The Tragic Death Of Billy Preston

Billy Preston, the prolific keys player who had been referred to as the fifth Beatle, died in 2006 after spending seven months in a coma due to a cascade of health issues. According to the Houston Press, some of those ailments were brought on by years of drug abuse. 

Born in Houston on September 2, 1946, Preston started life as a child prodigy, playing alongside gospel signer Mahalia Jackson at 10 years old, then touring with Little Richard by 16 when the Beatles were his opening act, according to The New York Times. He was part of Sam Cooke's band before the singer's untimely death and worked with Ray Charles. Preston also spent several years playing on Rolling Stones records and sometimes touring with the group. 

Preston was part of two iconic pop culture moments when he played keyboards during the Beatles last ever performance in 1969, the now famous concert held on the roof of the Beatles' Apple Corps headquarters. He also has the unique distinction of being the first musical guest on "Saturday Night Live" in 1975, where he performed one of his biggest solo hits as a frontman, "Nothing from Nothing." 

Billy Preston had a 'really beautiful passing'

But as legendary as Billy Preston's life in music was, in the end he died a slow, drawn-out death. Due to Preston's decades of drug use, he'd developed "malignant hypertension and pericarditis, the internal drowning of the area around Preston's heart," as the Houston Press described it.

According to Ultimate Classic Rock and The New York Times, Preston went into voluntary drug rehab in Malibu, California, in November 2005. While there, he suffered acute respiratory failure that was caused by swelling around his heart, which left him "thrashing and gasping for air" after being rushed to the hospital, according to the Houston Press. 

That attack knocked him into a coma that he would never wake up from. According to the Associated Press, Preston was moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, just days before he died on June 6, 2006, at 59 years old. The AP wrote in his obituary that Preston had lived with chronic kidney failure, even getting a kidney transplant in 2002.

"He had a very, very beautiful last few hours and a really beautiful passing," his manager, Joyce Moore, told the AP. "He went home good."