There’s nothing quite like a powerful voice. I’m all for a smooth guitar riff or drum solo, but it’s hard to top a singer showing off their pipes. From Sinatra to Streisand, McCartney to Mercury, the world has seen some pretty legendary singers—and a lot of them have lived some pretty legendary lives. Read on for facts about the most iconic singers in music history.
1. Cradle to the Grave
The world almost missed out on Frank Sinatra. The baby Sinatra was born blue and not breathing before doctors used forceps to forcefully yank him out of the womb by the head. They assumed that he didn’t make it, so they simply laid him on a table and began caring for his mother. This is when his grandmother took over and put young Frank under a cold water tap, causing him to immediately spring to life (I like to think singing “Summer Wind”).
This rough entry into the world gave him a scar on the side of his face—a feature which stayed with him for his whole life, at times causing him serious insecurity.
2. You Make Me Feel So Young
Frank Sinatra’s parents were both born in Italy and emigrated to the United States when they were young. His father was born Saverio Antonino Martino Sinatra and went by Anthony Martin “Marty” Sinatra in his later life, while his mother was born Natalina Maria Vittoria Garaventa and eventually went by Dolly Sinatra.
During his childhood, Sinatra’s mother worked as a midwife, and also likely operated an illegal abortion clinic, while his father fought as a lightweight boxer under the name of Marty O’Brien.
3. Luck Be the Ladies
Despite spending the 1940s as a superstar teenage heartthrob and the object countless teenage girls’ infatuation, Sinatra’s publicist George Evans still decided that the young star could use a helping hand. So, he held auditions to see which girls could scream the loudest, and then paid them to strategically sit in spots that would maximize the noise coming from the audience, all to help create the hype.
4. Strangers in the Night
One rumor that never left Sinatra his entire life was the claim that he was closely connected to the mafia. There may be good reason for this—he not only posed with prominent members of the Chicago mafia in photographs, but even sang at the family wedding of Willie Moretti, a known member of the Genovese crime family, in 1948. Maybe that’s why he called Chicago “My Kind of Town”!
5. Getting the World on a String
It seems that all of these mob ties were more than just personal for Sinatra—some credit his relationship with these notorious figures for helping his career take off. In other words, it was in part by collaborating with the mafia that Sinatra was thrust into the public eye. Should we be disturbed by this, or grateful that they gave us the opportunity to experience his talent?
Comedian Jackie Mason reported that after making fun of Ol’ Blue Eyes in one of his acts, he was threatened and roughed up by gangsters in his hotel room. Did Sinatra orchestrate this, or were these guys just super-committed fans? You be the judge…
7. Someone to Watch Over Him
Sinatra racked up quite a large FBI file over the course of his lifetime. Beginning with his arrest in 1938 for “adultery and seduction” (some very Sinatra-esque charges), his lasting habits of fighting, drinking, and womanizing, as well as his advanced ties to the mob, kept him on the Feds’ radar for decades—amassing an impressive file of no less than 2,403 pages.
8. Love & Marriage
Frank Sinatra’s first marriage to Nancy Barbato ended when it was revealed that he was having an affair with movie star Ava Gardner. The date that the couple decided to end their eleven-year marriage? Valentine’s Day. That must have been fun.
9. Match Made in Hell
Sinatra’s second marriage to movie star Ava Gardner was short-lived, widely publicized, and extremely turbulent. The couple spent much of their two years together on the pages of tabloid magazines and newspapers, and not exactly for being the fairytale couple he’d hoped they’d be.
10. I’ll Never Smile Again
Sinatra was so devastated by his split with Ava Gardner that he was reportedly found in the elevator of his apartment building with his wrists slashed a few weeks after the separation.
Hollywood superstar Humphrey Bogart once refused to attend a party with Sinatra due to his fear that the crooner would seduce his wife and co-star Lauren Bacall. Though the Sinatra and Bacall did in fact become quite close, probably stoking Bogey’s fears, they were never in an actual relationship (publicly, at least, there were of course rumors).
12. Something Stupid
Sinatra and baseball star Joe Dimaggio once tried to raid their mutual ex-lover Marilyn Monroe’s apartment to catch her with another man, but accidentally raided the wrong place and invaded the home of a 39-year old secretary named Florence Kotz. Whoops!
13. Darkest Hour
In the early 1950s, Sinatra once stumbled upon a crowd of young girls, akin to the kind he had regularly attracted early in his career, lining up to see young singing star Eddie Fisher (future father of Star Wars star Carrie Fisher). In what was probably his darkest moment, Sinatra saw this scene and immediately felt that the world no longer wanted him, leading him to attempt suicide by sticking his head in his oven.
Thankfully, his manager walked in just in time to save his life.
14. 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.
15. 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, and Gaye was utterly devastated by the loss.
16. Never Again
Marvin Gaye almost quit the show business altogether after Terrell’s death. 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.
Amy Winehouse attended the Sylvia Young Theatre School from the ages of 13-15. The school requires an application form for successful entry, and Sylvia Young shared part of Amy’s application with the public after her death. In her letter, Winehouse wrote that she wanted people to hear her voice and “forget their troubles for five minutes.”
