Forgotten '80s Musicians You Didn't Know Passed Away

The 1980s bid adieu to disco fever and saw the masses gravitating to the sweet (and sometimes overstuffed) stylings of the synthesizer. As noted by the Susquehannock Courier, the decade also saw the rise of new musical sounds: hair metal, new wave, and even hip-hop were popular, offering listeners a variety of different genres to gravitate to. If that's not all, 1981 saw the birth of MTV, a historic moment in music, which ultimately changed the industry forever, becoming the leader of "pop culture and entertainment" in North America, and eventually, the world (via History).

As the decades went on, when some of the most beloved '80s icons died, the world wept. When David Bowie died in 2016, fans around the globe erected impromptu shrines in his honor, while fellow contemporary musical heavyweights, such as Kanye West, took to social media to pay their respects (via Rolling Stone).

But what about the '80s stars that have been buried by time? According to BBC, at one point, '80s hitmakers all had their own distinct sounds. "You'd hear something and think, oh that's Bananarama, that's Culture Club, that's Duran Duran," reflected Keren Woodward of Bananarama to the outlet, adding, "everyone looked their own way as well." It turns out, there have been a lot of forgotten musicians from the 1980s that you may not know have passed away.

Pete Burns

Pete Burns, frontman of new wave group Dead or Alive, died in October 2016, the cause reported in a since-deleted Twitter statement as "massive cardiac arrest," per The New York Times. The band formed in the late '70s, although it wasn't until their 1984 single, "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)," that they really gained worldwide recognition. The New York Times revealed that the track reached the 11th spot on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S., while in their native U.K., it took its place on the No. 1 throne.

While Dead or Alive still continued to make music well into the 2000s, Burns started to become more known for his rapidly changing looks that came by way of extensive plastic surgery. According to The Guardian, the singer's androgynous look saw his fans praise him for his "progressive approach to gender." As he declared to The Guardian in 2007, "Everyone's in drag of some sorts," adding, "I was brought up with an incredible amount of freedom and creativity. Society has put certain constraints on things."

After Burns' death, many of his fellow '80s icons took to social media to pay tribute, such as Marc Almond of Soft Cell, who tweeted, "We've had some mad times with Pete but he was a one off creation, a fabulous fantastic brilliant creature." Interestingly enough, The Guardian notes that even Boy George, who Burns once accused of copying his look, also paid his respects on Instagram, writing, "We had our wars, but I admired him!"

James Ingram

On January 29th, 2019, actor Debbie Allen took to Twitter to announce the passing of her longtime friend and R&B legend, James Ingram. While she didn't mention any cause of death, gossip rag TMZ revealed that same day that Ingram's death at age 66 was due to brain cancer. It marked the end of an industry icon: Ingram has won two Grammys in his career and was nominated 14 times, even stepping out of his comfort zone and collaborating with his musical peers of different genres, such as country queen Dolly Parton and pop star Linda Ronstadt.

Ingram had an interesting start in the industry, moving to Los Angeles from Akron, Ohio, with his band, Revelation Funk. As he told the Chicago Tribune in 2012, while his bandmates were the better vocalists, it was his dedication that he really credits his success to. It turns out, after two years, Revelation Funk headed back to Ohio while Ingram stuck it out, snagging backup jobs singing for Ray Charles and Marvin Gaye. From there, he caught the eye (or ear) of Quincy Jones, and the rest, as they say, was history.

Although he collaborated with so many musical icons, Ingram recalled one incredible story to Chicago Tribune, when Jones tasked him to write Michael Jackson's mega-hit, "P.Y.T." After working in the studio with both Jones and Jackson, he remembered the King of Pop asking him if he was "singing [the song] right." Ingram simply told Jackson, "Man you're killing it."

Izora Armstead

In September 2004, The New York Times confirmed the death of Izora Armstead, one half of the '80s duo the Weather Girls. Responsible for "It's Raining Men," one of the biggest club anthems of the decade, Armstead died of heart failure, her age "unknown," although many believe she was born in 1942, per the Independent.

