The history of music is littered with tales of great geniuses who reached iconic heights—only to find themselves mired in outrageous scandal or heartbreaking tragedy (if not both). There’s something about a hyper-talented musician that seems to attract drama and turmoil, whether they’re from the world of jazz, R&B, rock & roll, punk, grunge, or pop. Whether you’re firing up Spotify or taking out some old vinyl to provide a soundtrack for your reading pleasure, don’t forget the tissues, because compiled here are some of the most tragic facts about some of the most iconic musicians the world has ever seen.
Facts About Iconic Musicians
1. Hell of a Ride
Few bands can claim to match the tragic bad luck of the legendary American folk-rock group The Allman Brothers. In 1971, one of the brothers, Duane, was killed in a motorcycle accident in their hometown of Macon, Georgia. The accident led to a long series of unfortunate events and deaths within the band, which currently only has one surviving original member left.
2. Getting the Band Back Together
After the Martin Scorsese-directed concert film The Last Waltz cemented the legacy of American folk group The Band, things took a turn for the tragic. They split shortly after the film. When the group did get back together in 1983, not everything went according to plan. Three years into their reunion, pianist Richard Manuel hung himself in his motel room the night after a show and his replacement, Stan Szelest, died only 5 years later due to a heart attack.
3. Born to Run for Elvis
In 1976, Bruce Springsteen performed a concert in Memphis, then proceeded to go to Graceland at three in the morning. He managed to get over the wall and up to the front door when security grabbed him. Unfortunately for the singer, Elvis Presley wasn’t home at the time. We’re going to guess there was some alcohol influencing his choices that night.
4. Unlucky Number Nine
A mere four days after Cher’s divorce from Sonny Bono was final, on June 30, 1975, she jumped into another marriage with rock star Gregg Allman, frontman for the Allman Brothers Band. However intense their feelings were for each other at the time, they couldn’t withstand Allman’s alcoholism and substance abuse. He would allegedly drink a quart of vodka every day while doing heroin, leading Cher to reach her limit with the guitarist after only nine days of matrimony.
She told Entertainment Weekly that Allman was “so high, he didn’t even understand me.”
5. Up in the Air
There’s just something about musicians and airplanes that spell tragedy. Lynyrd Skynyrd became one of a number of bands to be decimated by a plane crash. In 1977, the band lost lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, and singer Cassie Gaines, as well as one of their crew members, Dean Kilpatrick, when their plane crashed in rural Mississippi.
One of the biggest rock groups in America, they had just released their latest album three days before the accident.
6. Puff, Puff, Pass
This one might fall more under “fun fact” than “tragic” depending on your opinion of the song: Paul McCartney admitted the “you” in the song “Got to Get You Into My Life” was weed.
7. Exclusive Membership
Everyone’s heard of the “27 Club,” the phenomenon of young musicians dying in their prime at the age of 27. Amy Winehouse was one of the more recent members to join the club, but it got its name from a fateful two year stretch between 1969 and 1971. During this period, Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison of the Doors all died at the age of 27.
When Kurt Cobain died in 1994, also at the age of 27, the “27 Club” became a well-known phenomenon in popular culture.
8. Love Sick
In 1978, Nancy Spungen was found stabbed to death in her New York City bathroom. The young woman was girlfriend to Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious, who was immediately suspected of her murder. The couple had made unseemly headlines for their substance abuse and domestic violence, for which the papers titled her “Nauseous Nancy.” The scandalous death would put a sour (or “salacious”) spin on the history of punk rock.
9. Bummer Ending
Sid Vicious would never be formally tried for the murder of Nancy Spungen. At the age of just 21, the singer overdosed in his apartment. Ironically, Vicious and his friends had been celebrating his release on bail just the night before.
10. Naughty Names
William Bailey is the real name of musician Axl Rose. Axl Rose is an anagram for oral sex. This guy knows the power of subliminal messaging.
11. Under Pressure
Bowie never played the hit single “Under Pressure” live with Freddie Mercury. Unfortunately, it took Mercury’s death for Bowie to first perform it, which occurred at the 1992 Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert. Annie Lennox famously filled in for the late Queen frontman in the duet.
12. Punk Is in the Details
Dee Dee Ramone, bassist and songwriter for the Ramones, battled awful demons his whole life. In later years, the band’s success helped finance his recklessness—but as a young man he resorted to desperate measures.* He was in trouble with the law from an early age, including participation in an armed robbery. He even, it’s been alleged, spent time working as a prostitute.
In the words of one music journalist: “Dee Dee was the archetypical [screw]-up. He was a male prostitute, a would-be mugger, a heroin user and dealer, an accomplice to armed robbery—and a genius poet who was headed for an early grave, but was sidetracked by rock ‘n’ roll.”
13. Lightning Strikes Twice
The Allman Brothers really did have the worst luck. After Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident in 1971, things didn’t seem like they could get worse. That is, until a year later, when the band’s bassist, Berry Oakley, was killed in eerily similar circumstances. Oakley also died in a motorcycle accident in Macon—in fact, the accident was only a few blocks away from the site of Duane’s death. Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.
14. Real Mature, Guys
During the Nevermind album release party, every member of Nirvana was thrown out for starting a food fight. These sound like my kind of people.