She already had dreams of sold-out concerts and shows and wasn’t afraid to let Sylvia Young know.
18. Better Days
Sometimes we have to watch our heroes crumble in front of us, and on June 18, 2011, a crowd of 20,000 witnessed a visibly drunk Winehouse struggle through a set at Kalemegdan Park in Belgrade, Serbia. The set was meant to be the first on a 12 stop tour across Europe. Winehouse messed up some of her lyrics and sometimes stopped singing altogether. When the crowd began booing, Winehouse threw her shoe at them.
The performance went viral two days later and the rest of the tour was canceled. This was Winehouse’s last concert performance prior to her death.
Winehouse was found in her Camden home in 2011 and the coroner initially ruled it a “verdict of misadventure;” basically a death accidentally resulting from legal activity. The original coroner was found to be lacking the relevant experience (five years as a registered lawyer) but a second coroner confirmed the verdict in 2013.
In simple terms, Winehouse died of alcohol poisoning, with her blood containing more than five times the legal limit.
Winehouse’s favorite song was Carole King’s “So Far Away” and her funeral service ended with her loved ones singing it.
21. 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 that Cage was married to the King’s daughter Lisa Marie in the mid-2000s.
22. I’m Goin’ to Graceland
After Elvis 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. Clearly, this resting place wasn’t working out.
Eventually, 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.
23. Living Long in Memory
Elvis’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, though!
24. House Rules
Liza Minnelli comes from a famous and twisted family tree. In 1946, she was born to the second marriage of screen legend, Judy Garland. Her father was Italian film director Vincente Minnelli. Her parents divorced in 1951, when she was five years old. They would each go on to re-marry several times, resulting in a tangle of half-siblings for the little Minnelli.
25. From Recess to Happy Hour
When most girls were playing hopscotch, Minnelli was singing at nightclubs. Since she was a teenager, Minnelli was used to gracing bars with her voice. However, she made her official professional debut at 19 years old in Washington DC’s Shoreham Hotel.
26. Daddy’s Little Chief Beneficiary
When her father passed in 1986, he gave lion’s share of his valued $1.1 million USD estate to his most famous daughter, Liza. Meanwhile, her father’s widow was bequeathed $100,000, and a meager $5,000 to went to Minnelli’s paternal half-sister Christiane, on the basis she had been “provided” for already enough in life.
Additionally, Liza received all of her father’s furniture and property.
27. Never Too Sick for Song
In 2000, doctors thought Minnelli would never walk or speak again after she contracted a serious case of viral encephalitis. Miraculously—and after intense dance and vocal therapy—she made a full recovery by 2001. She made her return at Michael Jackson’s 30th-anniversary special, where she sang “Never Never Land” and declared “I am as stable as a table.”
28. Friends With No Benefits
Minnelli’s first marriage to Peter Allen ended when he came out as gay in 1974. According to her, she was the last to know: “I married Peter, and he didn’t tell me he was gay. Everyone knew but me. And I found out … well, let me put it this way: I’ll never surprise anybody coming home as long as I live. I call first!” Nevertheless, the two stayed close friends until Allen’s 1992 passing.
29. Love Square
While still in the closet, Minnelli’s first husband Peter Allen embarked on a secret affair with Minnelli’s own stepfather, Mark Herron. He was still married to Judy Garland at the time, which must have made an awkward event of both family dinners and red carpets.
30. In Love With the Wrong Team
Minnelli’s father, Vincente, was rumored to have had relationships with other men. Allegedly, her mother, Judy Garland, tried to take her own life upon finding her husband in bed with a male lover.
31. A Louie By Any Other Name
Louis Armstrong was given several nicknames throughout his career. Aside from the obvious moniker “Louie,” Armstrong was also known as “Satchmo” and “Pops.”
32. Oh, Those Silly Yanks
Speaking of “Satchmo,” this nickname was actually derived from another nickname that Armstrong got when he was a kid. Armstrong was known for his big smile (an impressive feat, given that he didn’t exactly have the happiest childhood in the world). As a result, Armstrong was called “Dippermouth” and “Satchelmouth.”
He kept “Satchelmouth” as a moniker up until the 1930s, when a writer from London altered the nickname to “Satchmo” instead.
33. Liar Liar
Armstrong was born on August 4, 1901, in New Orleans. However, this wasn’t known commonly until the 1980s. Armstrong had always claimed that he had been born on July 4, 1900, presumably because being born on Independence Day in the first year of the new century seems more poetic.
34. A Sign of Things to Come
As a child, Armstrong was enrolled at the Fisk School for Boys. While he was at this school, he would also work odd jobs like selling coal. It was during this time that he first heard bands which would play music with household objects rather than instruments. These spasm bands, as they were called, were the beginning of Armstrong’s ventures into the world of music.
