Musicians Who Tragically Died By Drowning

While there is no nice way to die, drowning is particularly scary, or at least most people wouldn't pick it if forced to make a choice about how they would go out when their time came. When people die by drowning, it's usually the result of a horrible and tragic accident; throw a celebrity victim into the mix and you have a shocking headline that will send fans reeling.

Unfortunately, drowning is an accident that happens far too often, which means there are a lot of celebrities who die that way. Even when narrowed down further, there are far too many talented and beloved singers and musicians whose lives ended suddenly and unexpectedly while underwater, whether in a bathtub, river, lake, or ocean. Some of their deaths are almost as famous as the music they left behind, while others are shrouded in mystery and conspiracy. Here are musicians who tragically died by drowning.

Dolores O'Riordan

Dolores O'Riordan was the lead singer of The Cranberries, and her beautifully haunting voice could send shivers down your spine. Despite her fame and the band's success, she was dealing with a lot of pain in her life, from being abused as a child, to an eating disorder, to mental health issues. But she'd sought treatment for many of these painful issues and tried to stay on the wagon when it came to alcohol as well.

Sadly, it was one of the times she was drinking to excess that would cause her death. In January 2018, while in London to work on some music, O'Riordan was drinking alone in her hotel room into the early morning hours. At some point, she got into the bathtub with her clothes on and drowned. Per BBC News, one of the police officers called to the scene that morning reported at the inquest into the singer's death, "I saw Mrs. O'Riordan submerged in the bath with her nose and mouth fully under the water."

While it seemed like her death might be suicide, the inquest found it was simply a tragic accident. While O'Riordan had taken medication, it was only found to be at normal amounts in her bloodstream. The coroner, Dr. Shirley Radcliffe, said (via The Guardian): "There's no evidence that this was anything other than an accident. There was no intention, this seems to be solely a tragic accident."

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Will Sinnott

Will Sinnott was born in Scotland in 1960 and in the late 1980s, he joined The Shamen playing bass and keyboards. The band had already been around for several years, but was at a transition point, moving from rock to the kind of music that would become acid house. The Shamen were at the forefront of this new type of indie-dance-DJ mix, and they happily collaborated with others who were just starting out, some, like DJ Paul Oakenfold, would go on to have hugely successful careers.

By 1991, The Shamen were on the map of the British music scene, with several singles and a successful tour; they'd even gone to the Soviet Union to introduce that country to rave music. They were preparing to release their next album, and traveled to Tenerife to film a video for their song "Move Any Mountain." While on the island, Sinnott went for a dip in the ocean, where he drowned. 

DJ Mr. C (a.k.a. Richard West) had been working with The Shamen and became a full-time member after Simmott died. He explained the choice to keep going in an interview with Skiddle, "When we lost Will the band was going to stop. Everyone was devastated. It was a mountainous loss. But we had thousands and thousands of letters from fans sending condolences, but also saying, 'Please keep the Shamen going, this is such an important band.'"

Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston had one of the greatest voices of all time, and even though it was clear she'd been going through some things by 2012, it was a shock for fans to learn Houston had died — and on the day before the Grammys, no less. 

Houston was discovered in a hotel room on the afternoon of February 11 by her assistant, "lying face down in the bathtub filled with water, unresponsive" (via CNN). It would eventually come to light that there had only been a foot of water in the bathtub, and the assistant had only been out of the room for about 30 minutes. Because Houston was known to have used drugs in the past, many assumed she must have overdosed. However, the coroner determined her cause of death was drowning and "effects of atherosclerotic heart disease and cocaine use."

CNN spoke to Henry Spiller, director of the Kentucky Regional Poison Control Center, about the autopsy report. He explained that while Houston drowned, it was most likely a reaction to the cocaine in her system that put her in danger. "If you look at cocaine deaths, more deaths are from arrhythmias than seizures," Spiller said. "Based on what is the report, it seems more likely that she had a vasospasm (which shuts off blood flow to the heart) or a fatal arrhythmia." An arrhythmia could have caused Houston to lose consciousness, making it possible to drown in just a foot of water.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Jim Hodder

Jim Hodder was a founding member of the iconic rock group Steely Dan in 1969. He played drums on the band's first three albums, as well as tackling lead vocals on a couple of songs as well. Their 1972 album "Can't Buy a Thrill" has consistently placed on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list.  However, by 1974 he'd left the group and spent the next decade and a half mostly doing session work, never achieving that kind of fame or success again.