Armstead and her musical partner, Martha Wash, formed Weather Girls (then called NOW — an acronym for News of the World) in the mid-70s and began their rise to the A-list singing backup vocals for Sylvester. Since the pair were so popular on the club circuit and on television, NOW changed their name to Two Tons O' Fun — an "obvious reference to their voluptuousness" (via Independent). It wasn't until they released their now-iconic song in 1983 that they really started to leave their mark as '80s legends. In a '90s interview with MTV3, Armstead revealed that the duo changed their name to the Weather Girls because of the opening line in "It's Raining Men." She quipped, "It stuck, so I hurried up and patented the name."

But besides dominating the '80s club charts, Armstead is also remembered for the powerful message she wanted to leave the music industry with. "Our audiences expect our music to be gay and positive," she once reflected, according to the Independent. "Reality for many people is grim and depressing and, for this reason, we want to pass on our energy and drive and to bring pleasure through our music."

Kevin DuBrow

Lead singer Kevin DuBrow was a part of glam metal band Quiet Riot since its inception in the '70s. Per AllMusic, while the group was able to garner a crowd during live shows, they didn't land their first record deal until the end of the decade, and it wasn't until 1983's "Metal Health" album that they really gained worldwide recognition. According to the band's website, Quiet Riot left their mark by becoming "the first heavy metal band to top the [Billboard] pop chart," coming in at #1 with the album — all thanks to their Slade cover of "Cum on Feel the Noize."

"Quiet Riot [was] the first real MTV rock band," mused Blackie Lawless, singer of metal band WASP, to the Los Angeles Times. "When people write rock 'n' roll encyclopedias ... L.A. will have its own '82-'83 chapter, and Quiet Riot would really be the beginning of that chapter." Sure enough, Quiet Riot would continue to make music throughout the decades to come, so it, of course, came as a big shock when the world found out that DuBrow suddenly died in November 2007.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the singer's death was ruled "an accidental cocaine overdose." He was 52. As it turned out, DuBrow had recently broken up with his girlfriend of over seven years, Lark Williams, who was equally shocked by the rocker's death. "He was as strong as an ox, that boy," Williams noted to the Los Angeles Times, adding that he "never looked better."

June and Bonnie Pointer

The Pointer Sisters had a storied career that spanned a remarkable five decades — all while refusing to place themselves in the confines of one musical genre. According to Fader, while the music industry officially labeled the band "as an R&B group," the Pointer Sisters recorded top-selling songs in a plethora of different genres: from pop, electro, jazz, and even country. "People kept saying, 'You gotta pick a category,'" recalled Ruth Pointer to the outlet. "Why? Why do you have to do that? It wasn't something we felt we had to do," she mused. Sure enough, the band didn't have to, going on to win three Grammy awards.

Originally formed in the late 60s by sisters June and Bonnie Pointer, per Britannica, their other two siblings, Anita and Ruth, joined the group in 1972 and released their debut album the following year. By the time the '80s rolled around, the quartet released 1983's "Break Out" — subsequently going triple-platinum. Sadly, in the following decade, the sisters all decided to experiment with solo efforts, none of which reached the same level of fame.

In April 2006, People reported the passing of the youngest Pointer sibling, June, who died of cancer at the age of 52. Fourteen years later, in June 2020, the other founding member, Bonnie, went into cardiac arrest and sadly died, per TMZ. According to the death certificate obtained by the tabloid, the singer allegedly had "other underlying issues ... including liver disease."

Greg Ham

Although they only enjoyed global, A-list success for a mere three years, Men at Work released some of the most memorable songs of the 1980s. According to AllMusic, the Aussie band released their debut album, "Business as Usual," in November 1981, and by the following year, achieved international fame, even "breaking the American record for the most weeks a debut spent at the top of the charts." Men at Work are perhaps remembered best for their song, "Down Under," which many consider the "unofficial anthem for Australia," per The Washington Post.