35. Mazel Tov
The young Armstrong would work jobs for the Karnoffskys, a Jewish family who were originally from Lithuania. The Karnoffsky family would not only take him in and ensure he was well-fed, but they were also the ones who gave Armstrong the money to buy his first cornet. Even as a child, Armstrong could see that the Karnoffskys, like himself, were subject to racism and prejudice; in this case, it was for their Jewish faith.
In honor of their kindness towards him as a child, Armstrong would proudly wear a Star of David pendant for the rest of his life.
36. Rehearsing on the Fly
Armstrong’s real education occurred when he was playing with a brass band on riverboats in the south. His bandleader, Fate Marable, pushed for everyone in his band, including Armstrong, to be able to read and perform a piece of music even if they hadn’t ever seen it before. This crash course in sight-reading, as it’s called, proved very useful for Armstrong later in his career.
37. “Leave it all Behind Ya!”
Despite his enthusiasm for food, Armstrong was also very concerned about his weight, and it led him to seek out an unusual method for controlling his health. Armstrong would rely so heavily on laxatives that he would advocate for them to his friends, and he even wrote a diet book encouraging their use. He would also give out laxatives as casual gifts, even to members of the British Royal Family when he met them on one of his tours.
38. Young Whippersnappers…
Despite his widespread popularity in the 1950s, Armstrong was at odds with the new generation of jazz which included Miles Davis and Charlie Parker. They disliked his older style as being “a link to minstrelsy.” For his part, Armstrong had nothing but contempt for the bebop music which took prominence in that decade. He was once asked if he could play bebop, and he promptly responded, “I just play music.” Ouch.
39. An Offer You Can’t Skabba Dabba Dooba Refuse!
Despite his glowing reputation, Armstrong wasn’t without his troubles. His stances on racial integration (more on those later) resulted in the FBI creating a file on him. Long before that, however, he started getting followed by the people on the other side of the law: the Mafia. In fact, their presence eventually got so unsettling that Armstrong fled the country for a time.
40. Holy Pops
Such was Armstrong’s fame that he and his wife got to have a sit-down with Pope Pius XII in 1949. According to Armstrong, the “fine little ol’ fella” asked the Armstrongs if they were blessed with children. Armstrong allegedly quipped, “No, daddy, but we’re workin’ on it!” We like to think that the Pope at least cracked a grin at that kind of response.
41. “Music is my Life”
Armstrong was a consummate music performer—to such an extent that he refused to stop, even in his dotage. In 1971, his doctors warned him that he should take time off from performing, but Armstrong wouldn’t hear of it. A two-week engagement at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York resulted in him suffering a heart attack.
Even that wouldn’t stop him, however, and he continued to practice his trumpet, planning to get back on his feet and resume playing. Sadly, a second heart attack killed him in his sleep on July 6, 1971.
42. The Shorter the Better
Barbara Joan Streisand was born on April 24, 1942, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York. And no, that is not a typo in her first name, as her given name was spelled that way. She would eventually drop the second “a” in her name at the beginning of her career, as she thought it would help her stand out more.
43. Finding Light in Darkness
Tragedy struck Streisand very early on in her life when her dad passed away after suffering a seizure. She was only 15 months old at the time and ended up having to move in with her grandparents after her mother struggled financially to raise her and her siblings. As difficult as it is to lose a parent, especially at such a young age, Streisand believes his death, in a way, helped shaped who she would later become in life.
She also used this childhood pain as inspiration while filming the movie Yentl.
44. On Her First Try
Streisand is one of the most decorated recording artists in history but she never intended to pursue a career in music, she merely stumbled into it. She never took a singing lesson in her life but was persuaded by a friend to enter a talent show at a club, which she won. This led to her performing as a cabaret singer at numerous clubs in New York.
Soon, she was getting gigs across the country, and her fan base started to grow.
45. DON’T Look Over Here
Streisand has a term named after her called “The Streisand Effect” which is used to describe a situation where someone tries to draw attention away from a subject but ends up unintentionally drawing even more attention to it. The term was coined in 2003 after Streisand sued a photographer who worked for the California Coastal Records Project for taking aerial photos of her estate, as she argued they showed people how to break onto her property.
In reality, they were solely meant for scientists and researchers who study coastal erosion. At the time of the lawsuit, the photos had only been seen six times, two of which were by Streisand’s lawyers. Once the lawsuit became public knowledge, they were seen over one million times!
46. Hard Knock Life
Due to her unique look, Streisand struggled early on in life and had to deal with bullies both at school and at home. She was mocked by other students, emotionally abused by her stepfather and never supported by her mother, who believed she wasn’t attractive enough to make it in the entertainment industry.
47. One Bad Day
In 1967, Streisand forgot the lyrics to some of her songs while performing a concert in Central Park for more than 130,000 people. This moment took such a toll on her that she developed stage fright, which led a 27-year period where she did not perform live in front of an audience. To this day she still suffers from stage fright but finds ways to power through it.
