Rock Stars Who Had Insane Brushes With Death

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They don't say they "live fast and die young" for nothing: Being a rock star is dangerous. And sure, many of the threats are self-inflected and therefore avoidable, but look no further than the 27 Club for proof that the danger is real. But for everyone who went out young or died in a plane crash, there's someone else in the business who survived one or partied too hard, drove too fast, or overdosed but lived to tell the tale. (In several cases, they died and came back, making some rock concerts as much like a seance as you'll likely ever find in a horror movie.)

As glamorous as it can appear to die young and at the top of your game, it's even better to survive and tell the story of how deep and dark the world of addiction and reckless partying can be. The following almost-dead rockers know that better than anyone, so we've compiled their stories here. 

Mötley Crüe's Nikki Sixx briefly died of a heroin overdose

Sleaze metal champions Mötley Crüe, then of Shout at the Devil and Theater of Pain fame, were near the height of their popularity in 1987. The group had just released their fourth album, Girls, Girls, Girls, to multiplatinum success and had embarked on an equally successful and completely debauched world tour in support of it.

But of course, if you've ever seen a rockumentary, you can probably guess that things behind the scenes were a bit less glamorous than corny '80s hair metal videos would have you believe. Nikki Sixx, the Crüe's founder, bassist, and chief songwriter, was battling a vicious heroin addiction, which he detailed in his 2007 book The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star. But one incident, which has gone on to become one of the most notable stories in rock history, stands out. In December of that year, while partying with Guns N' Roses' Slash and Steven Adler in Los Angeles, Sixx overdosed on heroin and died, briefly, before being revived in the ambulance. The experience with twin lifesaving adrenaline needles inspired him to write one of the group's biggest hits, 1989's "Kickstart My Heart."

Blink-182's Travis Barker nearly died in a plane crash

As if his genre-defining pop punk band's ongoing "indefinite hiatus" hadn't made 2008 bad enough for drummer Travis Barker, he nearly died when the Learjet 60 business jet he was traveling on crashed and burned following an attempt to abort takeoff by the pilot (who was reacting to burst tires, per Billboard). The plane ran past the runway, smashed through a boundary fence, crossed a highway, and then burst into flames on an embankment. Four of the six people on board, including the pilot, died on the scene (and DJ AM died the following year). Only Barker himself lives to tell the tale.

He discussed the immediate aftermath on The Joe Rogan Experience in early 2019: "I was in such a hurry to get out of the plane, and exit the plane, I jumped right into the jet, which is full of fuel. So my whole body lit up." To this day, Barker won't go near an airplane, choosing to stay home if an overseas Blink-182 tour is heading to a place he can't access by boat. It's hard to blame him when you hear quotes like this: "I [sic] just never think about fire, until you're on fire."

Guns N' Roses' Slash was barely revived after an overdose

It's hard to be more self-destructive than the members of Guns N' Roses were at the height of their global popularity in the early '90s and live to tell the tale. Top-hatted guitar hero Slash is perhaps the most infamous addict in a band consisting almost entirely of infamous addicts, any one of whom could've made this list — just ask bassist Duff, whose pancreas exploded due to alcohol abuse, or drummer Steven Adler, whose addictions nearly killed him with a stroke.

While touring in support of the Use Your Illusion double albums, then-heroin-addicted Slash bought every bit of a dealer's stash and retired to shoot it all up in his San Francisco hotel room. Speaking to The Guardian, Slash later recalled: "I started down the hallway and I ran into a maid, and I asked where the elevator was and then bam! I collapsed." Afterward, he flatlined and was barely revived by paramedics. What happened next probably isn't surprising. "They took me to the hospital but I said, 'I'm fine', signed myself out, went back to the hotel and we flew to the next gig."

Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme was briefly declared dead

Rock stars encounter plenty of (usually self-imposed) threats — like hard drugs, excessive drinking, fast cars, plane crashes, and mental illness exacerbated by circumstances the average person can hardly fathom. (Imagine being surrounded by millions of fans and feeling hopelessly alone.) 

Routine knee surgery, however, doesn't usually make the list. Josh Homme, 24-year Queens of the Stone Age frontman, put it simply to NME: "I had surgery on my leg and there were complications and I died on the table. I was in bed for three months." To Rolling Stone, he went into even further detail: "I was stuck in a room for four months and I had all these tubes in my leg. And it was painful."

