Sex, drugs and rock n' roll is the mantra many rock stars live by, and unfortunately also die by. A lot turn into rock and roll junkies due to excess use of drugs and alcohol. Some are more tragic than others; this group of rock stars left gaping holes in bands and fans sad their idols left them so soon.
The drugs that often prove deadly include heroin, cocaine, alcohol and various pain pills/medication. Man, rock stars really do love their heroin. Not all died in the list that follows, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t others that did pass and not make the list. Honorable (or dishonorable) mentions include Bradley Nowell of Sublime (a longtime heroin addict) who died at the age of 28, founding member of Def Leppard, Steve Clark, who died at the age of 30 from a combination of codeine, Valium, morphine and alcohol and Paul Gray, and a founding member of Slipknot, who was found dead from an accidental overdose of morphine and fentanyl at the age of 38. Amy Winehouse also didn’t make the list, but that was more due to genre of music (even though you could make the case Winehouse was more rock star than many listed here).
Our list includes rock stars from the sixties through present day (for one, anyway) and we even threw in a couple of bonus entries for multiple member overdoses within one band. Some of the deaths you could see coming for years while others were more sudden. Also, a couple still leave questions unanswered as to what really happened on the night of their alleged death. Have you seen Jim Morrison? Many have and don’t believe he actually died. For the rest of us, here’s a list of the 15 most shocking rock star overdoses.
15 Bill Murcia (New York Dolls)
Before the New York Dolls recorded their first album, Bill Murcia played drums and toured with the band. In 1972 he was on tour with the group and went to a party where he passed out due to an overdose ruled accidental. Other party goers found Murcia, threw him in a bathtub and tried to give him coffee to bring him back. At the age of 21 Murcia ended up dying as a result of asphyxiation. In addition to those that attended the tour one album eventually was released by the New York Dolls with Murcia, a live album titled Lipstick Killers: The Mercer Street Sessions.
14 Brent Mydland (Grateful Dead)
The Grateful Dead were well known as a band that loved to jam, loved to tour and really liked their drugs. Mydland was the fourth keyboardist with the Grateful Dead. Also a vocalist, Mydland played with the band for eleven years, the longest range of time of any Grateful Dead keyboard player. He died at the age of 38 from a drug overdose. After a Dead summer tour, Mydland came home and took “speedballs”, a mix of heroin and cocaine that mixes “downer” and “upper” sensations to keep a high (or at least stay awake) longer. He was found dead in his home.
13 Brian Jones (Rolling Stones)
Jones was the founder and initial leader of the Rolling Stones. It wasn’t long before Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were unofficially running the band, leaving Jones on the outside looking in. He would develop a nasty drug habit and in 1969 was asked to leave the band. He died a month later drowning in a swimming pool. Drug overdose was not the reason of death; however, it has been assumed drugs played a large role in the night of the drowning. Both his liver and heart were enlarged due to alcohol and drug abuse. The actual death certificate read “Death by Misadventure.”
12 Pete Farndon (Pretenders) / James Honeyman-Scott (Pretenders)
The bass player and a founding member of the Pretenders, Pete Farndon was dismissed from the band in 1982 due to an increasing drug problem that made him belligerent and impossible to work with. Two days after his dismissal, band-mate and noted guitarist, Honeyman-Scott was found dead from a heart attack due to cocaine intolerance. He was 25 years old. After, Farndon’s drug use continued and escalated one night in 1983 at his home when he shot heroin in the bathtub, dying of a drug overdose (drowning in the tub due to heroin). Farndon was 30 years old when he died.
11 Nikki Sixx (Motley Crue)
Sixx didn’t die; at least he didn’t stay dead. After a night of partying with his band and Slash from Guns N’ Roses, Sixx had someone inject him with one last syringe of heroin. Sixx turned blue and didn’t respond. Slash’s girlfriend at the time gave Sixx mouth to mouth before the paramedics arrived. They gave Sixx an adrenaline shot and he eventually woke up. News had already leaked that Sixx was dead and he didn’t want to stay in a hospital so he just left the hospital and hitched a ride home. That incident didn’t teach him a lesson (he continued to use), but eventually he sobered up and wrote a book titled The Heroin Diaries about his experiences with addiction.
10 Shannon Hoon (Blind Melon)
Hoon was really just hitting his stride in the nineties when his life got cut short due to drugs. The Blind Melon singer had issues with drugs for many years and despite multiple rehab and intervention attempts nothing worked. During a 1995 tour there was a person hired specifically hired to keep Hoon away from drugs, but it didn’t work. He was found smoking crack inside a tour bus. After the incident the person hired to keep him away from drugs was fired. A few days later Hoon died from a cocaine overdose on the same tour bus. He was 28 when he died.