Despite their impromptu performance in 1983, Prince and Michael Jackson were touted as rivals throughout the 80s and early 90s. Hilariously enough, their feelings toward each other once came to a head in a heated ping pong game (or as heated as ping pong gets). Jackson became fed up with the game and left the room while Prince gloated in the background. “Did you see that?” Prince said, “He played like Helen Keller.”
16. No Such Thing As Bad Press for Punks
In 1989, a wild, hard-partying Billy Idol racked up 149,000 dollars worth of damage in a Thai hotel room. Management attempted to kick him out, but the punk rocker refused…so things escalated insanely, until the point that the Thai army got involved. They attempted to negotiate, but Idol, in the throes of an absolute binge, was having none of it. In the end, he was physically dragged from the room by representatives of the Thai military—after they shot him in the chest with a tranquilizer dart.
17. Caged Heart
Elvis Presley infamously died in the upstairs bathroom of his Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tennessee and only a select few have ever set foot in the area. Those few include Presley’s family and…um, Nicolas Cage. Why Nicolas Cage? Well, the main reason was because Cage was married to the King’s daughter, Lisa Marie in the mid-2000s.
18. Let the Bidding Begin
The hairdresser who helped shave Britney Spears’s head during her nervous breakdown gathered up the pop princess’s locks, the Redbull can she drank from, and cigarettes she put in the ashtray. The stylist placed all of the objects on eBay for $1 million, although eBay took the listing down because it was against their policy.
19. The Feeling is Mutual
On February 9, 1974, Iggy Pop and The Stooges gave one of punk’s most legendary concerts. Days before, in a fiery interview, Iggy threatened to fight a local biker gang. The bikers turned up, looking for blood, and Iggy refused to back down. Throughout the show, he and the band continued to taunt the bikers, who responded by pelting them with eggs, ice, and broken bottles. The best part? The entire show was recorded, and avid fans are able to hear every word of the altercation.
There’s a few iconic quotes. For example, early in the show, Iggy can be heard yelling “You [jerks] can throw everything in the world… your girlfriend will still love me.” And later on, while focusing on a single heckler in particular, “Listen, [moron], you heckle me one more time and I’m gonna come down there and kick your ass.”
20. Living The Lifestyle
John Bonham, the drummer for Led Zeppelin, drank 40 shots of vodka the night of his death.
21. Her Majesty
John Lennon once claimed that the Beatles shared a reefer in the bathroom of Buckingham Palace, while they were waiting to meet the Queen. He later went back on the claim, and Paul McCartney has said that they actually just smoked “sly ciggie” to calm their nerves, so we’re just left to wonder just how sly that ciggie was.
As one of the biggest pop stars on the planet, Selena Quintanilla was supposed to be protected by her management. When Selena signed Yolanda Saldivar as one of her agents in 1994, she thought she was getting someone with a keen eye for business. Perhaps that eye was too keen; although former employees of Saldivar complained to Selena of her erratic behavior as a boss, few could have predicted that Yolanda was actually embezzling a huge sum of money from Selena’s loyal fans.
After receiving a number of complaints about a fake fan club, Selena and her team began to investigate only to discover that Saldivar was cashing the cheques for herself. She had embezzled around $30,000. The discovery of this scheme would eventually lead to Selena’s murder.
23. End of a Dream
Because Yolanda Saldivar had access to bank records and other important information for Selena, she did not want to go to the police when she found out her agent was embezzling money from fans. So she decided to meet Saldivar in person to get back her financial papers. On March 31, 1995, in a hotel room in San Antonio, the desperate Saldivar pulled a gun on Selena and fatally shot the young star in the back. After a nearly 10 hour standoff with the FBI, Yolanda surrendered.
24. The Day the Music Will Die
A year before Buddy Holly’s tragic death in a plane crash, producer Joe Meek predicted that the rock ‘n’ roll legend would die in February. Sure enough, Holly’s plane went down on February 3, 1959.
In 2008, when Madonna was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, she was introduced by Justin Timberlake, who had collaborated on her album Hard Candy. Justin kicked off the intro with the story of what working with Madonna was like. He explained that one day he came into the studio feeling ill, and Madonna suggested he get a shot of B12.
When he agreed, Madonna didn’t call a doctor. Instead, she pulled out a Zip-Loc bag of B12 syringes from her designer bag and said, “Drop ’em.” As she gave Justin the shot, she commented, “Nice top shelf.” Justin described the experience, saying that it was “one of the greatest days of my life.”
26. Final Resting Place
No one is entirely sure what happened to Sid Vicious’s ashes, but Malcolm McLaren, the manager of the Sex Pistols, claimed that Sid’s mother spilled her son’s ashes in the arrivals lounge at Heathrow Airport.
27. Don’t Drink The Punch
Nine Inch Nails recorded their second studio album, The Downward Spiral, in the same house where Charles Manson’s followers killed actress Sharon Tate.
28. Don’t Fret
Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi worked as a welder before hitting the big time. On his last day of work, Iommi lost the tips of two of his fingers on his fretting hand. In order to keep playing the guitar, he had to convert to lighter gauge strings and use a lower tuning, which is a large part of Sabbath’s signature dark sound.
If you look closely, you’ll notice that to this day Iommi plays with what are essentially plastic thimbles on his right middle and ring fingers.