But being cleared by doctors and discharged wasn't the end of the ordeal. Homme still thinks the greatest challenge was the psychological damage he endured. In his own words (also to Rolling Stone), "The physical scars heal quick. It's the mental ones that are tougher." However, he's since cited the ordeal as what "zeroed" him: "And I'm really thankful for it because I know what's important."

Foo Fighters' Taylor Hawkins was almost killed by heroin addiction

It's not every day you hear a recovered addict cite the dose that almost did them in as the best thing that ever happened to them, but that's how longtime Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins talks about his 2001 heroin overdose, which left him in a two-week coma and nearly ended the band. To NME, Hawkins, who joined the band in 1996 after playing with Alanis Morissette, said: "Well, I was partying a lot. I wasn't like a junkie per se, but I was partying. There was a year where the partying just got a little too heavy. Thank God on some level this guy gave me the wrong line with the wrong thing one night and I woke up going, 'What the f*ck happened?' That was a real changing point for me."

After his overdose, frontman Dave Grohl briefly played with Queens of the Stone Age, something Hawkins mistook as a sign he'd ruined the band. "It really looked like the end," he said. Thankfully, that wasn't the case. Hawkins and Grohl remain as close as ever, 26 years after forming one of modern rock's most iconic groups.

Metallica's James Hetfield was set on fire during a concert

It seemed like a great idea at the time. Metallica's Wherever We May Roam tour comfortably overlapped with Guns N' Roses' Use Your Illusion one, so the two titans decided to join forces for a brief North American stadium tour. Unfortunately, the effort is now widely seen as dysfunctional, largely due to the excesses and chronic tardiness of GNR's Axl Rose. The affair came to a head on August 8, 1992, when Metallica frontman James Hetfield, confused about the stage layout, wandered right into a pyrotechnic blast during "Fade to Black" and was left with severe burns. "Pyro guy doesn't see me, that I've walked back out there" Hetfield later said on Behind the Music, "and woosh, big colored flame goes right up under me." The band cut the set short as James was rushed to the hospital.

But the story gets crazier. Tour promoters frantically called Guns' management, who agreed to start their set early to appease a disappointed crowd. However, citing a failure to properly switch over the sound settings, Rose cut the set early and caused a massive riot. "I go and light myself on fire," Hetfield later said, "and he upstages me."

Pantera's Phil Anselmo shot up and went into cardiac arrest

Texas groove titans Pantera may have almost single-handedly kept metal alive in the 90's, but certain members neglected their own well-being. Fans, of course, remain heartbroken over "Dimebag" Daryl Abbot's onstage murder in 2004 and his brother Vinne Paul's death from heart disease in 2018. But although many are aware that frontman Phil Anselmo battled heroin addiction in the latter half of the band's heyday (he self-medicated to deal with severe back pain that he couldn't take enough time off to treat), not everyone knows that he briefly died of an overdose.

After a show in Dallas in 1996, Anselmo shot up, as was his routine, and promptly slipped into cardiac arrest for four to five minutes. He summarized the events in a press conference a few days after being discharged: "I, Philip H. Anselmo [...] injected a lethal dose of heroin into my arm, and died for four to five minutes." "Make no mistake," he later said to Andivero. "I have died before, there's no faking death."

Interestingly, Anselmo's back problems were the cause of both his addiction and his recovery from it. When he finally found time to seek surgery in 2005, he had to kick the habit before going under. It wasn't easy, but it was worth it: He's been sober ever since.

Ozzy Osbourne nearly died after crashing his ATV

Of all the narcotic, hedonistic ways the Prince of Darkness has flirted with death over the years, it's hard to believe a simple ATV accident came just about as close as anything else to doing him in. Ozzy Osbourne, who was 55 at the time of the December 2003 incident, decided to head out on a joyride across his estate outside London.

It didn't go so well. He crashed the vehicle, was rushed to the emergency room, and underwent extensive surgery to treat a myriad of injuries. His son, Jack, summarized them to reporters: "a broken collarbone, eight fractured ribs that were pinching crucial blood vessels and a damaged vertebrae in his neck." Brutal. 

Much of what transpired on rock music's trashiest reality TV show, The Osbournes, can actually be blamed on the painkillers Ozzy was placed on following his various surgeries. Well, partly blamed on, anyway. We find it hard to believe that family would be normal even if they were sober. And we wouldn't have it any other way. 

Def Leppard's Rick Allen lost an arm in a car wreck

British pop metal pioneers Def Leppard are known as much for their one-armed drummer as they are for such decade-defining hits like "Pour Some Sugar on Me," "Photograph," and "Hysteria." As you might've guessed, the story of how the Thunder God got that way was a life-defining tragedy for Rick Allen.

