Tragic Stories About Slipknot's Clown, Shawn Crahan

The furious metal monster known as Slipknot evokes memories of the mythological hydra beast with its many heads. Despite the band's strength in numbers, the general remains Shawn Crahan — better known as Clown or #6. As a co-founder and troubadour of chaos, Clown has been integral to the group from their humble beginnings in Des Moines, Iowa, to their establishment as global superstars with a legion of fans. To the average person watching Slipknot, he appears like just another guy who hits barrels and runs around on stage like a hype man, but he does much more as a creative force behind the scenes.

Similar to his band's rise to the top of the music world, Crahan's life hasn't been without its challenges and tragedies. He experienced the death of bandmates and friends Paul Gray and Joey Jordison in 2010 and 2021, respectively, while he also lost his 22-year-old daughter, Gabrielle, in 2019. At the same time, he sacrificed himself for his art, resulting in permanent damage to his body from the intensity of Slipknot's live shows over the years. 

As the line from Slipknot's "Dead Memories" says: "So when I got away, I only kept my scars," Shawn Crahan has not been left unscathed by the trials and tribulations that life has thrown at him.

He grew up in an alcoholic family

The legend of heavy metal life has been built up on a culture of partying until you drop. Musicians such as Motörhead's Lemmy Kilmister and Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne became infamous for their near-mythical consumption of alcohol. In the past, Slipknot's band members partied hard, but many of them realized they would need to slow down or stop altogether to maintain a long-lasting and healthy career. For Shawn Crahan, though, he saw music as his escape from — and not the path to — excess.

Speaking to Kerrang, Crahan revealed how he finds life on the road to be liberating. "The only god we've ever known is to get on the road, play our music and tour," he said. "I always wanted that salvation in my day. Growing up in an alcoholic family, music was the gift that helped me get out."

Alcoholism ran in Crahan's family, as his youngest daughter, Gabrielle, posted a picture of an Alcoholics Anonymous coin on her Instagram account a few days before her death. In the caption, she celebrated five months of sobriety at the time.

Shawn Crahan hates the Iowa album because of what it reminds him of

When Slipknot unleashed their self-titled album on the world in 1999, the intensity sounded the klaxons. Nasty and aggressive, the record signaled a change on the horizon, with the metal band leading the charge. Most wondered if Slipknot's rapid rise in the industry would see them tone it down and deliver a more mainstream and radio-friendly follow-up. Well, everyone got the answer by the second track of 2001's "Iowa": The eloquently titled "People = S***."

"Iowa" pummeled its predecessor and still remains the band's heaviest album to date. It's also a reflection of the members' state of mind at the time, as they experienced turmoil during the recording process. Speaking to Revolver, Shawn Crahan explained how their harmful behaviors nearly cost them their lives, and he has mixed feelings toward "Iowa" because of it. "It was a disaster because the world got in," he said. "Sophomore record. Drugs, women, just listening to, 'You guys are gonna be huge.' Everybody wants our money. So I hate the album, but it is brutality at its finest."

Crahan implied that drug misuse took place during this period, which affected his mental health, compounded by the fact his wife, Chantel, was sick and he couldn't be at home with her or his kids. To make matters even worse, the band hadn't seen any of the money promised to them, so there was that additional stress to contend with. As a result, he and his bandmates developed an appetite for self-destruction.

Paul Gray's death hit Shawn Crahan hard

In May 2010, Slipknot bassist Paul Gray was found dead in a Des Moines, Iowa hotel after a drug overdose. Gray had been a pivotal part of the group since their inception, and his passing hit them hard — especially Shawn Crahan, who had been exceptionally close to him. "Paul taught me so much, he's the bottom line," Crahan told Rolling Stone. "I lost both my parents and it wasn't as hard as losing Paul, because you've got your whole life with them — you know it's going to happen. With Paul being my best friend, I just didn't see it coming."

After Gray's untimely death, the Slipknot members decided to focus on their own side projects as they processed what happened and what it meant to the band's future. However, they reformed for the 2014 album, "5: The Gray Chapter," which is a heartfelt tribute to their fallen friend. Crahan revealed how he is someone who doesn't like to show his emotion, but even he was moved to tears when he heard vocalist Corey Taylor sing the opening track "XIX," which features poignant lyrics about Gray.