48. The Friends You Keep
Streisand was friends with Michael Jackson for many years, and she’s recently come under fire for her comments about his accusers after the release of the documentary Finding Neverland. Though she didn’t imply that Jackson’s accusers were lying, she did say: “His sexual needs were his sexual needs…You can say ‘molested,’ but those children, as you heard say, they were thrilled to be [at Jackson’s Neverland ranch]. They both married and they both have children, so it didn’t kill them.”
She also took the blame off of Jackson, instead pinning fault on the parents “who would allow their children to sleep with him.” Not long after the comments, Streisand offered a public apology online—but it’s hard to take words like that back.
49. A Violent Start
Eartha Kitt was born on a North Carolina cotton plantation on January 17, 1927. The circumstances of her conception have been heavily speculated upon. She was either the product of her mother’s affair with a local white doctor or, more horrifically, the result of her mother’s assault by the plantation owner’s son.
50. A Stich in Poverty
To make ends meet with her aunt in their cramped Harlem apartment, Kitt spent her teenage years working in a sewing factory.
51. Not a Kitty to Sit Pretty
In 1968, Kitt turned her invitation to the First Lady’s luncheon into a public denunciation of the Vietnam War. The luncheon aimed to raise awareness about juvenile crime on the streets of America. As only one of just seven black women among the 41 guests, Kitt endured speech after speech that saw beautifying neighborhoods as a remedy to social woes.
In contrast, when it was Kitt’s turn to talk, she said: “You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot.”
52. So, No Dessert?
Kitt’s anti-war statements made Lady Bird Johnson burst into tears. During the “White House Incident,” Kitt formally declared: “The children of America are not rebelling for no reason. They are not hippies for no reason at all. We don’t have what we have on Sunset Blvd. for no reason. They are rebelling against something. There are so many things burning the people of this country, particularly mothers. They feel they are going to raise sons—and I know what it’s like, and you have children of your own, Mrs. Johnson—we raise children and send them to war.”
For speaking her mind, Kitt’s career was derailed over the next few decades.
53. Victim of the Telephone Game
After Kitt’s conduct at the luncheon, she was effectively blacklisted from work in the United States. It’s said the CIA spread rumors about her being “a sadistic nymphomaniac” and even planted a dossier with lies about her sex life and family history to be published in 1975. From then on, her work mostly took place in Europe and Asia.
54. Rough Ride Home
The US government made its stance on Eartha Kitt very clear following her anti-war comments. She had arrived at the luncheon via arranged car, but she found none waiting to help her leave. She had to cab her way back. Of course, she heard radio news already breaking down her words on the commute.
55. Hands Off Her Man
In 2019, actress Jackée Harry opened up about the time Eartha Kitt “slapped the f— outta me!” Answering a Twitter thread about surreal celebrity encounters, Harry described Kitt attacking her because she thought Harry was sleeping with her boyfriend. As it turns out, Harry was sleeping with her boyfriend, but didn’t know he was also dating Kitt.
56. Six Reasons Why
By the end of her life, Kitt summarized her eventful but harrowing life in six words: “Rejected, ejected, dejected, used, accused, abused.”
57. A Star Is Born
Diana Ross was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1944. She was the second of six children to Fred and Ernestine Ross. Diana was not the only gifted member of her large family: her older sister, Barbara, would go on to become the first African-American woman to be named dean of a medical school. All in all, that’s not too shabby.
Though the world knows her as Diana, Ross was actually named Diane at birth. A typo led to her name being recorded as Diana in official records, but close friends still refer to her as Diane. Ross was even listed as “Diane Ross” on some early Supremes records.
59. Keeping Tabs
At 16, Ross signed with Motown Records—but not as a singer. She actually worked as a secretary when she first started. Motown president Gordy wanted to support Ross and her group, but he still felt they were too young to sign to a record deal, so he enlisted her to file papers around the Motown offices. Hey, you’ve gotta start somewhere.
60. A Change in Strategy
The Supremes were not an instant success. In fact, they were known around Hitsville as “the no-hit Supremes.” Their fortunes seemed to change when Berry Gordy decided that Ross should be the lead singer, rather than the girls sharing lead duties. The group finally hit number one with the Ross-led “Where Did Our Love Go?” in 1964.
61. So Long, Supremes
By 1969, tensions had mounted to a breaking point within the Supremes, and with Gordy’s encouragement, Ross embarked on a solo career. Ross left the group and was replaced by Jean Tyrell. The Supremes would continue to perform without Ross until 1977, with Mary Wilson being the only original member left in the group.
62. A Thrilling Discovery
Ross was publicly credited with discovering the Jackson 5 and was used to introduce them in major public appearances. Their debut album was even titled Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5. But there’s a dark secret to this fact: In reality, Ross had nothing to do with the Jacksons signing to Motown, a fact she now freely admits.
63. No Love Lost
Florence Ballard passed away in 1976. Ross showed up for the funeral to pay respects to her old bandmate, but the tragedy wasn’t over. Throngs of mourning Supremes fans booed her as she exited her limo: Ballard had fallen on hard times since being ousted from the Supremes, and many fans blamed Ross for Ballard’s exit from the group.