29. The Cost of Fame
When she was just 15 years old, Aaliyah was becoming one of the biggest pop sensations in the world with her debut album Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number, which was produced by R. Kelly. Gossip and news circulated soon after the iconic album’s release that Aaliyah and Kelly had been secretly, and illegally, married.
In the documentary Surviving R. Kelly, Demetrius Smith gave new insight into how he forged documents to make Aaliyah appear to be 18, rather than 15. R. Kelly has since had numerous allegations against him for sexual assault and relationships with underage girls. For many, what happened with Aaliyah was the first sign of his predatory behavior.
30. At Her Peak
Just as Aaliyah was cementing her name as the “Queen of Urban Pop,” tragedy struck, cutting her career abruptly short. After shooting a music video in the Bahamas, Aaliyah and her crew took off on a private jet to return stateside. With one too many passengers and almost 700 pounds over the recommended capacity for the jet, the plane crashed at the end of the runway. Aaliyah and her crew, along with the pilot and co-pilot were all killed in the accident—news that shocked both fans and the music industry.
31. Wolves at the Door
Pink Floyd made a ton of money from Dark Side of the Moon, which they invested in such harebrained schemes as a floating restaurant and a skateboard company, all of which were failures. Fleeing the taxman, Pink Floyd wound up in France, where they recorded The Wall to even more acclaim.
32. He Drank The Punch
Jeremy Spencer left the band Fleetwood Mac to join a cult known as Children of God. Hope he saved his money.
33. Parental Approval
Janis Joplin felt a desperate need to please her parents throughout her short career. After she had left home to pursue fame and fortune in San Francisco, she wrote to them, “Weak as it is, I apologize for being just so plain bad in the family,” which is just plain heartbreaking.
34. A Kind of Blue
When Otis Redding died in a plane crash on December 10, 1967, America lost a voice giving song to the civil rights movement in the South. His “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” paired soul with a folk music largely associated with white audiences. The result is one of the greatest and most powerful songs to come out of the American songbook, which makes it even more tragic that Redding wasn’t alive to see the effect that his voice had.
35. Where Do You Get Your Ideas?
The Mötley Crüe lyric “Valentine’s in London, found me in the trash” has an unbelievable origin: Band member Nikki Sixx overdosed at a dealer’s house in London; after trying to beat him back to life with a baseball bat, the dealer left Sixx’s passed-out body in a dumpster, where the rock star woke up a few hours later.
36. Never Settle
Pat Benatar was a bank teller and housewife (she married her high school sweetheart) in the early 70s, when she went to see Liza Minnelli perform live. Inspired, Benatar quit her job and formed a band.
Little Richard kicked Jimi Hendrix out of his band in the 50s. Apparently, Hendrix refused to wear the band uniform and would steal the audience’s attention with his eccentric style and guitar skills.
38. Joining the Club
In the years leading up to her death from alcohol poisoning, the soulful Amy Winehouse spoke candidly about her fear of reaching the age of 27. Knowing her own battles with substance abuse, Winehouse was often aware that she might join the infamous “27 Club” with the likes of Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, and Janis Joplin. It was indeed to be her tragic fate in 2011, much to the despair of her friends, family, and fans.
39. Late in the Game
Just before her untimely death in 2011 due to alcohol poisoning, the gifted singer Amy Winehouse vowed that she was going to settle down her hard-partying life to start a family. She had recently been given the go-ahead by doctors to attempt getting pregnant after cleaning up from a long bout of substance abuse. Her hope for the future makes her death all the more tragic.
40. Bathroom Explosions
The drummer of the Who, Keith Moon, was fixated on blowing up toilets in hotel rooms. The estimated cost of the damage he caused to plumbing is as high as $500,000, and Moon was banned from all Holiday Inn, Sheraton, and Hilton hotels, plus the Waldorf Astoria. Cus sometimes, you just need to blow up toilets.
41. The Cursed Flat
In 1978, Keith Moon rented an apartment from singer Harry Nilsson. Nilsson was reluctant to rent the flat to Moon because Mama Cass had died there four years earlier, and Nilsson believed the place was cursed. Moon died there just a few months later.
42. The Saddest Thing…
Beyoncé suffered a miscarriage before Blue Ivy’s birth in January 2012. She describes it as, “the saddest thing I’ve ever been through.”
43. I’m Goin’ to Graceland
After Elvis Presley died of a heart attack in 1977, he was buried next to his mother in the Forest Hill Cemetery in Memphis. But that didn’t last too long. Because people are sometimes just the worst, a few grave-robbers attempted to dig up the King of Rock n’ Roll shortly after his funeral. So it was agreed that he would be moved and buried back on the grounds of his mansion Graceland, where he continues to rest to this day.
44. Living Long in Memory
Elvis Presley’s popularity was so great that he continues to attract attention well into the 21st century. People were so upset when the King died in 1977 that they made his Graceland a virtual pilgrimage. When his body was relocated and buried on the grounds, it only increased the tourism ten-fold. Currently, Graceland is the second most visited house in the United States. The number one spot, of course, belongs to the White House. Not too shabby!
45. Devilish Fun
During the recording of Station to Station in 1975, David Bowie was so out of his mind on drugs that he later couldn’t remember any of it. The recording session was also marked by experiments in witchcraft, and Bowie apparently held an exorcism that burned a silhouette of Satan on the bottom of a swimming pool.
