Rock Stars Who Died Tragically

The mythology of rock 'n' roll is eternal youth and jubilation. When the music genre burst on the scene in the post-WWII, conservative United States during the 1950s, it immediately became the target for ire and hate from members of the Greatest Generation and the Silent Generation, while becoming an everyday part of life for the Baby Boomers. Elvis Presley's shaking hips, Chuck Berry's duck walk, Little Richard's and Jerry Lee Lewis' showmanship on the piano, and many other performers captured the hearts of teenagers, and rock laid the foundation for popular music over the second half of the 20th century.

Unfortunately, the human body can only take so much sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. The phrase "Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse" became reality for many of these rock stars. Performers who seemed like demigods to their fans were still very human and still held the same limitations as their legions of followers. Behind all the glitz and fun, musicians still suffered from depression, dependency on drugs or alcohol, or diseases and other health concerns. And sometimes, they were just at the wrong place at the wrong time, leading to tragic accidents. Here are just a few rock stars who died prematurely.

Eddie Cochran predicted his young death

On the morning of February 3, 1959, early rock 'n' roll icons Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. Richardson, known as "The Big Bopper," died in a plane crash while touring together through the Midwest. The event became known as "The Day the Music Died" and saw the first premature deaths of young and popular musicians in the early history of the genre.

The crash also had a large impact on one of their fellow musicians. Eddie Cochran was a part of the first wave of rock 'n' roll stars, along with the three musicians who passed. His songs "Summertime Blues" and "Twenty Flight Rock" became early classics in the young genre and very popular among his teenage fan base. His appearance in films such as The Girl Can't Help It and Go Johnny Go helped his popularity grow further. According to John Collis' biography, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran, people close to Cochran said he became obsessed with his own death, believing it was around the corner after the deaths of Holly, Valens, and Richardson.

While touring in the United Kingdom in 1960 with fellow musician Gene Vincent, Cochran's premonition came true. Following a performance on Saturday, April 16, Vincent, Cochran, and others were involved in a single-car accident. Cochran died the next day, Easter Sunday, at the age of 21. He was only one killed in the crash.

Duane Allman and Berry Oakley's eerily similar deaths

Third time's the charm, they say. At Fillmore East, the Allman Brothers Band's third album, released in July 1971, launched them to superstardom after their first two albums failed commercially. The live album is hailed as a masterpiece today — Rolling Stone ranked it No. 49 on their "500 Greatest Albums of All Time."

The band's strength and leader was their guitarist, Duane Allman. Allman had spent the mid- to late 1960s as a must-have studio guitarist, working with artists such as Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, and fellow guitar god Eric Clapton. Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top fame said this of Duane's guitar playing to Rolling Stone magazine: "Duane began doing things no one had ever done before. [...] He was just a stunning and singular musician who was gone way too soon."

On October 29, 1971, Allman was driving his motorcycle through Macon, Georgia, when he hit a stopped truck. His bike jumped in the air and landed on him, causing internal injures. Though still conscious when he was taken to the hospital, the guitarist died hours later from his injures. As the band continued without their leader, tragedy struck again. On November 11, 1972, bassist Berry Oakley hit a bus on his own motorcycle and died from cerebral swelling. The accident took place a few blocks from Allman's fatal crash. Both men were 24 and are buried next to each other at Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon.

Cass Elliot's heart attack prompted a terrible rumor

"Mama" Cass Elliot's weight has followed her throughout her life and death. As a part of the folk-pop group the Mamas and the Papas, Cass Elliot became a household name. However, her weight almost kept her out of the band since John Phillips didn't want to put Cass in the band because of it. Phillips and Elliot would try to hide this fact following their breakthrough to the mainstream, but in Cass' biography, Dream a Little Dream of Me by Eddi Fiegel, this fact came to light and was backed by bandmate Dennis Doherty as well as John himself.

After the Mamas and the Papas ended, Cass still maintained a steady career in music and television. On July 29, 1974, she passed away from a heart attack in Mayfair, London, England, at 32 years old.

Even in death, Elliot's weight was still the story — a rumor spread that she died choking on a ham sandwich. Many publications, such as Time, ran with the now-debunked ham sandwich story. Cass' only son, Owen, who was seven at the time of her death, angrily called the rumor "one last slap at the fat lady," as told by The Guardian. Cass was staying in a flat owned by singer Harry Nilsson that he loaned to her for her shows in England. The flat would become infamous for another death four years later.