64. Baby Love
From 1965 until 1971, Ross had a romantic relationship with Motown Records president Berry Gordy. She was pregnant with Gordy’s child when she married music executive Robert Ellis Silberstein in January 1971.
65. Going Solo
Silberstein agreed to raise the child—Ross’s first—as his own. Silberstein and Ross had two more children together before divorcing in 1977.
66. Ain’t No Mountain High Enough?
Ross married Norwegian shipping magnate Arne Naess Jr. in 1986. Ross and Naess had two children together before divorcing in 2000. While Ross seemed to hold out hope for a reconciliation (she called Naess “the true love of her life”), but their love was doomed to a heartbreaking end: Naess died while mountain climbing in 2004.
67. Rock Around the Block
Ross grew up in Detroit’s Brewster-Douglass Projects. Times were hard, but Ross had some extremely talented neighbors: they included Smokey Robinson and her future Supremes bandmates Florence Ballard, Betty McGlown, and Mary Wilson. Whatever was going on between the walls of those apartment buildings, we want some of it.
68. Never Felt Good Enough
Janis Joplin wasn’t a very popular kid growing up and was often picked on in her school. Her hair was too frizzy, she had bad acne that caused facial scarring, she was overweight, and, unlike most of the kids in her 50s Texas school, she got along with Black people. The students would tease her calling her a “freak” or a “pig.”
Joplin once said, “I was a misfit. I read, I painted, I thought. I didn’t hate Black people.” It’s clear Joplin was a free thinker from the start!
69. Cruel Pranks
During her time at the University of Texas, some mean spirited boys started a campaign—and succeeded—to get Joplin named “Ugliest Man on Campus.”
70. Pen Parents
Joplin loved her family and her parents a lot, she wrote them letters while she lived in San Francisco. Despite the fact that her parents were loving and supportive—though not of her drug use—Joplin felt like a family disappointment. In one of her letters she wrote, “Weak as it is, I apologize for being just so plain bad in the family.”
71. Skin Art
Joplin had a couple tattoos—the woman’s liberation symbol on her wrist, and a heart on her left breast. Reportedly, of her tattoos, she said, “I wanted some decoration. See, the one on my wrist is for everybody; the one on my tit is for me and my friends.”
72. Everyone Loves Her.
Among her list of affairs is the rumor that she slept with talk show Dick Cavett. While he never confirmed anything, when he was asked if they were involved he replied, “I would hope so!” Guess you should make your own conclusions.
73. Heart and Bottle Breaker
Joplin hung around a lot of other rockers—some that even also tragically died young like Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison. Morrison was reportedly so enamored with Joplin he just had to get a date with her. Joplin, on the other hand, wasn’t interested, and Morrison was pretty sure he could turn that no into a yes with time. He kept bothering her and bothering her until Joplin took a bottle of her trademark Southern Comfort and broke it over his head, knocking Morrison out.
That never changed Morrison’s opinion of Joplin though, even after the incident he was quoted as saying, “What a great woman! She’s terrific! Can I have her telephone number?” Though maybe with the blow to the head he couldn’t remember what happened.
Joplin had a one night stand with folk singer Leonard Cohen, who penned the song “Chelsea Hotel #2” about her. He once told Rolling Stone about that night, saying, “She wasn’t looking for me, she was looking for Kris Kristofferson; I wasn’t looking for her, I was looking for Brigitte Bardot. But we fell into each other’s arms through some process of elimination.” Now he feels a bit bad about connecting Joplin with the song, feeling like it was rather un-gentlemen-like to have kissed and told.
In that same interview, he told Rolling Stone, “I don’t know when it started, but I connected her name with the song, and I’ve been feeling very bad about that ever since. It’s an indiscretion for which I’m very sorry, and if there is some way of apologizing to the ghost, I want to apologize now, for having committed that indiscretion.” Though he apologizes to Joplin’s ghost, he also believes Joplin wouldn’t have minded being connected to the song.
75. Lost Love Letter
Joplin’s ex-boyfriend sent her a telegram that said, “Love you Mama, more than you know…” but it never reached Joplin. She died before being able to read it. The sender was David Niehaus, who met Joplin on a trip to Brazil. At the time he helped her get off drugs, but she started using again when she went back to San Francisco, ending their relationship.
It seemed he still had feelings for Joplin, and sadly she’d never know.
76. Happy Birthday, Baby!
The very last thing Joplin recorded was a birthday song for fellow rock legend John Lennon.
77. Four Out of Twelve
Dolly Parton was born in 1946 in Pittman Center, Tennessee. She was the fourth child born to Avie Lee Caroline and Robert Lee Parton Sr, who would go on to have 12 kids in total. Parton was born in the family’s one-room cabin.
78. Hard Working Papa
Dolly Parton didn’t grow up wealthy—quite the opposite. Parton herself described her family as “dirt poor,” and she wasn’t kidding. Her mother was a homemaker for the family, taking care of the 12 kids. Her father was a sharecropper, a farmer, and did side jobs to help make ends meet. Despite being unable to read, Dolly thinks of her father as one of the smartest people she’s ever met.