46. Life Less Travelled
The inimitable French jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt certainly did not take the conventional route to the spotlight. Born in a nomadic Belgian-Romani community, Reinhardt married at the age of 17 and, due to a house-fire shortly thereafter, severely burned his left hand and paralyzed his right leg. Django had always been a musician and a skillful guitarist.
The injury left him unable to play the frets of the guitar in the traditional method, and so he decided to come up with his own method. He was able to take an unfortunate accident and forge it into one of the most unique sounds in jazz music history.
47. Didn’t Think That One Through
In 1989, Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis was arrested for indecent exposure and sexual battery after exposing himself to a woman after playing a show in Virginia.
48. Friendly Rivalry
In 1984, Ozzy Osbourne went on a tour with Mötley Crüe that has been described as one of the “craziest drug- and alcohol-fuelled tours in the history of rock and roll.” Trying to outdo each other’s extreme antics, Nikki Sixx of Mötley Crüe set himself on fire, then Osbourne snorted ants off the sidewalk. I’m not sure who won that contest, but it sounds like both of them lost.
49. Gaining Custody
In the 1970s, Aerosmith’s lead singer Steven Tyler fell in love with a 16-year-old fan, Julia Holcomb. Since it was illegal for them to be together, Tyler somehow convinced the girl’s parents to sign over custody so that he could live with her. They broke up when Holcomb was 18.
50. Friends With Benefits
David Bowie’s wife Angela left him in 1980, but couldn’t speak publicly about it for several years. In an interview ten years after the divorce, Angela revealed that she had found David naked in bed with men several times—including Mick Jagger! Jagger has denied these allegations, and Angela did later admit that she just because she said she found the men in bed together, she didn’t necessarily see anything explicit occurring.
Janis Joplin died on October 4, 1970, less than one month after Jimi Hendrix. She was known for her blues-inspired music, and was tough-talking and outrageous. Eventually, her hard-partying ways caught up with her, and she died at 27 from an overdose of heroin and alcohol. Her posthumously released album Pearl became an instant hit, and the single “Me and Bobby McGee” reached the top of the charts.
52. If at First, You Don’t Succeed
Elvis was told to “stick to driving a truck because you’ll never make it as a singer” during an audition for a local Memphis band. He recorded his first single “That’s Alright” soon after.
53. An Abrupt Ending
After struggling through poverty and injury to become one of the hottest jazz acts in Europe, and indeed around the world, it all ended rather abruptly for Django Reinhardt. It was a rather pleasant day in Paris on May, 16, 1953. The 43-year-old Reinhardt had just finished playing a show and was reaching the steps of his home when he suddenly suffered a brain hemorrhage.
Collapsing at his front door, Reinhardt was unable to see a doctor for an entire day, since it was Sunday. By the time he made it to a hospital, it was too late: he had died of a stroke.
54. Lady Day
Billie Holiday is remembered as one of the greatest jazz singers of all time. The circumstances of her final weeks on earth are utterly horrifying—she’d been pursued by agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics for decades, and when she was first admitted to hospital in 1959, “She was arrested and handcuffed for drug possession as she lay dying, her hospital room was raided, and she was placed under police guard.” The narcotics bureau would never get the chance to pursue her legally, as she died shortly after.
55. The Hillbilly Shakespeare
Hank Williams was one of America’s first country music superstars, and scored his first hit in 1948 with “Honky Tonkin’.” Heartbreak and turmoil seemed to always be part of his life, and as his success grew, so did his dependency on alcohol and morphine. On New Year’s Day 1953, his hard-living caught up with him, and he died at age 29 of a heart attack in the backseat of his car while he was being driven to a show
56. You Can’t Stop Me!
Long before Dave Grohl or Axl Rose performed onstage sitting down due to broken bones, Alice in Chains’ own Layne Staley beat them to the punch in 1992. After he ran over his own foot with an all-terrain vehicle, Staley didn’t want to lose out on a series of tours that Alice in Chains was supposed to do with Black Sabbath’s Ozzy Osborne. In defiance of his injury, Staley performed cast and all, much to the delight of the crowds and the alarm of Staley’s doctors.
57. Running Out of Time
The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia lived a high octane life when it came to drugs and alcohol. He had several bouts of intense substance abuse, but he decided to get help in 1995. That he was trying to get clean made his death in the Serenity Knolls treatment center in California all the more tragic. With his body suffering from years of abuse, sleep apnea, and other illnesses, Garcia’s heart just couldn’t take the stress of sobering up. He had a heart attack early in the morning of August 9, 1995.
58. But Not Forgotten
Deadheads are well known for being some of the most devoted fans in all of music. They know every Grateful Dead song and frequently debate their best live sets. When frontman Jerry Garcia passed away in 1995, it was hardly a surprise when grieving fans decided to pay their last respects to the tragic guitarist and singer. In a public memorial held at Polo Fields in San Francisco, around 25,000 people showed up to say goodbye one more time to the beloved musician.
59. A Ghost in the Daylight
Although they formed in the ’80s, the Manic Street Preachers definitely crested on the wave of the popularity of British rock bands in the ’90s—that us, until their guitarist Richey Edwards disappeared on February 1, 1995. Edwards had been due to fly to the US, but had been taking out £200 a day from his bank account for two weeks prior to his disappearance, totaling £2,800.
