Day - Badfinger
April 27, 1947 — April 24, 1975
Peter Ham hung himself in his garage while extremely drunk. He was not seeing any money from his work with Badfinger. His suicide note directed hatred at his business manager who had a reputation for corruption. Pete left behind a pregnant girlfriend.
27. Alan Wilson (Canned Heat)
Going Up The Country - Canned Heat
July 4, 1943 — September 3, 1970
Alan Wilson had reportedly tried to commit suicide twice before his death. He died in Topanga Canyon, California of a drug overdose, and although some suspect suicide, there was no suicide note and his death was not ruled as such.
28. Sid Vicious (The Sex Pistols)
Pretty Vacant - The Sex Pistols
May 10, 1957 — February 2, 1979
Sid Vicious was not really an accomplished musician, and not really an accomplished person for that matter. But he is one of the most iconic punk rock celebrities in history. He was accused and arrested for the murder of his girlfriend Nancy Spungen. Shortly afterward, he attempted suicide and was admitted to Bellevue Hospital. Sid got clean in jail, but after being released on bond he overdosed on heroin that was purchased by his mother.
29. Darby Crash (The Germs)
Manimal - The Germs
September 26, 1958— December 7, 1980
Darby Crash killed himself in a suicide pact with his friend Casey Cola, who survived. He died of an heroin overdose, and many believe he was driven by a quest to immortalize his name. As he lay dying, Darby tried to scrawl the words "Here Lies Darby Crash" on the wall, but was unable to finish. Unfortunately, Darby's death was largely overshadowed at the time by the murder of John Lennon, which happened the very next day.
30. Duane Allman (The Allman Brothers Band)
Whipping Post - The Allman Brothers Band
November 20, 1946 — October 29, 1971
While in Macon, Ga on a break from touring Duane Allman was on his motorcycle when a truck stopped in an intersection. Duane could not stop in time and suffered severe injuries that led to his death several hours later. His bandmate, bassist Berry Oakley (Age: 24) died in a similar motorcycle accident with a bus just 13 months later and just three blocks away. The bandmates are buried next to each other.
31. The Notorious B.I.G.
Hypnotize - The Notorious B.I.G.
May 21, 1972 — March 9, 1997
The Notorious B.I.G. was heavily involved with the East Coast-West Coast hip-hop feud of the 1990s. The New York rapper was in L.A. shooting a music video to support the release of the best-selling double album Life After Death when he was gunned down in a drive-by shooting. The murder has not been solved although there are plenty of theories to choose from.
32. Tupac Shakur
California Love - 2Pac
June 16, 1971 — September 13, 1996
After attending the Mike Tyson / Bruce Seldon boxing match at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Tupac Shakur and his entourage got into an altercation with a known member of the Crips gang. Later that night, as he rode with Death Row Records CEO Suge Knight, a car pulled up next to them and fired about a dozen rounds. Tupac was hit four times and although there was hope he could survive the gunshot wounds (as he had previously) he died a few days later.
May they all rest in peace and thanks for the music.
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