January 5, 2024 | Samantha Henman

Tragic Facts About Iconic Musicians


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.  


1. Heck 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 ended 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.

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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,passed only 5 years later due to a heart attack.

Tragic Lives Of Musicians FactsWikipedia

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 booze influencing his choices that night.

Bruce Springsteen factsdememphisaliverpool

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 use. He would allegedly drink a quart of moonshine every day while doing drug, 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".

Cher FactsGetty Images

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.

Tragic Lives Of Musicians FactsGetty Images

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.

Rock and Roll facts Getty Images

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 passed at the age of 27.

When Kurt Cobain passed in 1994, also at the age of 27, the “27 Club” became a well-known phenomenon in popular culture.

Tragic Lives Of Musicians FactsWikimedia Commons

8. Love Sick

In 1978, Nancy Spungen was found hurt badly in her New York City bathroom. The young woman was girlfriend to S*x  Pis*ols bassist Sid Vicious, who was immediately suspected of her execution. The couple had made unseemly headlines for their substance use and domestic aggression, for which the papers titled her “Nauseous Nancy". The scandalous passing would put a sour (or “salacious”) spin on the history of punk rock.

Punk Music FactsGetty Images

9. Bummer Ending

Sid Vicious would never be formally tried for the ending 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.

Punk Music FactsGetty Images

10. Naughty Names

William Bailey is the real name of musician Axl Rose. Axl Rose is an anagram for man pleasure. This guy knows the power of subliminal messaging.

Rock and Roll facts Flickr, Ed Vill

11. Under Pressure

Bowie never played the hit single “Under Pressure” live with Freddie Mercury. Unfortunately, it took Mercury’s passing 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.

10-14.jpgPopsugar

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 attack. He even, it’s been alleged, spent time working as a adult company. 

In the words of one music journalist: “Dee Dee was the archetypical [screw]-up. He was a male adult worker, a would-be mugger, a drug user and dealer, an accomplice to armed attack—and a genius poet who was headed for an early grave, but was sidetracked by rock ‘n’ roll". 

Punk Music FactsGetty Images

13. Lightning Strikes Twice

The Allman Brothers really did have the worst luck. After Duane Allman passed 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 ended in eerily similar circumstances. Oakley also passed in a motorcycle accident in Macon—in fact, the accident was only a few blocks away from the site of Duane’s accident. Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.

Tragic Lives Of Musicians FactsWikimedia Commons

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.

Lil Wayne factsGetty Images

15. Feud

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".

Prince factsMJ Beats

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 army—after they shot him in the chest with a tranquilizer dart.

Drug Cartels FactsPxHere

17. Caged Heart

Elvis Presley infamously passed 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.

Rock and Roll factsGetty Images

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 cigar 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.

Britney Spears Facts

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 a*s".

Punk Music FactsPxHere

20. Living The Lifestyle

John Bonham, the drummer for Led Zeppelin, drank 40 shots of booze the night of his passing.

Rock and Roll facts Getty Images

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.

Rock Gods facts Getty Images

22. Mismanagement

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 ending.

Tragic Lives Of Musicians FactsFlickr hellboy_93

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 authorities 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 weapon on Selena and fatally shot the young star in the back. After a nearly 10 hour standoff with the FBI, Yolanda surrendered.

Tragic Lives Of Musicians FactsFlickr hellboy_93

24. The Day the Music Will Be Gone

A year before Buddy Holly’s tragic end in a plane crash, producer Joe Meek predicted that the rock ‘n’ roll legend would be gone in February. Sure enough, Holly’s plane went down on February 3, 1959. Buddy Holly wearing suit and glasses is smiling at camera - circa 1957-58Coral Records, Wikimedia Commons

25. History

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".

Madonna FactsGetty Images

26. Final Resting Place

No one is entirely sure what happened to Sid Vicious’s ashes, but Malcolm McLaren, the manager of the S*x Pis*ols , claimed that Sid’s mother spilled her son’s ashes in the arrivals lounge at Heathrow Airport.

Rock Gods facts Get wallpapers

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 ended actress Sharon Tate. Sharon Tate FactsFlickr

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.

Rock Gods facts Young Ears, Fresh Perspective

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 woman assault and relationships with underage girls. For many, what happened with Aaliyah was the first sign of his predatory behavior.

Tragic Lives Of Musicians FactsWikimedia Commons

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 filming 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 ended in the accident—news that shocked both fans and the music industry.

Tragic Lives Of Musicians FactsWikimedia Commons

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. Pink FloydGetty Images

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.

Rock and Roll factsGetty Images

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.

Rock Gods facts Diario critico

34. A Kind of Blue

When Otis Redding passed 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.

Tragic Lives Of Musicians FactsWikimedia Commons

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.

Rock Gods facts WDHA FM

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.

Rock Gods facts Concert With

37. Upstaged

Little Richard kicked Jimi Hendrix out of his band in the 50s. Apparently, Hendrix refused to wear the band uniform and would take the audience’s attention with his eccentric style and guitar skills.

