What David Crosby's Final Year Of Life Was Really Like

In 2021, David Crosby went on The Howard Stern Show, and the talk drifted onto the subject of death. At 80 years old, the singer-songwriter was realistic about his remaining time on Earth. "I could have two weeks [left], I could have ten years," he said. He was also adamant about wanting to keep going until the end, saying, "People get old and die, and that's how it works. And I'm gonna. But in the meantime, I'm gonna have myself a bunch of fun ... I know that I'm supposed to, you know, quietly shuffle off into the distance, but I'm not gonna."

Throughout 2022, Crosby worked to keep that promise. According to Variety, while he maintained a sense of humor about his mortality, he was engaged with plans for more albums, another band, and even a return to live performing after previously suggesting those days were past. Those who worked with him in the last full year of his life described Crosby as engaged and energetic, a far cry from someone at the end of his road. "He was a weakened guy from a lot of different preexisting conditions," said Steve Postell, "but he was not dying." 

Crosby's death on January 18, 2023, was taken as a shock by Postell and other collaborators, who had been in contact with him just one day prior. "He just wanted to create to the very end," said Sarah Jarosz. Here is what David Crosby's final year of life was really like.

He gave his last live performance

2022 saw David Crosby give his final performance before a live audience. On February 26, he made a surprise appearance with Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit in Santa Barbara. With Shawn Colvin as an additional guest performer, Isbell and Crosby covered the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song "Ohio" as a finale. Crosby took to Twitter the next day to share his joy in getting to play alongside Isbell, who he had previously promoted on the same platform (via Twitter) as a rising star in country music.

Santa Barbara wasn't the first time Crosby and Isbell had played together. After Crosby's death, Isbell told Rolling Stone that they had first met in 2018, at the Newport Folk Festival, and did a handful of shows before collaborating on the album "Reunions" in 2020. But the 2022 performance was unplanned, as Isbell said, "What got him out of the house and to the show was that he wanted to come see his buddies. And it would have been silly for him to come and not sing." It would be the last time Isbell got to see Crosby before his death.

While Crosby provided harmony and guitar for Isbell's show, he didn't take lead vocals. His last time as a star singer in public came in 2019, with Michelle Willis (via NME).

Age took him off the road (or did it?)

Travel can become more difficult with age, and when your livelihood depends on travel, this can become a serious worry. David Crosby had been vocal in his last years about depending on income from touring engagements (per an interview with GQ). But the challenges of life on the road seemed to have caught up to him by 2022.

That year, Crosby gave an interview to a journalism class at Golden High School in Golden, Colorado (via Best Classic Bands). There, he said, quite definitely, that his days on tour were behind him, telling the interviewers that this was down to his age — 80 at the time. He credited his advancing years with motivating him to put out as much music as he was able to in the time he had left, but that his age had also left him without the stamina needed for a tour. The year before, he told Rolling Stone that traveling by tour bus was out of the question, as he couldn't sleep on the road anymore.

But Crosby appeared to have second thoughts by December 2022. His recording work, which continued throughout the year, found him in happy company. So happy, in fact, that he posted on Twitter that he was considering forming a new band and taking it on tour. Steve Postell told Variety that planning for that tour was well underway when Crosby died.

He kept active on Twitter

David Crosby made extensive use of Twitter in his later years: It was through the platform that he cracked jokes, shared news, and kept up his hostilities with former bandmates.

Crosby's Twitter profile was large enough that The New York Times ran a story on it after his death. The paper noted the volume and range of his interactions through Twitter, which were always carried out with a forthrightness unusual for celebrities on social media. Crosby's enthusiasm for the site was enough that he appeared in a commercial for it (via Twitter). A good portion of his activity on Twitter was given over to interactions with fans and silliness, or an airing of grievances with politicians, acts, and ideas Crosby didn't like. It was also a place for him to carry on disputes with former members of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (via Twitter).

But Crosby could also turn his account to more productive or thought-provoking ends. At the end of 2022, he tweeted that he was mulling over taking to the road with a new band, an outgrowth from his extensive work in the studio over the year. And on January 18, 2023, he shared a joke about heaven being overrated (via Twitter). His death was announced the next day.

