The Most Tragic Deaths in Music History

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)

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9 Jerry Garcia (1942-1995)

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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.

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7 Michael Jackson (1958-2009)

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6 Kurt Cobain (1967-1994)

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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)

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4 Freddie Mercury (1946-1991)

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3 Elvis Presley (1935-1977)

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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)

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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)

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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.

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