Rock and Roll factsGetty Images

38. Joining the Club

In the years leading up to her passing from booze intoxication, the soulful Amy Winehouse spoke candidly about her fear of reaching the age of 27. Knowing her own battles with substance use, 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.

People Who Died Young factsGetty Images

39. Late in the Game

Just before her untimely passing in 2011 due to booze intoxication, 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 use. Her hope for the future makes her passing all the more tragic.

Tragic Lives Of Musicians FactsFlickr

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 blast up toilets.

Rock Gods facts Pacific Sun

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 passed there four years earlier, and Nilsson believed the place was cursed. Moon was gone just a few months later.

Rock Gods factsAzcentral

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".

Beyoncé Knowles factsGetty Images

43. I’m Goin’ to Graceland

After Elvis Presley passed 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.

Elvis Presley FactsGetty Images

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 passed 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!

Elvis Presley FactsWikimedia Commons Terry Waggoner

45. Devilish Fun

During the recording of Station to Station in 1975, David Bowie was so out of his mind on drug 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.

Rock Gods facts Medium

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. Django Reinhardt Par Le Studio Harcourt (1944)Studio Harcourt, Wikimedia Commons

47. Didn't Think That One Through

In 1989, Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis was detained for indecent exposure and sensual battery after exposing himself to a woman after playing a show in Virginia. Red Hot Chili Peppers factsGetty Images

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 booze-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.

Rock Gods facts The Georgia Straight

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 unlawful 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.

Rock Gods facts Promiflash

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 undressed 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.

Rock Gods factsDaily Mirror

51. Pearl

Janis Joplin passed 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 passed at 27 from using of drug and booze. Her posthumously released album Pearl became an instant hit, and the single “Me and Bobby McGee” reached the top of the charts.

GettyImages-3419184.jpgGetty Images

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.

Rock and Roll factsPixabay

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 passed from a stroke.

Tragic Lives Of Musicians FactsFlickr

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 detained and handcuffed for drug possession as she lay dying, her hospital room was raided, and she was placed under officers guard". The narcotics bureau would never get the chance to pursue her legally, as she passed shortly after. 

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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 booze and morphine. On New Year’s Day 1953, his hard-living caught up with him, and he passed at age 29 of a heart attack in the backseat of his car while he was being driven to a show.

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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.

Grunge Idols FactsWikimedia Commons Rex Aran Emrick

57. Running Out of Time

The Grateful De*d’s Jerry Garcia lived a high octane life when it came to drug and booze. He had several bouts of intense substance use, but he decided to get help in 1995. That he was trying to get clean made his passing in the Serenity Knolls treatment center in California all the more tragic. With his body suffering from years of using, 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.

Tragic Lives Of Musicians FactsWikimedia Commons

58. But Not Forgotten

Deadheads are well known for being some of the most devoted fans in all of music. They know every Grateful De*d song and frequently debate their best live sets. When frontman Jerry Garcia passed 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. Woodstock factsGetty Images

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 gone until 2008. 

Musicians FactsWikimedia Commons

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 end, meanwhile, was ruled to have been self-immolation 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 passing, his close friend Chester Bennington of Linkin Park followed Cornell in self-immolation on what would have been Cornell’s 53rd birthday.

Linkin Park factsShutterstock

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 use, 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.

Tragic Lives Of Musicians FactsWikimedia Commons

62. Tragic Mystery

The circumstances surrounding Elliott Smith’s tragic passing 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 blade protruding from his chest.

A brief final note was found and doctors labeled the passing as such, but they left open the possibility of manslaughter. Some murmurs went around that Chiba was suspected of foul play, but the investigation went no further in part because of Smith’s early self-hurting attempts and his checkered-history with substance use.

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.

Tragic Lives Of Musicians FactsFlickr flybutter

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 weapon and shot his son down. 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.

Tragic Lives Of Musicians FactsGetty Images

64. In Your Arms

Even before his brutal end 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.

Tragic Lives Of Musicians FactsFlickr tomovox

65. Never Again

Marvin Gaye almost quit the music business altogether after the passing 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.

Tragic Lives Of Musicians FactsFlickr

66. The Day the Country Music Was Gone

While "the day the music was gone" happened in 1959, an incident that has occasionally been referred to as "the day the country music was gone" 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 were all gone in the crash.

Musicians FactsWikimedia Commons

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.

Grunge Idols FactsGetty Images

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 end 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.

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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 take prescription drug. At one point, Curtis almost overdosed and had to be taken to the hospital by his father to have his stomach pumped.

Tragic Lives Of Musicians FactsFlickr Remko Hoving

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 list 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.

Tragic Lives Of Musicians FactsFlickr

71. Unraveling

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 was gone by self-immolation in his Macclesfield home.  Ian Curtis Facts

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.

Grunge Idols FactsWikimedia Commons

73. The Day the Music Was Gone

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, ending three of the biggest new names in rock n’ roll.