He had a brush with COVID-19

While David Crosby's cause of death has not, as of January 2023, been disclosed, a statement released by his wife described him as having endured a long period of poor health. Forbes reported that social media saw heavy speculation among fans as to just what was behind this state of chronic illness. With the COVID-19 pandemic still not resolved, some pinned the blame on the coronavirus.

On the other hand, Crosby did catch COVID-19, an experience he shared with a journalism class in Golden, Colorado, in 2022 (via Best Classic Bands). "COVID is a very weird disease," he told the students. "It makes you feel absolutely freaking awful. It has been thoroughly unpleasant...it's no fun at all. You want to avoid it if you possibly can."

Crosby shared this anecdote relatively early in 2022, well before his death. And Forbes traced the source of rumors about COVID-19 being behind Crosby's passing to an unconfirmed report on an entertainment website. Social media users opposed to COVID-19 vaccines or skeptical about the disease's severity seized on those rumors, spinning them into a story about the dangers of getting shots or boosters for the virus. But not only was COVID-19 not confirmed to have played a role in Crosby's death, he was also known to have suffered from other health challenges for years prior, including Type 2 diabetes, liver failure necessitating a transplant, and heart issues.

Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young all pulled their music from Spotify (before it was put back on)

By the end of David Crosby's life, he was at odds with two out of three fellow members of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. But the four musicians, while estranged personally, could still agree on some things. In February 2022, Neil Young declared he wanted his work as a solo artist removed from Spotify, in protest of podcaster Joe Rogan's presence on the platform and his spread of misinformation about COVID-19, a request Spotify complied with (via Variety). Not long after, Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash released a joint statement supporting Young and asking that their library also leave Spotify (via Billboard).

Beyond anything to do with Rogan, Crosby had issues with Spotify as a service. "I don't like any of the streamers," he told Stereogum, "because they don't pay us properly ... they're making billions with a b and they're paying out pennies with a p." Crosby blamed the business model of streaming for strangling opportunities for young musicians and starving established artists of revenue. While he conceded that streaming was the probable future of media, he hoped for karmic retribution to befall the services for the unethical business practices he saw them engaged in.

Several months later, the songs of CSN returned to Spotify. Asked about the sudden about-face, Crosby wrote to a fan (via The Independent), "I don't own [the music] now and the people who do are in business to make money."

He was working to put a new band together

David Crosby continued to find musical collaborators in his final years. Among them was his son, James Raymond, born to Crosby and Celia Crawford Ferguson in 1962 and put up for adoption. The two reconnected following Crosby's health scares of the early 1990s (per The Baltimore Sun), and they went on to form a trio with Jeff Pevar, CPR. Raymond also worked for and with his father on a one-on-one basis. Heading into the final year of Crosby's life, the two had collaborated on the album "For Free," according to People.

Raymond was among the musicians Crosby had been playing with around the time he announced on Twitter at the end of 2022 that he was considering forming a new band. Other partners in the venture were Steve Postell and Sarah Jarosz, who told Variety that tour planning and recording for a new album were well on their way by the time Crosby passed. They had kept in regular contact with Crosby through phone and in-person visits in the last month of his life, reviewing lyrics and rehearsing new songs. Postell also kept tabs on the singer through Raymond, who notified Postell of his father's death. Jarosz, who acknowledged Crosby as a supporter for years (per Facebook), had collaborated with him and Raymond before: She had sung with Crosby on "For Free."

He took a grim view of the music business

David Crosby was the consummate hippy, embracing the virtues of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll throughout his life, while advocating for liberal political causes. Through his music, he espoused what he once jokingly referred to as, "that love, peace, and granola s***" (via Rolling Stone). But by 2022, Crosby struggled to maintain any degree of sunny optimism for the music industry as a business.