It was New Year's Eve 1984, and Allen was driving his girlfriend around the outskirts of his native Sheffield when he lost control of his Corvette. The car then smashed into a field and launched Allen from the driver's seat, severing his left arm and leaving his girlfriend with severe whiplash and a handful of broken bones. Doctors did manage to reattach the arm, but an infection forced them to amputate it for good.

But the story of how Allen overcame his condition is even more incredible than the incident itself. Unwilling to consider retiring from one of music's then-biggest acts, Allen built a drum set in which parts normally played by the left arm would be played by the left foot and went on to master the custom-built kit in time for the band's 1987 titanic, hit single-packed album, Hysteria.

Creed's Scott Stapp jumped off a balcony while high

Followers of rock news might remember Scott Stapp's bizarre 2014 mental breakdown, in which he filmed himself in his truck, broke due to the IRS freezing his accounts, hiding out from unspecified predators. It later came out that Stapp was enduring frightening hallucinations brought on by methamphetamine psychosis. Luckily, he got help and has been clean and sober ever since.

But that was far from the first time he experienced something like that. In a 2012 GQ interview, rapper T.I. recalls hearing pained moaning coming from a hotel balcony above him. He saw a wounded man attempting to continue his jump after the sixth floor broke his attempted 14-story drop. The man — who T.I. later realized was Creed's Scott Stapp — was spinning an intoxicated tale about how his girlfriend was cheating on him with his best friend. The rapper ultimately coaxed him down by offering him a joint, in exchange for letting him call the authorities. 

Poison's Bret Michaels totaled his Ferrari

Apparently longtime Poison frontman (and future mid-aughts reality TV icon) Bret Michaels wasn't aware his glam metal band's heyday was behind him, because his hard partying continued well into the '90s. Sadly, it came to a head in 1994, when he wrapped his Ferrari around a telephone pole and nearly died as a result. He wound up with several broken bones, including his jaw, his nose, several fingers, and a few ribs. In an interview with Houston Press, the "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" singer claimed he was heading to an after-party after partying with Sean Penn's brother, Chris, when the accident occurred. "I was just hauling ass and lost control of the car. That's pretty much it. And, just, thank God that I didn't hurt anyone but myself."

In 2015, Michaels caused another wreck when he rear-ended a Scottsdale, Arizona, woman with his Mercedes. Fortunately, there were no injuries, except to his pride.

R.E.M.'s Bill Berry suffered an aneurysm onstage

R.E.M.'s 1995 Monster tour took a toll on the band, to say the least. By the time it wrapped up, four members had undergone surgery for various health issues. The first, and most serious, incident happened to drummer Bill Berry.

The band was 90 minutes into a set in Switzerland when Berry felt a throbbing headache coming on. "It felt like a bowling ball hit me in the head," he later told the Los Angeles Times (via Diffuser). "There wasn't any warning. I was just singing the falsetto part on 'Tongue' when it happened."

He played on to avoid causing a scene but collapsed moments later. Luckily, a riot was avoided when drummer Joey Peters from Grant Lee Buffalo (the opening act) filled in and finished the show. Fortunately for Berry, Switzerland was home to some of the world's foremost brain surgeons. They confirmed he'd suffered an aneurysm, found a second one waiting to happen, and performed a life-saving craniotomy. Days later, Berry was recovering.

Korn's Jonathan Davis has suffered several major health scares

Korn frontman Jonathan Davis has endured several health scares, and they started at a young age, too. As a kid, Davis suffered from severe asthma that landed him in the emergency room on a number of occasions. In an 2004 interview with Livewire, after stating that his upbringing had been terrible, he was asked if there had been any good parts.  Davis responded: "Um, just staying alive. I was really sick as a kid. I almost died — I don't know how many times! I was in and out of the hospital so many times with really bad asthma."

Years later, after his band found enormous commercial success at the turn of the millennium, Davis found himself back in the hospital. "I started getting these weird bruises all over my body about two weeks ago. I was getting very weak after the shows so I saw a doctor in London Friday. He took some blood tests and when the results came in, they rushed me to the hospital." Davis, it turns out, was suffering from Immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP). In his own words, to People, ITP is "a blood infection where, because of an allergic reaction I had to some medication, my blood platelets were really low." He continues: "If I continued to headbang onstage, I could have had a brain hemorrhage and dropped dead on the spot."