Every so often a musical star dies and the world feels a little emptier. Fans are left wondering what could have been if they had just lived a little bit longer. Typically we feel this way when the particular star died at a premature age, but sometimes even those who are a bit older strike a chord with the world.
There have been numerous musicians who died at an early age. Years of traveling and abuse, whether through drugs and alcohol or just always being on the run, tend to take their toll on these people and take them away a bit too early. Many times it is not until they are gone that we realize just how great they actually were.
It is never easy to cope with death. However, simple things get us through it. Often enough it can be something as simple as a song. Music is a very important art form that is meant to move us in a way that few other things can. So, when one of the greats goes down too soon, it is a very hard pill to swallow. A couple of musicians in particular had a profound impact on our world and when they left us, the public and especially their fans hurt for a long time.
10. Whitney Houston (1963-2012)
Whitney Houston had one of the most phenomenal voices of all time. She is one of the most recognized female artists ever. Houston albums have sold over 200 million copies worldwide. She has been awarded with more Grammys than any other woman. Early in her career, Houston was viewed by the public as a “good girl”. However, in the late 1990s her career began to suffer due to a drug addiction. After years of irrelevance, she made a spectacular comeback in 2006 with a new tour. In 2009 she released the album I Look At You which shot straight to number one. Things were looking up for the pop singer until she was found dead in her bathtub on February 11th, 2012. According to the autopsy she had drowned due to either a cocaine high or heart failure caused by years of cocaine abuse.
9. Jerry Garcia (1942-1995)
The dream and spirit of the Psychedelic Sixties ended on August 9th, 1995. This was the day the Grateful Dead’s lead guitarist and singer Jerry Garcia was found dead at age 53 in a California drug rehabilitation center. Garcia had suffered from years of drug abuse and heroin addiction. The substance problem ultimately caused him to become severely overweight and diabetic. The Grateful Dead was at their commercial height at the time of his death. Following a diabetic coma in 1986, Garcia penned the song “Touch of Grey”, which became the band’s biggest hit. From 1987 onwards, the Grateful Dead became the most successful touring band in the world. When Garcia died, no band had performed for more people than the Grateful Dead. On August 11th, 1995, a ceremony was held in Menlo Park for the late guitarist. Thousands of Dead Heads from around the county drove hundreds and even thousands of miles to be in attendance.
8. Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970) and Janis Joplin (1943-1970)
In the fall of 1970, two of the biggest names from the Psychedelic Sixties lost their lives. On September 18th, Jimi Hendrix was found dead and just 16 days later Janis Joplin had passed. Both were just 27 years old. Hendrix had gained popularity with his band The Jimi Hendrix Experience. During his short career, Hendrix made a name for himself as the greatest guitarist of all time. Janis Joplin rose to popularity as the lead singer of Big Brother and the Holding Company. Later in her career, Joplin would go solo. The deaths would end the popularity and glamorization of the San Francisco music scene and would give way to the next phase of popular music.
7. Michael Jackson (1958-2009)
Michael Jackson is to this day the undisputed king of pop music. His career spanned from the early 1960s with the Jackson Five up until his death on June 25th, 2009. Jackson was found dead in his bed at his Neverland Ranch. The toxicology report showed he had taken a massive concoction of pills. His death immediately gained worldwide recognition and fans grieved the loss of the fallen pop star all across the globe. No other artist in music history had been given more awards than Jackson has. His album Thiller is the highest-selling record of all time.
6. Kurt Cobain (1967-1994)
Grunge rock began and ended with Kurt Cobain. As the singer, songwriter, and guitarist of Nirvana, Cobain became the voice of “Generation X”. His song “Smells Like Teen Spirit” became an anthem for young people everywhere who were tired of the ways of the older generation. Throughout his entire life, Cobain suffered from severe depression and anxiety. The problem only worsened when he became famous. He started using heroin to escape his unwanted popularity. On April 5th, 1994 he was found dead in his home in Seattle. The cause of death was determined to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head while high on an enormous dose of heroin.
5. Tupac Shakur (1971-1996) and The Notorious BIG (1972-1997)
Tupac and The Notorious BIG, or Biggie Smalls as he is sometimes referred to, were the leading figures behind the East Coast/ West Coast Hip-Hop Rivalry in the early 1990s. Tupac represented the West Coast and Biggie the East. The two quickly became the most popular rappers in the business due to this feud between opposite sides of the United States. On September 13th, 1996, Tupac was shot multiple times in a drive by shooting while in Las Vegas. The West Coast record producers believed it was fans of The Notorious BIG or even Biggie Smalls himself. This belief only fueled the rivalry even more. In 1997, Smalls wanted to end this feud. He set up a number of concerts on the West Coast. While getting ready to perform in Los Angeles on March 9, 1997, The Notorious Big was also killed in a drive by shooting. To this day, nobody knows who killed either of these young men. Despite Tupac being only 25 and Biggie being 24 at the time of their deaths, the two rap stars have combined to sell over 100 million albums worldwide.
4. Freddie Mercury (1946-1991)
Freddie Mercury was best known as the phenomenal and flamboyant front man of Queen. He wrote some of the most famous stadium rock songs of all time including “We Are The Champions” and “Another One Bites The Dust”. In 1987, Mercury was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. The disease was a result of various homosexual relationships the singer had partaken in during his life. He was found dead at age 45 on November 24th 1991. The AIDS had weakened his immune system and allowed Mercury to come down with a severe case of bronco-pneumonia. His death had an extreme effect on AIDS research. He was one of the first celebrities and by far the most popular at the time, to die from the disease. Following Mercury’s death, many musicians came together to perform at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness. The concert was broadcast live on television to 76 different countries and viewed by over a billion people.
3. Elvis Presley (1935-1977)
Is Elvis really dead? Some would argue he is not, but the realists in the world know this is just a silly conspiracy. The King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, was found dead in his Memphis, Tennessee hotel room on August 16th, 1977. He was 42 years old at the time. By 1976, Presley’s health was rapidly deteriorating. He had been so heavily addicted to a variety of different pills for so many years that he could barely perform. He was overweight and suffered from glaucoma, liver disease, high blood-pressure, and an enlarged colon; all due to his drug abuse. On August 18th, Presley was buried next to his mother at his Graceland estate. His autopsy was reopened in 1994. The results of this autopsy stated that nothing about Presley’s death pointed to a drug overdose, as was originally perceived, but instead to a sudden heart attack.
2. Buddy Holly (1936-1959), Ritchie Valens (1941-1959), and The Big Bopper (1930-1959)
February 3rd, 1959 will be remembered forever as The Day the Music Died. That morning Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper boarded a plane heading from Clearlake, Iowa to Moorehead, Minnesota. The three were members of the “Winter Dance Party” concert tour. Originally, Waylon Jennings of Buddy Holly and the Crickets was supposed to be on board the flight, but switched plane tickets with The Big Bopper minutes before takeoff. The plane crashed and no one survived. The day takes its name from Don McClean’s line in “American Pie”: “And the three men I admired most, the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost; they caught the last train for the coast the day the music died.”
1. John Lennon (1940-1980)
John Lennon was assassinated on December 8th, 1980. Think about this statement for a second. We call it an “assassination”. We say world leaders are assassinated. We do not typically use this word for dead rock stars. However, John Lennon was different. He was the founding member of the most successful musical group in history. He was a highly outspoken political activist who believed in spreading world peace and ending war and poverty throughout the world. On that fateful day, John Lennon was outside his apartment in New York City and gunned down by Mark David Chapman, who he had signed an autograph for earlier that day. When news of Lennon’s death hit the news, it was almost as if the world stopped turning for a little bit.