Tragic Lives Of Musicians FactsWikimedia Commons

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 was gone". 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.

Tragic Lives Of Musicians FactsWikimedia Commons

75. Broken Hearts

As if the tragedy of a sudden passing 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 passed when the plane went down. Screenshot: Maria Elena Holly - wearing yellow shirt is looking at side - from The Real Buddy Holly Story (1985)BBC, The Real Buddy Holly Story (1985)

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 passed, the photo was changed on subsequent pressings of the record. Rock and Roll Facts Lynyrd Synyrd

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 with pistol 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 weapon 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 hurting his classmates instead of himself.

Grunge Idols FactsGetty Images

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.

Grunge Idols FactsShutterstock

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 passed 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 here end on a ham sandwich. Despite the fact that it's not true, this mean-spirited rumor has persisted over the years.

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80. Society Is a Drag

In interviews after the self-immolation 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 hurt 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.

Musicians Who Died Too Young QuizFlickr

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 drug and poor health threatened her career. In 2012, she passed  of accidental drowning in her hotel bathtub, but heart disease and the drug found in her system were also contributing factors to her end.

Iconic Musicians FactsWikimedia Commons

82. The Truth Comes Out

Since her passing, 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 misconduct 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 in 2008, so we will never hear from her side.

2009 American Music Awards - Show.Getty Images

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 gone. The official cause of passing was “acute booze intoxication” 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 passed from a use of a harder drug.

Tragic Lives Of Musicians FactsFlickr tlianza

84. High Priest of Pop

Prince frequently created controversy with his music due to his use of sensual and religious themes, but he cemented his superstar status with hit singles like “When Doves Cry". On April 21, 2016, Prince was found gone at his compound in Minnesota from an accidental drug use of the synthetic opiate fentanyl. On the night of his passing, thousands of mourners sang to “Purple Rain” in downtown Minneapolis.

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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 end. In a heartbreaking interview with Rolling Stone, she admitted that she blamed his passing 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 go—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 drug he took. The call ended, and Cornell was found gone shortly after midnight that same evening.

Grunge Icon FactsGetty Images

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".

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87. A Needed Conversation

Whereas many rock stars leave this world young from the tragic excesses of a partying lifestyle, K. Carpenter of The Carpenters presented an altogether different set of problems. Due to the pressures of keeping a particular public image,she suffered from anorexia throughout her short life. When she was gone 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.

Tragic Lives Of Musicians FactsGetty Images

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 end. In less than a year, Weiland watched his close friend gone, 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 end by accidental drug use at just 48 years old.

Grunge Icon FactsGetty Images

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-ending and woman aggression. In 1996, the 25-year-old was ended in drive-by-attack 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 officer Chris Carroll, the first on the scene, Tupac’s last words were “f*** you,” after which he refused to speak to any other officer. Later, in the hospital, it was discovered that someone had called his record company and made serious threats against him. The receptionist had informed Las Vegas authorities, who declined to investigate, saying they were too understaffed to do anything.

Forrest Gump factsFlickr

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 passed 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 passed six months later.

Tragic Lives Of Musicians FactsWikimedia Commons

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 passed. Famous reverend Jesse Jackson presided over the funeral. Aretha Franklin FactsShutterstock

92. Where’s the Swear Jar?

An ugly spat between the S*x Pist*ls 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. Bruce Springsteen factsWikipedia

93. No Words for That Word

After a S*x Pist*ls member dropped an F-blast 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…

Punk Music FactsGetty Images

94. For the Father I Never Knew

In 1939, Holiday released “Strange Fruit". Controversial upon its release, the song deals with bigotry 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 passed when a hospital refused to treat him for a lung disorder on account of his race.

Oprah Winfrey factsPixabay

95. RIP

Metallica met with tragic misfortune in 1986 when their bassist, Cliff Burton, passed 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 tipsy or asleep at the wheel, but a subsequent investigation cleared the driver of any wrongdoing. Musicians Who Died Too Young FactsWikipedia

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.

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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 passed by self-immolation.

The next few years of Yates' life were unsurprisingly hellish. She denied all claims that Hutchence's end 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 self-immolation 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 months prior. Sadly, things were about to get worse.

Children of Rock Stars FactsWikimedia Commons Paula Yates

98. Tragedy Upon Tragedy

Paula Yates passed by accidental drug use 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 passed of a drug use. Hopefully for the remaining members of the Geldof-Yates-Hutchence clan, that horrible chapter of their lives is closed.

Children of Rock Stars FactsWikimedia Commons

99. The Last Days

Due to the high-profile nature of the case and the rampant conspiracy theories perpetuated by fans, Seattle Authorities decided to revisit the case of Kurt Cobain’s end 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 end 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 weapon 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 passing, were later made publicly available.

Avril Lavigne factsShutterstock

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 passing in 2006.

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101. This is the End

To this day, Freddie Mercury’s final resting place is unknown. After his passing 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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