He dealt with depression

In the space of 12 months, Shawn Crahan experienced two devastating personal losses: His mother, Mary, passed away in May 2009, and his bandmate Paul Gray died in May 2010. While Crahan continued to release music during this time through his other bands, Dirty Little Rabbits and the Black Dots of Death, the events affected him. In a 2017 interview with NME, Crahan opened up about that period of his life and how he had depression afterward. "I'm not afraid to admit it," he said. "My mom died, and then Paul died within a small time. I went to my therapist and she just said, 'You're done,' so I went to become [an] outpatient."

Crahan credited this decision for changing his life for the better. He explained that this process helped him to identify how he hadn't properly grieved the deaths of his father (who passed in October 2005), mother, and Gray, and the lingering impact it had on him. At the same time, he encouraged others to break the stigma surrounding mental health and to not be afraid to seek help if required, adding: "What people need to know is that there are beautiful, wonderful people in the world who have empathy and work with the human condition."

He stressed himself into hospital

Shawn Crahan isn't someone to sit around and do nothing. As he revealed to GQ, he does three things daily: Music, photography, and film. Then, he has a host of other creative endeavors to keep him occupied that fall inside and outside of those mediums. Slipknot, of course, is a major priority for him, and Crahan puts his pedal to the metal when it's time to put on the clown mask.

In 2006, Crahan chatted to MTV about how the band simply had to take a break to recalibrate. After 240 shows across three-and-a-half years, as well as everything else that goes with it, they needed to hit the pause button — especially Crahan, after he undertook a grueling, emotional project.

He created and directed a film called "Voliminal: Inside the Nine," which consisted of behind-the-scenes and concert footage of Slipknot. Crahan wanted authenticity, so he scoured through numerous tapes. Sifting through the footage, he also got to see himself, and he didn't like what he experienced. "I just got out of the hospital [two weeks] ago, because basically I've just been stressed out and not taking care of myself," he said. "The hardest thing for me in making this film was to watch myself. I got to see myself behave in situations, and talk amongst others and most of the time, friend, I didn't like what I saw." Ultimately, this forced him to make changes and recognize when it was time to take a break.

He permanently damaged his body for Slipknot

Slipknot's live performances spit in the face of caution. They are unrestrained displays of heavy metal brutality and mayhem that require blood, sweat, tears, and maybe a few broken bones. The band suffer for their craft, with many members receiving on-stage injuries over the years. As a notable and much-publicized example on the internet, DJ Sid Wilson broke both his heels after being a little too overzealous during a performance. Yet, these are injuries that heal over time. In Shawn Crahan's case, though, he endured lasting damage by putting his body on the line for Slipknot.

As a percussionist in the band, part of Crahan's performance requires him to hit barrels over and over again with a metal baseball bat. While it gives the show an added oomph, it resulted in a nasty side effect, which Crahan revealed on "Slipknot Unmasked: All Out Life" (via Kerrang): "I have the worst tendonitis and carpal tunnel from hitting a keg with a pipe," he said. "It's called shock. When you use metal on metal, the vibration has to go somewhere, so it goes up the bottom of the keg and then it goes up my arm."

He lost his 22-year-old daughter

On May 19, 2019, Shawn Crahan utilized Slipknot's social media accounts to announce the death of his 22-year-old daughter, Gabrielle, while also asking everyone to respect the family's privacy during the difficult time. Fans flocked to provide their condolences and an outpouring of support for Crahan and his family — and he thanked everyone for the kindness in a separate message a week later. No official cause of death was publicly revealed by the family, even as Crahan's other daughter, Alexandria, criticized those who openly speculated about it on social media so soon after Gabrielle's passing.

In September 2022, Crahan spoke to The Independent and broached the topic of Gabrielle's passing. "I'm not trying to be morbid," he said. "I know what real evil is now. Anything I thought was evil, all my past problems are minuscule compared with the path that my wife and I are on." He explained how this tragic event is something that no parent can ever truly get over, and it fundamentally changed him as a person and the direction of his life.

Shawn Crahan's wife's medical issues forced him to miss a tour

On June 7, 2023, Shawn Crahan announced on Slipknot's social media channels that he left the band's European tour and was back home to be with his wife, Chantel, as she dealt with illness. However, he returned to appear at the band's headlining slot at the Download Festival on June 11. A few days later, Clown posted that he would need to go home to be with his wife again and miss the tour's remaining shows.

In a previous 2006 interview with Metal Hammer, Crahan revealed his wife has the inflammatory bowel condition known as Crohn's disease, and it affects her on a daily basis. "She's had surgery," he said. "She had 25 percent of her lower ileum removed, and she continues to suffer. She almost dies once a year." Crahan explained how he has had to prepare himself for the possibility she could die at any given moment, and that he will need to relay the information to his children that their mother is gone.

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