79. That’s So Corny!
As payment for bringing Dolly into the world, the doctor who delivered her was paid one bag of cornmeal.
80. Church Girl
Parton was brought up in a Pentecostal church where her grandfather was the pastor. Her earliest performances were at her church. She started singing in them at the age of six, and at seven she would accompany her songs on a homemade guitar. By the time she was eight, her uncle gifted her with her first professionally-made guitar.
81. Started Young
Dolly Parton got her start singing in church before she moved into performing on the radio as a child. At the ripe old age of 10, she was performing on The Cast Walker Show—the talk show of a prominent Tennessee businessman and politician in Knoxville, Tennessee. When she was 13, she recorded her first single, “Puppy Love.” Parton also took the stage at the Grand Ole Opry for the first time at 13 where she met the infamous man in black—Johnny Cash!
Cash instantly recognized the talent in the young Parton, and told her she should follow her dreams and keep on singing.
82. Moving On Up
As soon as Parton had her diploma in hand in 1964, she moved to Nashville and kicked off her career in earnest. She got her start as a songwriter, writing with her uncle Bill Owens. During this time, Parton wrote two top 10 hits: “Put It Off Until Tomorrow” sung by Bill Phillips in 1966, and “Fuel to the Flame” sung by Skeeter Davis in 1967.
Parton’s songs were sung by country legends like Kitty Wells and Hank Williams Jr. in the late 60s.
83. Thanks, but No Thanks, Elvis!
The King of Rock and Roll himself, Elvis Presley, wanted to record a cover of Parton’s song. As soon as Dolly got word of it, she went around telling everyone that Presley wanted to record her song, her excitement was through the roof. Right up until she realized that having Presley record her song meant he’d take half of her publishing rights—despite the fact that it was already written, published, and successful with Parton singing it.
In one of the most heartbreaking moments of her career, she turned him down, wanting to leave the money the song would make for her family. Though she has always wondered how amazing the Presley version would have sounded, Parton doesn’t regret it. Now she jokes that with the royalties she’s made of Whitney Houston’s version of “I Will Always Love You,” that she’s “made enough money to buy Graceland.”
84. So Long Norma Jean!
In 1967, Parton replaced country singer Norma Jean on The Porter Wagoner Show, at the invitation of the Porter Wagoner himself. At the start of her career on the show, the audience hated Parton. When she would come out to perform they’d chant for Norma Jean in the audience. Parton and Wagoner refused to give up though and worked to win the audience over.
This was the start of a beautiful partnership between Wagoner and Parton, who would go on to champion Parton in her music career.
85. Moving On
As Parton became an increasingly successful solo artist, she decided it was time to strike out on her own. Her final duet album with Wagoner—Say Forever You’ll Be Mine—was released in 1975. Parton wrote a song about her professional break from Wagoner, a little song you’ve maybe heard of, titled “I Will Always Love You.” It went on to hit number one on the country charts.
86. She’s Been Everywhere, Man
Before she was “Stevie Nicks,” she was born as Stephanie Lynn Nicks on May 26, 1948, in Phoenix, Arizona. However, her father’s work as a food business executive meant the family moved around all over the country, living in places such as Lake City, Los Angeles, Albuquerque, El Paso, and even San Francisco.
87. I Smell Trouble
By the 1980s, Nick’s cocaine addiction became almost deadly. Before the tour, Nicks asked a plastic surgeon, “What do you think about my nose?” He replied, “Well, I think that next time you do a hit of cocaine, you could drop dead.”
88. It’s Always the Ones You Least Suspect
Nicks’ romance with the Eagle’s Joe Walsh is hardly the most famous of her affairs…but despite it all, Nicks has openly referred to Walsh as the love of her life. Go figure.
89. The Paths Not Taken
The Fleetwood Mac song “Sara” is inspired by Nicks’ 1979 abortion. She had become pregnant after an entanglement with Eagles drummer/vocalist Don Henley.
90. Stop Before You Drop
In 1993, while she was hosting a baby shower at her home, Nicks tripped and bashed her head on a fireplace, knocking herself out cold. Later, describing the incident, she has said, “I’m one of those people who doesn’t injure themselves. I was horrified to see that blood. I hadn’t had enough wine. I knew it was the Klonopin.”
Immediately afterward, Nicks checked herself into the hospital for a grueling 47-day detox.
91. The World’s Longest Hangover
Nicks famously testifies to having “no memory” of her solo tour in 1989. At the time, she was struggling with her addiction to clonazepam. Ironically, she had been prescribed the drug in the first place to halt her cocaine addiction.
92. How It All Started
The legend of Paul McCartney began on June 18, 1942, at Walton Hospital in Liverpool, England. His parents were James, a cotton salesman and one-time musician, and Mary Patricia, a nurse at Walton. McCartney’s full birth name is James Paul McCartney.