9 John Bonham (Led Zeppelin)
One of the greatest drummers of all time was so good the band stopped playing after his death. After learning to play drums at an early age he went on to play drums for mega-band Led Zeppelin. His quick and heavy drum play complimented Jimmy Page’s genius guitar strumming. Bonham was an alcoholic for many years. In 1980, at the age of 32 he died due to asphyxiation from vomiting. The cause of vomiting was due to extreme consumption of alcohol. Since then, Page and Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant have gotten together and played together, but it hasn’t been the same without Bonham behind the drums.
8 Sid Vicious (Sex Pistols)
Vicious was born to live fast and die young. As the bass player for the Sex Pistols he was for many the face of punk rock. He was also famous for being arrested for suspicion of murder of his girlfriend Nancy, who had been stabbed while the two were staying (and doing large amounts of drugs) at the Hotel Chelsea in New York City. On February 1st, 1979 Vicious got out of jail (Rikers Island) after an assault incident with Patti Smith’s brother. The next day he overdosed on heroin. He was only 21 years old. The heroin was given to him by his mother.
7 Layne Staley (Alice in Chains)
Drugs and Staley were always an issue. As with many of grunge-era bands, drug addiction often hurt the music and fans that followed the groups. Staley had a horrible heroin dependency that made him miss shows and become generally unreliable. Despite his issues, Alice in Chains was very popular and continued to rise in fame. In 2002 he shut himself inside his Seattle condo and did speedballs, eventually dying from the cocaine and heroin mixture. His body was found two weeks later, he weighed less than 90 pounds. At the time of his death Staley was 34 years of age.
6 Keith Moon (The Who) / John Entwistle (The Who)
The Who were a rock and roll band known for self-destruction with little regard for others, often destroying everything in their path, including their own bodies. In 1978, Moon, the original drummer, died of an overdose after popping 30 pills of Clomethiazole, a drug used for alcohol withdrawal. He died at the age of 32. In 2002, Entwistle, a bass player for The Who was partying with a famous groupie (and stripper) at the Hard Rock Hotel Las Vegas. He was on an epic cocaine binge that led to a massive heart attach. Entwistle died at the age of 57.
5 Bon Scott (AC/DC)
In 1975, Bon Scott almost got fired from AC/DC because of a heroin overdose. Apparently it was viewed as a one-time incident and obviously the band never fired Scott nor looked seriously at a replacement. In hindsight they were right not to fire him over experimenting with heroin, unfortunately alcohol wasn’t as kind to Scott or the band. In 1980 Scott went out drinking with friends and he drank so much he passed out in his car. That night he choked to death on his own vomit. Scott was 33 years old when he died. AC/DC would then replace him with Brian Johnson.
4 Kurt Cobain (Nirvana)
In 1994 Nirvana had to cancel their European tour due a rare throat issue that ailed Cobain. His wife, Courtney Love came to visit him in Rome. At their hotel they ate and drank champagne. The next morning Cobain was found unresponsive from an overdose. In addition to the champagne Cobain had taken 50 Rohypnol pills. He was taken to the hospital and after a brief coma (and stomach pumping) woke up. It is unclear whether this was an accidental overdose or suicide attempt. One month later Cobain was found dead from an apparent suicide. He was 27 years old.
3 Janis Joplin
No one sang like Joplin before she hit the scene and no one has since. The sixties rock and roll star had a voice that fused blues with straight up rock and roll. She was the epitome of sixties rock which also meant drug use. Joplin used heroin for many years and one night at the Landmark Motor Hotel in Hollywood she died from an overdose. She was 27 years old, the first female rock star to join a group known as the “27 Club” that included (or eventually included) Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Brian Jones, Amy Winehouse and Jimi Hendrix.
2 Jimi Hendrix
Hendrix was hands-down one of the greatest guitar players of all time. Despite only playing professionally for four years, his influence and place in pop culture is still celebrated today. How Hendrix died has never been totally clear, but in 1970 he was in London with a friend, they spent the evening together and the next day she found him breathing, but not moving or responding. Hendrix was rushed to the hospital where he was eventually pronounced dead. The initial analysis was that Hendrix died from asphyxia due to too many barbiturates. Later it was learned that he had taken nine of his friend’s sleeping pills which equaled 18 times the recommended dosage.
1 Jim Morrison (The Doors)
Morrison fancied himself a poet more than a rock star, but rock stars didn’t get much bigger than Morrison. He wrote over-the-top lyrics and loved to address large audiences with his ramblings and (at least in his mind) wise words of romance and humanity. The lead man of The Doors also loved alcohol as well as drugs. In 1971 in Paris, France he died of an apparent heroin overdose. If you like conspiracies you should read up on Morrison’s death. There was no autopsy performed and some feel he never actually died and still may be among us (presumably writing poetry) today. Morrison died at (or has been missing since) 27 years of age.