At 7:00 AM on February 1, he checked out of a hotel, leaving behind his suitcase and some medication, the rest of which he took with him, along with his wallet and passport. He was reportedly spotted periodically in the next two weeks, but on February 14 his car was first ticketed and later reported abandoned near a site of many known suicides, appearing to have been lived in. Since then, he’s been periodically spotted across the globe (probably about as frequently as Elvis or Tupac), while his family refused to have him declared dead until 2008.
60. Rippling Consequences
In a tragic example of parallel lives, the leading men of both Soundgarden and Nirvana struggled with depression throughout their lives, and each of them ended up taking their own lives. Kurt Cobain shot himself on April 5, 1994, at the age of 27. Chris Cornell’s death, meanwhile, was ruled to have been suicide by hanging, on May 18, 2017.
On that same day 37 years before, Ian Curtis of the British band Joy Division (whom Cornell had admired) had also taken his own life by hanging himself. Two months after Cornell’s death, his close friend Chester Bennington of Linkin Park followed Cornell in suicide on what would have been Cornell’s 53rd birthday.
61. An Unhappy Soul
For many, Elliott Smith was the voice of a generation of early indie rockers, known for his self-reflective and moody songs. But Smith was also well known for his mental health problems. He suffered from ADHD and long bouts of depression. In the early 2000s, he battled with substance abuse, and crowds at his shows began to notice a visible deterioration in his memory and playing skills. In many ways his career became marked from this point forward as one of tragic loss and missed potential.
62. Tragic Mystery
The circumstances surrounding Elliott Smith’s tragic death in 2003 were bizarre and mysterious. After getting into an argument with Smith, his girlfriend Jennifer Chiba locked herself in the bathroom to take a shower—that’s when she heard a scream and ran out only to find Smith with a knife protruding from his chest.
A brief suicide note was found and doctors labeled the death as such, but they left open the possibility of homicide. Some murmurs went around that Chiba was suspected of foul play, but the investigation went no further in part because of Smith’s early suicide attempts and his checkered-history with substance abuse.
The saddest part was that Smith had seemed to be getting healthy again and was working to get his life back on track. The album he was working on, From a Basement on the Hill, was posthumously released to much critical acclaim.
63. A Lost Voice
Marvin Gaye was one of the biggest stars to come out of Motown and he had one of the greatest voices in America. But his life came to a tragic end at the hands of his own father, Marvin Gay Sr., on April 1, 1984. Gaye had always been at odds with his father, even enlisting in the Army to escape home when he was still a teenager.
Even with this background, few could have predicted the events that unfolded when the soul singer attempted to intervene in a fight between his father and mother. Marvin Gay Sr. pulled out a gun and shot his son to death. At Gay Sr.’s trial, he was eventually found guilty of voluntary manslaughter after it was revealed that he’d been diagnosed with a brain tumor.
64. In Your Arms
Even before his brutal murder in 1984, Marvin Gaye’s life was struck with tragedy. In 1967, Tammi Terrell, who had recorded “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” with Gaye, collapsed in his arms on stage in Farmville, Virginia. Gaye rushed Terrell to the hospital where it was soon discovered that she suffered from a malignant brain tumor—her cancer proved to be fatal less than a year later.
65. Never Again
Marvin Gaye almost quit the music business altogether after the death of his close friend Tammi Terrell in 1968 from brain cancer. He felt that the music was hardly worth the struggle; he had seen how the industry treated individuals and couldn’t bring himself to write or record any new material. Gaye eventually decided to return to Motown studios to record new music two years later in 1970, but he was never quite the same.
66. The Day the Country Music Died
While “the day the music died” happened in 1959, an incident that has occasionally been referred to as “the day the country music died” happened a few years later, in 1963, when a plane carrying Patsy Cline, Hawkshaw Hawkins, and Cowboy Copas crashed in Camden, Tennessee. Cline was at the top of her career and had just performed to a standing room only crowd despite battling the flu. The three musicians and the pilot all died in the crash.
67. Life Imitating Art
While she became a familiar face in the grunge and alt-rock worlds with her band Hole, Courtney Love was also an aspiring actress. One of her first roles was a supporting role in the indie film Sid and Nancy. The film is based on infamous punk rocker Sid Vicious and his tragic relationship with Nancy Spungen. Love had auditioned to play Spungen, but while she didn’t end up getting the role, she ironically went on to be the spouse in an equally tragic relationship with Kurt Cobain.
68. Going Off the Rails on a Crazy Train
Randy Rhoads was a talented young guitarist who formed the band Quiet Riot and played with Ozzy Osbourne after his departure from Black Sabbath. Far from the typical rock star stereotype, Rhoads was a student of the guitar and deeply dedicated to his craft. He was even considering quitting the music biz in 1981 to study classical guitar at UCLA.
And compared to his bandmate Osbourne—or anyone he was on tour with, for that matter—he was a teetotaler, only enjoying the occasional drink. Osbourne actually recalls that in his last conversation with Rhoads, the guitarist had told him to slow down with his drinking or he’d kill himself. One night while on tour, the air conditioning on the tour bus broke, so it stopped in Florida.
The driver of the bus was also a licensed pilot, and they were near an airfield, so he started up an unattended plane. He took a few of the band and crew members on short joyrides before Rhoads and the band’s makeup artist got on. They decided to “prank” those who were sleeping in the bus by flying low over it to scare them.