Keith Moon died in the same room as Mama Cass

No rock musician lived life to the fullest more so than Keith Moon. His chaotic drumming made him a legend, placing him second on Rolling Stone's list of the 100 Greatest Drummers, and was the driving force behind one of the greatest bands of the era, The Who. Moon, as described by his former bandmate Roger Daltry to GQ, "lived his entire life as a fantasy." Moon helped create many of the stereotypes that still exist today in rock 'n' roll, like smashing hotel rooms and his own instrument, outrageous spending, and frequent alcohol and drug use that usually landed him in trouble.

On Jan 4, 1970, Moon and his entourage left a pub mobbed with skinheads that were harassing him. While trying to escape, Moon took the wheel of the car and accidentally ran over his friend and chauffeur, killing him. The judge cleared Moon of the three charges he pleaded guilty to — drunk driving, driving without a license, and driving without insurance — because of the circumstances at the pub. However, according to his friend Larry Smith, the moment had an effect on the drummer. Smith said that Moon was "shell-shocked."

Moon's predictable demise finally came eight years later on September 7, 1978. Moon was pronounced dead at the age of 32 from an overdose of Heminevrin. He died at the same age and in the same place where Mama Cass died four years prior.

Keith Relf electrocuted himself while working on music

It is understandable to forget about a band's frontman when the lineup also featured a young Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and pre-Led Zeppelin Jimmy Page during its run. That's what has happened to Keith Relf of the Yardbirds.

When American blues music hit England in the late 1950s and early 1960s, bands like the Rolling Stones (named after a popular Muddy Waters song) and the Yardbirds formed with the desire to put their own touch on the music they loved. For Rolling Stone's list of the 100 Greatest Artists, frontman Steven Tyler of Aerosmith described the difference between Relf and the more popular frontman for the Stones, Mick Jagger: "He was a white boy who pushed it to the max. And he was a great harmonica player. You never heard Jagger hanging out on a single note the way Keith Relf could."

After the Yardbirds fell apart in 1968, Relf continued his music career with various bands as his more well-known bandmates achieved greater commercial and critical success throughout the 1970s. According to Ultimate Classic Rock, on May 14, 1976, while playing an electric guitar in his basement, Relf accidentally electrocuted himself, ending his life. He was 33 years old.

Richard Manuel killed himself while on tour

Musician Taj Mahal said of The Band in the documentary Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band, "If there were any American musicians that were comparable to what the Beatles were, it would have been them."

The Band featured (among others) drummer Levon Helm, bassist Rick Danko, and de-facto lead vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Richard Manuel, known for having a very soulful voice and the ability to sing in falsetto. Helm said of Manuel, "He was about the best singer I'd ever heard." Danko called Manuel "a force of nature in the band." Despite his immense talent, according to AllMusic, Manuel struggled throughout his life with alcohol and drug addiction.

In 1977, the group split up but reformed six years later without guitarist and lead songwriter Robbie Robertson. On the early morning of March 4, 1986, following a show at Winter Park, Florida, Manuel committed suicide. For years, Manuel had struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, as well as depression following the death of manager and mentor Albert Grossman earlier in the year, according to Chicago Now. Manuel was 42 years old at the time of his death. His former bandmates penned tribute songs to their friend, as did friend and admirer Eric Clapton with his song "Holy Mother."

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Paul Butterfield played and lived the blues

According to Nick Talevski in his book Rock Obituaries — Knocking On Heaven's Door, when Paul Butterfield was only a teenager, he was already being tutored and performing with blues legend Muddy Waters in Chicago. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band helped popularize blues music, a predominately African-American genre, to a white audience. Living in Chicago, Butterfield was at the epicenter for the blues, as artists such as Waters, Willie Dixon, and his professional inspiration Little Walter lived and performed on Chicago's South Side. The rhythm section for his band, Sam Lay and Jerome Arnold, were hired from blues legend Howlin' Wolf.

Butterfield's aggressive blues harmonica playing led his bandmate and friend Michael Bloomfield to call him "the finest blues harmonica player in the world." Amid the backdrop of the early and mid-1960s, Butterfield would defend his racially integrated band and often get into confrontations from racist concertgoers, according to guitarist Paul Feiten. Butterfield was a living legend during his time. Author and journalist Greil Marcus said that during Woodstock, he saw other musicians from The Band and Blood, Sweat, and Tears act "deferential" towards Butterfield.

By the mid-1980s, Butterfield had developed a heroin addiction which had put a financial strain on him, and he'd been hurt by the loss of many of his close friends like Bloomfield, Waters, and his manager Albert Grossman during the decade. On May 4, 1987, Butterfield died of a drug overdose at the age of 44.

Tom Fogerty succumbed to AIDS still feuding with his brother

From Oasis' Liam and Noel Gallagher to the Kinks' Ray and Dave Davies to the Jackson 5's Michael and Jermaine Jackson, sibling rivalries are not uncommon in music. 