Much of the band's success wouldn't have happened without Greg Ham, who played the saxophone and flute in the group and was responsible for that riff in "Down Under." Unfortunately, Ham and the rest of the band ran into a rough snag in 2010 — years after they disbanded — when they were accused of stealing the riff of "Down Under" from a children's campfire song "Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree." According to The Guardian, they were ultimately ordered to pay "5% of the song's royalties," but the news absolutely "devastated" Ham, with a friend revealing to The Washington Post that he was never "the same" after the court ruling.

According to The Washington Post, Ham was found dead on April 19, 2012. It was later revealed the cause was a heart attack (via The Sydney Morning Herald).

Laura Branigan

Laura Branigan saw immediate success with her 1982 debut album, "Branigan," which featured one of the most enduring pop songs of the decade: "Gloria." The single skyrocketed to the #2 spot on Billboard's Hot 100 and sat pretty on the chart for an impressive 36 weeks. But Branigan was already building her career before then. According to AllMusic, in the latter portion of the 70s, she won an audition to become a backing vocalist for Leonard Cohen and toured with him until the end of the decade, subsequently landing her own record deal with Atlantic.

The singer perhaps would have even endured longer success if it wasn't for her husband's cancer diagnosis in the '90s, causing her to ultimately retire her microphone in 1994. "That's what I lived for," she told CNN in 2002 of quitting her career to look after her beau. "It was not even a choice." Sadly, Branigan's husband died a mere two years later, leaving her overcome with grief and unable to return to music.

In the early 2000s, Branigan finally went back into the recording studio, yet tragically, she never got a chance to revive her once-flourishing career. According to Billboard, in August 2004, the singer complained of a headache for two weeks, resulting in her death from a brain aneurysm on August 26th. As the outlet notes, she was in the process of recording new material.

Loalwa Braz

It didn't take long for French-Brazilian band Kaoma to reach global success. Known for their 1989 sultry hit, "Lambada," The New York Times reported that by 1990, Kaoma had sold "five million single records and two million albums with the song" across the globe. But "Lambada" didn't come without its own controversies for the international group. As the outlet revealed, two Bolivian brothers, Gonzalo and Ulises Hermosa sued Kaoma for using the melody of their own song, ”Llorando Se Fue,” without crediting them. Of course, the Hermosa brothers won the suit, with 50 percent of the track's royalties going to EMI, the company that owned the song rights.

To this day, "Lambada" is still widely recognized as Kaoma's song, with the sensual vocals belonging to Brazilian singer Loalwa Braz. According to Billboard, Braz even moved to Paris after the song's success, where she remained for ten years as she recorded and toured with the band. When she finally returned to Rio de Janeiro, Braz still performed her hit during live concerts and events, yet, sadly, her life was cut short at the age of 63.

As reported by BBC, Braz was found dead in a burnt car in January 2017 near her house in Saquarema. Although the news site initially noted that the cause of death was still unknown, it was later revealed that she was targeted by "thieves," in what Brazilian news site Globo dubbed "a robbery gone awry" (via Billboard).

Falco

While the name Johann "Hans" Hölzel may not mean much to some, Austrian rap icon Falco may ring a few bells — thanks to his international 1986 hit, "Rock Me Amadeus." As History notes, Falco may very well be the second most recognizable musician out of Austria since his song's namesake, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and they're not wrong. According to the outlet, Falco became "the first Austrian" to shoot to the top of Billboard's pop chart and, somewhat surprisingly, was the first rap artist to have a #1 pop song on the American chart.

Although some may be quick to brush off Falco as a one-hit-wonder, the musician actually did continue to make more music, hovering near the top of the German and Austrian charts well into the 1990s, yet his success in America would never quite reach the same heights as it did with "Rock Me Amadeus." According to the Independent, in the late '90s, Falco moved to the Dominican Republic and began building his own recording studio, yet tragically, never got to see the final product. In February 1998, he died in Puerto Plata when a bus struck his car. As History writes, Falco's passing sadly "went largely unnoticed in the English-speaking world."