On their third pass over, the plane wing touched the roof of the bus and broke up, sending Rhoads and the makeup artist through the windshield, and causing the plane to spiral before crashing nearby. Both Osbourne and his then-fiancee Sharon woke up, thinking that the bus had either crashed or exploded, and ran outside to find the horrific wreckage. Rhoads was just 25 years old.
69. The Wrong Crowd
Before Joy Division exploded onto the scene in the late 1970s, troubled lead singer Ian Curtis got into quite a bit of trouble with his teenage friends. While volunteering to visit the elderly as a part of a school program, Curtis and his friends were known to raid the medicine cabinets of their charges to steal prescription drugs. At one point, Curtis almost overdosed and had to be taken to the hospital by his father to have his stomach pumped.
70. To Calm the Nerves
Touring with Joy Division after the success of their breakout first album, Unknown Pleasures, took a huge toll on Ian Curtis’s life. He had been diagnosed with severe epilepsy and had been put on a strict regiment of medications. The partying and lack of sleep during the tour led to increased mood swings and seizures. By the time the band was recording their sophomore album, Curtis suffered on average two seizures per week.
With the pressures of touring and the mismanagement of his epilepsy, Ian Curtis’s personal life was unraveling. After having an affair with the Belgian journalist Annik Honoré, his wife Deborah began to file for divorce in 1980. In the midst of a deep depression, and with his health getting worse, Ian Curtis died by suicide in his Macclesfield home.
72. It’s a Fight!
While the Seattle scene was very tight-knit, a rivalry emerged between Nirvana and Pearl Jam during the early 1990s. Kurt Cobain despised their debut album, and he openly referred to Pearl Jam as sellouts! His reason for this was the plentiful guitar solos on their songs, which he said disqualified them from truly being indie rock. Despite this stance, Cobain would make his peace with the band, and even became close friends with Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder.
73. The Day the Music Died
Sometimes tragedies strike more than one musician at a time. That was the case on February 3, 1959, when a four-seater airplane took off from Clear Lake, Iowa, carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. Richardson (AKA The Big Bopper), and a pilot named Roger Peterson. Soon after takeoff, the plane ran into mechanical issues and crashed in a cornfield, killing three of the biggest new names in rock n’ roll.
74. Silver Linings
Sometimes the tragedy that befalls musicians spur their contemporaries to make great things in their honor. One of the great American rock n’ roll songs, after all, was written as a tribute to Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. Richardson. Don McLean’s 1971 hit “American Pie” memorialized “the day the music died.” McLean’s song sat atop the US charts for four consecutive weeks and has often been cited as one of America’s greatest ever songs.
75. Broken Hearts
As if the tragedy of a sudden death weren’t hard enough, Buddy Holly’s story gets even sadder when you remember that his wife, Maria Elena Holly, was pregnant with the couple’s first child at the time of the plane crash. Torn up with grief, Maria miscarried the child only a few days after she learned that her husband had died when the plane went down.
76. Fly Away, Freebird
Another horrific plane crash that forever changed rock music involved the band Lynyrd Skynyrd. The band was on a chartered plane that crashed in 1977, taking the lives of band members Ronnie Van Zant and Steve Gaines, along with several members of their entourage. The plane had run out of fuel and attempted an emergency landing.
Eerily, the album that was planned to come out three days after the crash was named Street Survivors and the cover photo featured the band engulfed in flames. Out of respect for the families of the deceased, the photo was changed on subsequent pressings of the record.
77. Never Again
One of Pearl Jam’s most controversial songs would have to be the 1992 hit song “Jeremy.” In true keeping with grunge music’s favoring dark topics, this song was based on a tragic true story of an American student who took his own life by gunshot while standing at the front of his class. The music video which Pearl Jam produced for the song intended to replicate this action, but MTV forbade them depicting the actor pointing the gun at himself on camera.
In a sad irony, the ambiguous shots of blood and screaming classmates caused some people to believe that Jeremy had begun shooting his classmates instead of himself.
78. We’re Done With MTV!
The misunderstanding and controversy over the music video for “Jeremy” ultimately caused Pearl Jam to stop making music videos for their songs. The studio wanted to make a music video for their song “Black,” but they hotly refused to do it. As Pearl Jam explained, they didn’t want their fans to lose sight of the songs themselves rather than have them overshadowed by the accompanying music videos.
79. Dream a Little Dream of Me
Cass Elliot was one of the founding members of the Mamas & the Papas, and after the band dissolved, was pursuing a successful solo career despite some hiccups, including an embarrassing court case involving stolen hotel sheets and a disastrous attempt at a Las Vegas residency. She was on her way back up in 1974 when she was found dead of heart failure in 1974, at age 32.
To add insult to injury, the first doctor who examined her body spoke to the media too soon and started an awful rumor that she’d choked to death on a ham sandwich. Despite the fact that it’s not true, this mean-spirited rumor has persisted over the years.
80. Society Is a Drag
In interviews after the suicide of Kurt Cobain in 1994, friends and his Nirvana bandmates intimated that they knew he wasn’t going to live a long life. Cobain was infamously misanthropic, detailing frequently how much he disliked other people. A lot of those feelings stemmed from his childhood and teenage years, where he was bullied often, especially when he became close friends with a gay student at his high school. He often advocated for LGBTQ rights and gave interviews for magazines such as The Advocate and Out.