However, few were as tumultuous and tragic as Creedence Clearwater Revival's feud between their two guitarists, John and Tom Fogerty. Despite being the younger sibling, John became the band's driving force, taking over all the singing and songwriting duties previously held by his brother. Tom did not enjoy losing control of his band to John, according to Ultimate Classic Rock. However, John's control of the band drove it superstardom in the late 1960s. After the 1970 album Pendulum, Tom left the band. Two years later, CCR dissolved from more internal conflict between John and the two remaining members.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, John became entangled in a series of contemptuous legal fights with the head of Fantasy Records, Saul Zaentz. In these fights, Tom was firmly in Zaentz's camp. John described Tom as having "some sort of weird Patti Hearst syndrome." During the 1980s, Tom was infected with AIDS from a blood transfusion. Even with death coming around, the brothers stayed at odds. John said one of the last letters he got from his brother read, "Saul is my best friend." Tom died of tuberculosis on September 6, 1990, at the age of 48.

Stevie Ray Vaughan died in a helicopter crash following a show

Most people first heard Stevie Ray Vaughan's guitar on the hit David Bowie song "Let's Dance." Bowie said in an interview with MTV in 1983 that when he first heard Vaughan, "This little kid from Austin, Texas, just played some of the most devastating city rhythm and blues I've heard in years." BB King described Vaughan's guitar playing as "fluent" and said, "He could get something going [...] and it would go on and on and ideas continuously flowed."

Vaughan was a music legend to other legends. Throughout the 1980s, he released four studio albums with his band Double Trouble. His guitar abilities placed him No. 12 on Rolling Stone's list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists, and Vaughan is credited for helping to re-popularize blues music during the decade.

Unfortunately, during the early morning of August 27, 1990, his career came to an abrupt end. According to Guitar World, Double Trouble had done two shows with fellow blues guitarist Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, and Stevie's older brother Jimmie Vaughan in East Troy, Wisconsin. Vaughan then boarded a helicopter to fly back to Chicago, but it crashed, killing all four people on board as well as the pilot. He was 35 years old. One month later, Vaughan's last album of original material, Family Style, was released, a duel album with his brother.

A speedboat accident took singer Kirsty MacColl

Though mostly known in the United States for a single song, Kirsty MacColl was regarded as one of the finest artists of her generation in the United Kingdom. The BBC reported that U2 frontman Bono called MacColl "the Noel Coward of her generation," and Johnny Marr of the Smiths said she had "the wit of Ray Davies and the harmonic invention of the Beach Boys."

Her duet with the Pogues, "Fairytale of New York" has become a modern-day holiday season classic. Jem Finer, songwriter and banjoist of the Pogues, told The Guardian that he questioned whether MacColl could handle her side of the duet, but lead singer Shane McGowan had been a fan of her of music and said, "She could make a song her own and she made Fairytale her own."

On December 18, 2000, the 41-year-old singer and her two sons were swimming in Cozumel, Mexico, when a speedboat illegally entered the area they were in. She moved one of her sons out of the way of the boat but was struck and killed instantly. Kirsty's mother Jean MacColl launched the website, believing that the Mexican government hadn't been forthcoming throughout the investigation. The boat was owned by businessman Carlos Gonzalez Nova, who was on the boat. Deckhand José Cen Yam was found guilty of culpable homicide, although according to Kirsty's biography, written by Jean MacColl, Yam's wife and father-in-law both said he was not the driver.

A deranged fan shot metal legend Dimebag Darrell

December 8 is a somber day in music history. The night of December 8, 1980, former Beatles guitarist and songwriter John Lennon was shot in the back while walking into his apartment building in New York City by a crazed former fan, Mark David Chapman. Twenty-four years later, another legendary guitar player would be murdered.

While performing with his new band Damageplan, Darrell Abbott, known as "Dimebag" Darrell, was shot during his band's set. He was 38. In 1981, Darrell helped formed the heavy metal band Pantera, and his guitar riffs helped drive the band to success until they split in 2003. Pantera reshaped the metal genre over their two-decade run. Pantera's drummer, Darrell's older brother Vinny Paul Abbott, said of the band in an interview with Rolling Stone in 1992 that, "We pulled the very best out of each one of ourselves, and with each record that we made, that mountain got taller and taller to climb."

The gunman, Nathan Gale, also took the lives of three other people: club employee Erin A. Halk, fan Nathan Bray, and Damageplan crew member Jeff "Mayhem" Thompson. He was killed by Columbus police officers minutes after the shooting. Rolling Stone reports that another fan saw Gale waiting in the parking lot and asked him if he wanted to come inside to stay warm. He responded that he was "gonna wait for Damageplan."