93. His First Band
In 1957, a 15-year-old Paul McCartney attended a social at St. James’ Church in the Liverpool suburb of Woolton. It was at this social where McCartney would encounter an upstart rock and roll band called The Quarrymen, whose members included a young John Lennon. The Quarrymen would later invite McCartney to join their act.
They would soon be joined by George Harrison and eventually morphed into a little-known band called The Beatles.
94. Making a Trip to Springfield
Along with his then-wife Linda, McCartney appeared as himself on The Simpsons seventh season episode “Lisa the Vegetarian.” In the episode, the McCartneys encourage Lisa Simpson to stick with her newfound vegetarianism. A longtime vegetarian himself, McCartney only agreed to appear on the show if Lisa continued to be a vegetarian throughout the show’s run.
The request was granted and nearly twenty years later, Lisa still practices a meat-free diet.
95. Dancing With Mary Jane
Fellow musician Bob Dylan first introduced McCartney to marijuana in 1964 in a New York City hotel room. That fateful encounter sparked a cannabis habit that would occasionally get McCartney into trouble. He has been arrested and fined for various marijuana-related charges in Sweden, the United States, his native Britain, and Japan.
McCartney finally gave up using the drug in 2015, deciding it was time to set an example for his grandchildren.
96. Rumors of His Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated
McCartney has been at the center of a bizarre conspiracy theory claiming that he actually died in 1966 and was replaced by a look-alike. This unsubstantiated rumor continued to grow when college students in the US started publishing articles about supposedly finding subtle hints to McCartney’s untimely death in the lyrics of Beatles songs.
McCartney himself has made some amusing references to the “Paul is Dead” conspiracy theory, even titling a 1993 live album Paul is Live.
97. Lennon and McCartney
When The Beatles broke up, the already-rocky relationship between McCartney and Lennon became more fraught. Throughout the 70s, the pair rarely spoke, occasionally reuniting for brief periods. Although they’d left things in a good place during their final phone call, this was something the public didn’t know, and so, when Lennon was murdered, reporters swarmed McCartney for a quote. Distraught, he was only able to say “It’s a drag.”
He was criticized for being flippant about his friend’s death, but he later revealed his true feelings about the loss, saying: “The last telephone conversation I had with him we were still the best of mates. He was always a very warm guy, John. His bluff was all on the surface. He used to take his glasses down, those granny glasses, and say, “it’s only me.” They were like a wall you know? A shield. Those are the moments I treasure.”
He said on the night that Lennon died, he went home to his family and watched the news coverage, spending the whole night crying.
98. First Love
McCartney’s first serious girlfriend was a young woman from Liverpool named Dot Rhone, who he met when he was 17. They were serious and planned to get married, but their relationship had a disturbing dark side. He would pick out clothing for her and he dictated how she should style her hair and makeup. He also discouraged her from seeing her friends.
Despite their problems, she was deeply committed to him, but their union was doomed to a heartbreaking end. Rhone was pregnant with McCartney’s child, but suffered a miscarriage. A few weeks later, he broke up with her.
99. If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try Again
As The Beatles became more and more famous, Paul McCartney became involved with model and actress Jane Asher. They two were completely inseparable and they became engaged in December 1967—but McCartney was hiding a dark secret. The year before, he’d begun an affair with a woman who worked as a nanny for some of his friends.
While that relationship was ongoing, Asher broke off the engagement to McCartney upon catching him in bed with yet another woman. While they later tried to reconcile, they ultimately broke up in July 1968.
100. The End of a Beautiful Friendship
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.
101. Tribute Band
The name Pink Floyd came from their original frontman, Syd Barrett. Barrett was a big fan of blues artists Pink Anderson and Floyd Council, so he took one name from each of them and combined them into one name for the band.
102. Last Gasps
After Barrett left Pink Floyd in 1968, he was persuaded to make two solo albums in EMI studios. Individual members of Pink Floyd even came back to help him make the albums. By then, however, Barrett had become so difficult to work with that he walked away from a consistent music career. Playing here and there with different music acts, Barrett was approached throughout the 70s to stay in the music industry, but he ultimately quit the industry for good in 1978.
103. Life After the Fame
After he quit the music industry, Syd Barrett ultimately moved back into his mother’s house in Cambridge, where he would live for the rest of his life. Despite paparazzi occasionally harassing him, Barrett tried to live a solitary life, gardening, and painting while continuing to collect royalties for his work with Pink Floyd.
When he died in 2006, he left an estate worth £1.7 million to his siblings.
104. 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 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.
105. Dean’s Debut
Before he became famous as Dean Martin, the crooner was known as Dino Paul Crocetti. Born in Steubenville, Ohio, in 1917, Martin was the son of Gaetano and Angela Crocetti, who had immigrated to Ohio from Abruzzo, Italy.
106. A Romance Language
The Crocettis spoke Italian at home, and young Dino did not begin to learn English until he was 5 years old. Martin’s Grant Elementary classmates bullied him for his accent.
107. Climbing the Ladder
Martin got into show business one step at a time. Starting as a stockboy at an underground casino in Steubenville, he worked his way up to blackjack dealer, then croupier at the roulette table, and finally, a singer at the casino’s lounge.