81. I Will Always…
Whitney Houston was famous for her powerful vocals, and her tumultuous relationship with singer Bobby Brown. Throughout the ’90s and 2000s, struggles with drugs and poor health threatened her career. In 2012, she died of accidental drowning in her hotel bathtub, but heart disease and the cocaine found in her system were also contributing factors to her death.
82. The Truth Comes Out
Since her death, Houston and other members of her family have alleged that Houston was molested by an older cousin when she was a child. Whitney’s half-brother and her former manager also said that Houston told them about the molestation in private. Whitney’s half-brother alleges that he was a victim of abuse as well.
The cousin, Dee Dee Warrick, went on to become a singer as well but was eclipsed by her younger family members. The allegations were made public via Whitney, a documentary that premiered at Cannes Film Festival in May 2018. Warrick passed away in 2008, so we will never hear from her side.
83. Hells Bells
Australian rock gods AC/DC have long been poster boys of the hard-partying rock n’ roll lifestyle—a lifestyle that often takes its toll. Bon Scott, the raucous first singer for the band, epitomized both the highs and lows of the partying life. In 1980, just as the band was beginning to record what would become their monumental hit album Back in Black, Scott was left to sleep in his friend’s car after a night of hard drinking at a London club.
When his bandmate Alistair Kinnear tried to wake Scott the next day, he was already dead. The official cause of death was “acute alcohol poisoning” and asphyxiation: he had choked on his own vomit. Nonetheless, one of his biographers, Jesse Fink, argues that Scott’s pulmonary aspiration with vomit suggests that he may have died from a overdose of a harder drug.
84. High Priest of Pop
Prince frequently created controversy with his music due to his use of sexual and religious themes, but he cemented his superstar status with hit singles like “When Doves Cry.” On April 21, 2016, Prince was found dead at his compound in Minnesota from an accidental overdose of the synthetic opiate fentanyl. On the night of his death, thousands of mourners sang to “Purple Rain” in downtown Minneapolis.
85. Final Moments
After keeping her silence for over a month, Chris Cornell’s wife Vicky finally spoke about her troubles after her husband’s tragic death. In a heartbreaking interview with Rolling Stone, she admitted that she blamed his death on the specific anti-anxiety medication that he was taking, which was known to have suicidal thoughts as a side-effect.
She strongly believes he didn’t want to die—but has confessed the harrowing details of their last phone call together. She could tell that something was “off,” and she said that he started acting cruel when she asked what drugs he took. The call ended, and Cornell was found dead shortly after midnight that same evening.
86. Tough Gong
Legendary singer/songwriter Bob Marley was best known for helping to introduce Jamaican music to the world. Marley was diagnosed with malignant melanoma in 1977, but kept the diagnosis secret, and continued touring. He also released the album Kaya, which remained on British charts for 56 weeks. He succumbed to the disease in May 1981 at the age of 36, and is remembered as a visionary and revolutionary artist.
On his deathbed, Bob Marley told his son, “Money can’t buy life.” His final words were “On your way up, take me up. On your way down, don’t let me down.”
87. A Needed Conversation
Whereas many rock stars die young from the tragic excesses of a partying lifestyle, Karen Carpenter of The Carpenters presented an altogether different set of problems. Due to the pressures of keeping a particular public image, Karen suffered from anorexia throughout her short life. When she passed away in 1983 at just 32 years of age, it was one of the first times that eating disorders became a major talking point amongst the American people.
88. Dark Days
It’s well-known that Scott Weiland of the Stone Temple Pilots struggled with his painful addiction for decades—what people don’t know about was the series of heartbreaking events that preceded his tragic death. In less than a year, Weiland watched his close friend die, found out that his mother and father both had cancer, was estranged from his children, and found himself in crippling financial trouble. These events, coupled with his history of mental illness and addiction, all factored into the grunge star’s death by accidental overdose at just 48 years old.
89. Still I Rise
Hip-Hop artist Tupac Shakur’s break came in 1991 as a member of the group Digital Underground, and his music was controversial for its mentions of cop-killing and sexual violence. In 1996, the 25-year-old was killed in drive-by-shooting outside a Vegas hotel. His body was cremated, and members of his band claimed to have smoked some of his ashes in his honor.
According to Las Vegas police officer Chris Carroll, the first on the scene, Tupac’s last words were “f*** you,” after which he refused to speak to any other police officer. Later, in the hospital, it was discovered that someone had called his record company and made death threats against him. The receptionist had informed Las Vegas police, who declined to investigate, saying they were too understaffed to do anything.
90. The Last Minute
Through the late 80s, fans and the press had been gossiping and hypothesizing that Freddie Mercury was not well. When Mercury finally confirmed speculations that he was suffering from AIDS, it was one of the last things that he did. Freddie Mercury died from complications only one day after making his illness public.
The last song that Freddie Mercury ever recorded was called “Mother Love,” which touched on his illness and failing health. After recording much of the song, Mercury told bandmate Brian May that he needed to take a break. When he left the studio that day, he would never return—he died six months later.
91. Her Painful Past
Aretha Franklin, despite being so popular, has tried to lead a private life. There’s one topic that you’d be hard-pressed to get her to open up about: her father. In 1979, as she was performing at a concert in Las Vegas, he was shot by robbers and sadly stayed in a coma until 1984, when he died. Famous reverend Jesse Jackson presided over the funeral.