In Falco's native Austria, on the other hand, his death made waves. As musician Thomas Lang told the Independent, Falco will forever be remembered "not as the biggest Austrian pop star but as the only Austrian pop star."

Bobby Farrell

Boney M are pretty much synonymous with the '70s disco era. The band, which was fronted by Bobby Farrell, are probably best known for their hits such as "Rivers of Babylon," "Daddy Cool," and "Rasputin," the latter of which saw a sudden resurgence in 2021 thanks to a viral TikTok dance trend, per Billboard. Farrell, who actually l​ip-synched on stage in place of Frank Farian (who assembled the band), remained with the group until 1981, until he was fired by Farian himself (via Independent).

Although Farrell tried going solo after getting the boot from Boney M, he wasn't successful and eventually fell on hard times in his home in the Netherlands, living on welfare and even "[spending] a few weeks in prison," per the Independent. By the time the 2000s came around, Farrell had landed on his feet and was performing yet again, this time re-recording the biggest hits of his heyday.

According to BBC, the former Boney M frontman was found dead in St Petersburg, Russia, in his hotel room, after a performance. He was 61. It was later revealed that he died from heart disease. In a bizarre coincidence, Farrell died on December 30th — the same day and in the same city as Grigori Rasputin, advisor to Tsar Nicholas II and the subject of one of Boney M's most iconic hits (via The Telegraph).

Marie Fredriksson

Roxette, a Swedish duo made up of ​​Per Gessle and Marie Fredriksson, had a very bizarre rise to international fame. As revealed by BBC, the bandmates met in the late '70s, ultimately forming Roxette in 1986, and subsequently reaching success in their home country with their single, "Neverending Love."

Now, this is where the story gets interesting. According to Rhino Insider, after an American exchange student who was studying in Sweden bought the band's second album, "Look Sharp," he brought it home to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he took it to ​​local radio station KDWB 101.3 FM. From there, the station began playing "The Look," a single off of the album, which ultimately became a national hit, peaking at #1 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart. Roxette went on to enjoy other hits in the U.S., such as 1988's "Listen to Your Heart" and "continued to tour and release albums throughout the 1990s" (via BBC).

Sadly, after battling cancer for 17 years, Fredriksson died of a brain tumor in 2019 at the age of 61, per Rolling Stone. Gessle issued a statement on Twitter, writing, in part, "...I'm honored to have met your talent+generosity. All my love goes to you+your family. Things will never be the same."

Mark Hollis

British band Talk Talk were amongst some of the most influential acts of the 1980s. Although they're often associated with some of their new wave hits, such as 1984's "It's My Life," it's actually their later endeavors into post-rock that some modern-day acts say they were inspired by. Matthew Good told "ExploreMusic" that some of his "favorite piano sounds" come from those "latter" albums, while Radiohead's Philip Selway had high praise for Talk Talk's 1988 album, "Spirit of Eden" (via "BBC Radio 6 Music").

It's actually that 1988 record that may be lead singer/songwriter Mark Hollis' magnum opus. According to a 2008 article by The Guardian, "Spirit of Eden" remarkably "has not dated," with the outlet noting how "contemporary it sounds." Hollis was also known for his refusal to conform to his label's desires: per The Guardian, when EMI tried to change the band's image and the way they spoke to reporters, the singer refused — gaining a bit of a reputation as being a "surly, self-obsessed character."

Hollis ended up leaving EMI and, eventually, Talk Talk, as well (via The Guardian). In February 2019, BBC reported that the songwriter had died, his manager, Keith Aspden, confirming that it was from "a short illness from which he never recovered." He was 64. Talk Talk's bassist Paul Webb, aka Rustin Man, posted a tribute to his old bandmate on Instagram, writing, in part, "He was one of the greats, if not the greatest."