In 1990, Hodder was hosting a pool party at his California home. While details about what happened are scant, he was discovered unresponsive in the pool and rushed to the hospital, where he was put on life support. Sadly, Hodder died, aged just 42.

After he died in the hospital, the deputy coroner announced that Hodder "had recently been drinking to excess and was taking a prescription medication (Valium) to avert alcohol withdrawal symptoms and another medication for a seizure disorder" (via the Los Angeles Times). His blood alcohol level was found to be an extremely high 0.28%, so it's not hard to imagine how that could have caused him to pass out or otherwise get in trouble in his pool and lead to drowning. 

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Johnny Burnette

Johnny Burnette might not be as famous as Elvis Presley, but at least according to the former's nephew, there would have been no Elvis without his uncle. Billy Burnette told Vintage Rock magazine, "A lot of people dismiss the influence of [Johnny and Dorsey Burnette] on Elvis, but he got a lot of his ideas from those guys." Johnny's son Rocky told the magazine about how his childhood was affected by his father's fame: "We had such a yo-yo existence. We were up and then we were down. When 'Dreamin' and 'You're Sixteen' came out, boy, all of a sudden my dad was getting the TV work he needed. He was doing the international tours. He had his own record company. The first act that he signed to the label was Karen and Richard Carpenter."

While he might have gone on to even bigger success, Johnny died at the far too young age of 30. On August 14, 1964, he was out on a lake in California and returning to shore in his boat after dark when a motorboat collided with his. His body was recovered two days later. According to a 2007 article in the local Lake County News, the area was reluctant to acknowledge the tragedy or the famous person who had died in its midst, and Johnny Burnette was pretty much forgotten for decades. 

Aaron Carter

Aaron Carter managed to find fame for himself over the years outside of the shadow of his Backstreet Boy older brother Nick. But Aaron clearly had issues and demons he was dealing with along with that fame. 

Aaron's drug misuse was common knowledge enough that someone called the cops to perform a wellness check on him in November 2022 after seeing the singer with an aerosol can (used for huffing) on a live social media feed. Tragically, Aaron told the cops to leave without allowing them to help him. The next day, his body was discovered by his housekeeper. The coroner's report into his death found that Aaron had gotten into the bathtub fully clothed, where he become incapacitated due to the effects of huffing combined with taking Xanax. This in turn led to what they determined to be the main cause of his death, drowning.

At least one of Aaron's loved ones disputes his cause of death, however. After the coroner's report was made public, the singer's former partner told TMZ, "The results of the autopsy are not closure for me. It claims death is by drowning but also adds he was wearing a t-shirt and necklace in the bathtub which doesn't make sense, why would he be in a bathtub with clothes on?"

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Jeff Buckley

Jeff Buckley came from music royalty and was well on his way to his own successful career when tragedy struck. But his death might not have come as such a surprise to himself as it did to those around him. Musician Joan Wasser (a.k.a. Joan As Policewoman) told Mojo magazine of the eerie prediction he once made to her: "Not too long after we met, he said, 'You know, I'm going to die young.'" Meanwhile, Buckley's friend Tammy Shouse told the magazine, "he was dreaming about his death and he knew that something was up, and he felt it." While it's easy to see these events as meaningful after the fact, when they did happen, it seemed Buckley had predicted the future all too accurately.

In May 1997, he was in Memphis to record his second album when he decided to take an impromptu dip in the Mississippi River. Buckley was wearing clothes and floating along when a passing boat caused a wake that evidently pulled him under. A friend who was waiting on the shore said he only looked away for a second, and when he turned around again, Buckley had disappeared. Despite a major official search, his body was eventually discovered by civilians on a riverboat. Jeff Buckley was only 30 years old.