92. Where’s the Swear Jar?
An ugly spat between the Sex Pistols and Today show host Bill Grundy came to mark punk rock as “dangerous” to the public. Brought onto replace Queen at the very last minute, the less friendly band was asked by the host to “say something outrageous.” Band member Steve Jones promptly responded with “What a f—ing rotter” before a live audience. This absolutely rocked 1976 sensibilities.
93. No Words for That Word
After a Sex Pistols member dropped an F-bomb on the Today show, some stores outright refused to stock any more of their records. Likewise, newspapers lambasted the band for their generally poor public manners. Oh, for the age when leaking a swear word on live TV was the worst thing one could do…
94. For the Father I Never Knew
In 1939, Holiday released “Strange Fruit.” Controversial upon its release, the song deals with racism in the United States, and specifically the lynching of black people, which was horrifically common at the time. Holiday was initially worried about violent reprisals against her for singing about the topic, but she was determined to go forward with it in honor of her father, who had died when a hospital refused to treat him for a lung disorder on account of his race.
Metallica met with tragic misfortune in 1986 when their bassist, Cliff Burton, died in a tour bus accident. Burton was thrown out of the bus’s window when the vehicle began to careen from side to side. The bus then landed on Burton, and an attempt to save him with a crane only led to the bus crashing onto him again. The bus driver said he hit a patch of black ice, but frontman James Hetfield said he walked up and down the street afterward and didn’t encounter any. Hetfield speculates the driver might have been drunk or asleep at the wheel, but a subsequent investigation cleared the driver of any wrongdoing.
96. The End of a Beautiful Friendship
Paul McCartney had a pretty rocky relationship with the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. They initially seemed to be kindred spirits and collaborated on many tracks, most notably “The Girl is Mine” and “Say Say Say.” However, things soured once Jackson acquired the publishing rights to the vast majority of The Beatles catalog, before selling a portion of it to Sony Music. McCartney was completely blindsided by the move, and the two would never work together again.
97. Never Tear Us Apart
Tragedy has sadly haunted the children of Paula Yates. Although not a rock star, the Welsh TV presenter was involved with two big names in the world of music: Bob Geldof of The Boomtown Rats, and Michael Hutchence of the band INXS. She had three daughters with Geldof before they divorced. She gave birth to a daughter, Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily, with Hutchence in 1996, but in 1997, Hutchence died by suicide.
The next few years of Yates’ life were unsurprisingly hellish. She denied all claims that Hutchence’s death was intentional, and claimed that Geldof had previously threatened her and told her that he was above the law. She spent time in psychiatric treatment and lost custody of her daughters with Geldof after a suicide attempt. While fighting for custody of her daughters, she discovered that the man she thought was her father actually was not, and that her biological father had passed away months prior. Sadly, things were about to get worse.
98. Tragedy Upon Tragedy
Paula Yates died by accidental overdose in 2001, leaving behind four children, and leaving her daughter Tiger Lily orphaned. Geldof stepped up and adopted Tiger Lily so that she could grow up with her sisters, but their nightmare wasn’t over yet. In 2014, Yates and Geldof’s daughter Peaches also died of a heroin overdose. Hopefully for the remaining members of the Geldof-Yates-Hutchence clan, that horrible chapter of their lives is closed.
99. The Last Days
Due to the high-profile nature of the case and the rampant conspiracy theories perpetuated by fans, Seattle Police decided to revisit the case of Kurt Cobain’s suicide in 2014. Detectives claimed an undeveloped roll of film with photographs of the scene that had sat in an evidence locker for years. These photos provided a clearer image of Cobain’s final moments than the Polaroids that had been previously used.
Upon re-evaluation of the scene, the detective only confirmed the finding that Cobain had killed himself, but they initially refused to release these new photos to the public, saying “What are people going to gain from seeing pictures of Kurt Cobain laying on the ground with his hair blown back, with blood coming out of his nose and trauma to his eyes from a penetrating shotgun wound. How’s that going to benefit anybody?”
However, some of the photos, including one tragically showing the hospital bracelet he still had on his arm from the detox program that he had escaped from just days before his death, were later made publicly available.
100. Profound Coincidence
One day during the recording of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” a tribute to their former member Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd were visited by an overweight, bald man with shaved eyebrows. He behaved strangely, even brushing his teeth during the session. After a while, the band realized that it was none other than Barrett himself.
Roger Waters was reportedly so overcome by Barrett’s physical transformation and sudden appearance that he began to cry. For his part, Rick Wright found it “disturbing” that Barrett had picked that day of all days to come to visit his old band. Barrett, meanwhile, seems to have thought little of it; he quietly left later that day when the band was preoccupied with a celebration for David Gilmour’s wedding. It was one of the last times they ever saw him before his death in 2006.
101. This is the End
To this day, Freddie Mercury’s final resting place is unknown. After his death on November 24, 1991, his body was cremated, and his ashes were kept in an urn by his lifelong friend, Mary Austin. Two years later, Austin quietly left her house with the urn, fulfilling Mercury’s wishes to be covertly laid to rest without risk of disturbance. Not even his parents were told, and Austin has kept the secret of where the star’s final resting is to this day.
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