Speaking to Stereogum in February of that year, Crosby expressed a deep pessimism for the way streaming had impacted musical artists' ability to make a living through their work. He said that streaming's displacement of physical media, as well as the tiny amounts paid out to artists whose work features on streaming platforms, amounted to a halving of income. As Crosby described, in a fractured and competitive marketplace, up-and-coming talents have little choice but to accept meager pay from streaming, even with options like Bandcamp that Crosby advocated for. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted tours and live performances, further reducing income; Crosby said that he reluctantly sold his publishing rights due to lost revenue — primarily from having live shows taken away.

There was no prospect for reform that Crosby could see. "I don't believe there are good people working [at streaming companies," he said. "If they were good people, they wouldn't work there." And for good measure, he criticized the playback quality on streaming. When prompted, the advice he offered to rising stars was bleak: Find another line of work.

Tendonitis was taking away his ability to play the guitar

When asked about his health on The Howard Stern Show in 2021, David Crosby was relatively upbeat. "Nothing's broken yet!" he laughed. But he did share one malady that had a direct impact on his ability to keep making music: tendonitis. Crosby said that the condition affected both his hands, and that on the right hand, it limited how far his fingers could close and open. This made it more difficult for him to play the guitar, and he guessed on Stern's show that he had two good guitar-playing years left at best. By 2022, in an interview with Songfacts, he estimated that he'd lost between 20 and 30 percent of his playing ability, which was a factor in his seemingly final decision to retire from live performing.

Crosby's singing, however, was unimpacted, and he continued to produce records. In the event that he ever got the itch to go back on stage again, he told Stern, he could teach his guitar lines to another player. That was the approach he was taking as he reversed course and prepared to go back out on the road in 2023. Speaking to Variety after Crosby's death, Steve Postell said that he had helped convince him to take that approach. Had Crosby lived, Postell would have covered the guitar lines he would normally have played.

His estrangement from the rest of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young endured

Age can bring perspective, mellow tempers, and move old friends to reconciliation — but not always. David Crosby's relationships with Neil Young and Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young had soured over the 2010s. Young split from them for the final time in 2013, and Crosby, Stills & Nash never came together after 2015.

Speaking to The Guardian in 2021, Crosby accepted some measure of blame for the tension between himself and Young. He admitted to insulting remarks he'd directed at Young's then-girlfriend Daryl Hannah, who Young went on to marry. But Crosby also accused Young of selfishness and political disconnect. As for Nash, Crosby claimed that they had gone from best friends to bitter enemies, and that he had no desire to speak to him again, let alone make amends. "I'm not happy with him at all," he said. "To me, that's all ancient history, man."

By November 2022, less than two months before his death, Crosby's tune hadn't changed when it came to CSNY. He told Songfacts that he still wasn't talking to Young and Nash. "I still really love Stephen Stills," he added, having previously told The Guardian that Stills was the best songwriter out of the four of them. They, at least, continued to talk until Crosby's death.

He kept up his political commentary

David Crosby was outspoken when it came to politics throughout his professional life, always on the side of the left. Through his songs, through interviews, and through Twitter, he weighed in on everything from Richard Nixon (via Rolling Stone) to misinformation and insensitive commentary on podcasts (via Stereogum).

In his final years, Crosby occasionally provided an advice column to Rolling Stone dubbed "Ask Croz." In his final column, dated July 20, 2022, he took a few political questions from readers. Asked if he might have been too hard on Donald Trump as president, Crosby stuck to his guns. "He has absolutely no values at all," he wrote on Trump. "He's all ego. No knowledge. No accomplishments." Asked about his previous promotion of conspiracy theories regarding the assassination of John F Kennedy, Crosby said he still believed that there was a second shooter and that Lee Harvey Oswald's bullet didn't kill the president.

But Crosby also took criticism from fellow liberals in the last year of his life. When the Biden administration professed support for unions, Crosby said on Twitter, "Wish I agreed...I think most unions are useless and totally dishonest." Among the many replies challenging his claim was one from Phoebe Bridgers, who offered Crosby a one-word insult (via Twitter). The two had clashed before on Twitter; Crosby criticized Bridgers for destroying a guitar on "Saturday Night Live," to which she responded in a similar manner.