108. One Too Many Martinis
Upon entering show business, Martin changed his name from Dino Crocetti to Dino Martini. He changed it once again to Dean Martin to avoid confusion with Italian opera singer Nino Martini.
109. Martin Meets the Chairman of the Board
In 1943, Martin was hired to perform as an opening act at the Riobamba nightclub in New York City. The headliner that evening was Frank Sinatra, and it would be the first time Martin and Sinatra met. By all accounts, Martin bombed.
110. Let’s Take a Walk
No one can deny Martin was a multi-talented entertainer. He is, in fact, the only person to have ever been given three separate stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one each for film, television, and music.
111. He Beat the Beatles
In 1964, no one could challenge the Beatles, let alone a 47-year-old crooner. Yet Martin stunned the world—and himself—when his version of “Everybody Loves Somebody” knocked the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” out of the #1 spot on the Billboard charts. “Everybody Loves Somebody” was the first hit single for Reprise Records, founded by Frank Sinatra.
After the surprise success of “Everybody Loves Somebody,” Martin sent a telegram to the waning King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Elvis Presley. It read, “If you can’t handle the Beatles, I’ll do it for you, pally.”
113. Party Pooper
In comparison to his Rat Pack associates, Martin was a teetotaller. While Frank and the boys stayed out partying, Martin would head home early; he liked to get a good night’s rest so he could play golf early in the morning.
114. Nosy Neighbors
It wasn’t just that Martin loved golf, he also just hated parties. He once called the cops, posing as one of his own neighbors, to complain about a party “at Dean Martin’s house.” The police dutifully arrived and shut down the party, which was being hosted by Martin’s wife.
115. The Mountain
Martin’s son, Dean Paul Martin, was a pilot with the Air National Guard. He died in 1987 when his plane crashed into the San Gorgonio mountain in northern California. In a tragic coincidence, Frank Sinatra’s mother had died in a plane crash on the same mountain 10 years earlier.
116. Counterfeit Liquor
Drinking was a big part of Martin’s persona, and he often appeared on stage with a drink in his hand. In reality, Martin’s habits were quite moderate—the “drink” was usually apple juice.
117. Lights Out
After years of heavy smoking, Martin was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1993. To his family’s chagrin, he opted to forego treatment and died of respiratory failure on Christmas Day, 1995. To honor his passing, clubs along the Las Vegas Strip dimmed their lights that night, a fitting tribute to one of the all-time great entertainers.
118. Born in Africa
Freddie Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara in 1946 to Parsi parents in what is now the city of Zanzibar in Tanzania, back when it was still a British territory. When Mercury was 17, the Bulsara family was forced to flee for England when the Zanzibar Revolution tore the region apart and resulted in the deaths of many people of Arabic and Indian background.
119. Great Ideas Are Fleeting
Mercury was prone to getting random inspirations for songs at the strangest of times. Because he was worried about missing an opportunity to get an idea down on paper before it left his mind, Mercury had a piano installed on his bed as a headboard! Not only that—he was double-jointed, so he didn’t even have to turn over to play the piano.
120. Rock Royalty
It was Mercury who decided that the band should be named Queen. While he later said he was aware of the LGBTQ connotations behind the name, he said he was mainly focused on the fact that it sounded “regal,” “strong,” and “very universal.” In that, he was entirely correct.
121. There’s Something I Need to Tell You
In the 1970s, Mercury was in a long-term relationship with Mary Austin and they lived together in West Kensington, London. However, when he told her about an affair he’d begun with a male record executive in 1976, their relationship ended. Mercury bought Austin a place of her own when they both moved out of the flat they shared.
122. Love of My Life
Despite the way that their romantic relationship concluded, Mary Austin and Mercury maintained a very close relationship for the rest of their lives. In 1985, Mercury stated, “All my lovers asked me why they couldn’t replace Mary, but it’s simply impossible. The only friend I’ve got is Mary, and I don’t want anybody else. To me, she was my common-law wife. To me, it was a marriage. We believe in each other, that’s enough for me.”
When he died, Mercury bequeathed his home and recording royalties to Austin. She and her family still live in Mercury’s former house.
123. Jim and Freddie
In the latter part of his life, Mercury also had a long-term relationship with hairdresser Jim Hutton. Hutton looked after Mercury during the last years of Mercury’s life, nursing Mercury while he was stricken with AIDS, and was at Mercury’s side when he died. According to Hutton, Mercury died wearing a wedding band that Hutton had given him.
124. What a Crowd!
Mercury was the first major rock star to die of an AIDS-related illness, shedding a lot of light on the condition which had previously been swept under the rug and ignored for years. In the wake of his passing, the remaining members of Queen organized The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness. The incredible list of artists who performed there include Metallica, U2, Guns N’ Roses, Spinal Tap, Elton John, George Michael, David Bowie, Seal, and Liza Minnelli!
And that’s just to name a few.
125. Rest in Secret
To this day, 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.