Dennis Wilson

Dennis Wilson was a founding member of The Beach Boys, but eventually, his drug and alcohol misuse caused problems between him and the rest of the band, who kicked him out. When they agreed to let him come back, it was contingent on getting sober. After trying repeatedly, on the day before he died, his friend Colleen McGovern remembers, "He said, 'We're going to the boat; we're going to have a good time. And tomorrow I'm going to go to detox'" (via Rolling Stone).

Bill Oster owned the boat the couple went to party on. Wilson drank a lot for the next 24 hours; his blood alcohol would be measured at 0.26%. Oster later recalled what happened while Wilson was swimming in the water: "I saw him come up to within two feet of the surface. Then I saw him swim behind my rowboat, where I couldn't see his face or what he was doing. I think I heard him take a breath of air. ... At that point, I saw him go straight down and back out of sight. I said to myself, 'That sucker's playing a game on me, he's trying to hide.' That was my fatal error. Because that was the last time he went down" (via Rolling Stone). His body was recovered 30 minutes later. Wilson was 39.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Albert Ayler

While Albert Ayler is recognized as a visionary jazz musician now, not many people realized that during his lifetime. His career saw successes others would kill for, but he also faced a lot of hardship and rejection since he was clearly talented but people just did not get what he was playing. Eventually, it appears to have become too much for him.

"The last time I saw him," musician Annette Peacock told The Guardian, "was at Slug's Saloon, on the Lower East Side. He'd just finished a set, and he was surrounded by a small group of sycophants. He turned away from the group, and said the last words he would ever speak to me. 'I'm not even here,' he said. I realized that his spirit was broken." Other friends recalled Ayler had been acting strange for a while and was dealing with financial problems. 

One day in November 1970, Ayler disappeared after a fight with his girlfriend. His body was found in the East River almost three weeks later, and the official cause of death was "asphyxia by submersion — death by drowning" (via The Guardian), and most people assumed it was a suicide, although there was no way to know for sure.

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Brian Jones

Brian Jones was a founding member of the Rolling Stones, but one month before he died he'd been kicked out of the band. The night he died, he was hosting a few friends at his house, where they drank, did drugs, and went swimming. One guest, Jenny Lawson, recalled (via The Guardian), "Despite his condition he was able to swim. However, he was rather sluggish." She explained that after leaving him alone for a few minutes, she returned " the pool and saw Brian at the bottom, quite motionless. I sensed the worst and shouted to Anna and Frank." The musician was pulled out but despite attempts at CPR, he was dead. Brian Jones was 27 years old.

Corner Angus Sommerville ruled that Jones died as a result of "drowning by immersion in fresh water associated with severe liver dysfunction caused by fatty degeneration and ingestion of alcohol and drugs" (via Rolling Stone). Yet almost immediately, the press helped turn Jone's death into a conspiracy theory, with many people still believing he was murdered. One of those individuals is his daughter Barbara Marion, who told Sky News in 2019, "I think he was murdered and I think the police did not investigate it the way they should have." What does she base this claim on? Her "own research" and her "own feelings."

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Naya Rivera

While most famous for her turn on the TV show "Glee" (where she sang and was nominated for a Grammy for her involvement in a performance on the show) Naya Rivera also released her own music, including the 2019 EP "My Heart." She was also a mother, and on July 8, 2020, she was boating with her 4-year-old son on a lake in California.

In 2020, a lawsuit filed on behalf of Rivera's son revealed some of the tragic details of what happened that day (via the Los Angeles Times): While she and her son were swimming, "the boat started to be carried away — likely by the current and wind," attorney Amjad Khan wrote. The boy, "who was closer, managed to get back on the boat by his own volition and braced himself on the boat, which was rocking back and forth forcefully in the current and wind." The autopsy report (via NBC News) noted that after her son was safe, "the decedent put her arm up in the air and yelled 'help.' The decedent then disappeared into the water." 

Rivera's body was not recovered from the lake for five more days. She was 33 years old.