Jeff Buckley's Manager Revealed Details Leading Up To The Musician's 1997 Death

Jeff Buckley was a singer-songwriter most famously known for his cover of the Leonard Cohen song "Hallelujah." Buckley began his singing career in the 1990s by playing in New York Clubs, and he released his first live EP in 1993 that consisted of four songs (via Jeff Buckley). He worked on his own material and recruited a band to begin recording his first studio album titled "Grace," which was released in 1994.

After the release of his debut album, Buckley went on tour in different countries from 1995 to 1996, and he started working on a new album soon after. In 1997, Buckley headed to Memphis, Tennessee to record his album, which was temporarily titled "Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk." Buckley's friend, Nicholas Hill, told Rolling Stone that the singer was anxious about working on his second album. Tragedy struck, however, when the young singer drowned while swimming in the Mississippi River. He was just 30 years old.

He wanted to be a good artist like his father

Musician Joan Wasser, professionally known as Joan as Police Woman, was Jeff Buckley's fiancée at the time of his death. In fact, Buckley proposed to her just days before he drowned. In an interview with Mojo Magazine, Wasser recalled Buckley telling her, "You know, I'm going to die young." A close friend of Buckley's, Tammy Shouse, that the singer had been dreaming about his death and said that he felt it coming.

Jeff Buckley was feeling the pressure of being a well-known musician at the time he was creating his second album. According to ATI, he said that he just wanted to be a great musician like his father was. Buckley's father was folk singer-songwriter Tim Buckley (pictured above), who released nine studio albums from 1966 to 1974. Sadly, he passed away from an overdose in 1975 at 28 years old. Jeff didn't have a relationship with his father growing up, as he separated from his mother, Mary Guibert, after Jeff was born. In an interview with The New York Times in 1993, Jeff said, "I never knew him. I met him once, when I was 8." However, he said his father was working at that time and they weren't able to talk. "That was it," he said. Despite their lack of relationship, some of Tim's fans compared the father and son, and perhaps that's one of the reasons why Jeff felt pressured to do as much and as well as his father did in his short life.

Details of Jeff Buckley's drowning

On May 29, 1997, Jeff Buckley was driving around Memphis with roadie Keith Foti. The two were headed to the rehearsal location to wait for Buckley's band to arrive by plane in Memphis that same night, so they could work on music for his second album. However, as noted by Rolling Stone, they had a hard time locating the building and decided to take a detour to the Mississippi River instead. They drove down a road and headed to the Wolf River Harbor, one of the channels of the Mississippi River.

As reported by ATI, Buckley decided to take a dip in the river fully clothed. Foti stayed by the banks as Buckley waded in the waters, and when Foti saw a small boat, he yelled for his friend to move away. He then moved the boombox they brought with them and when he turned around, Buckley was nowhere to be found. Foti desperately searched and called out to Buckley for a few minutes, but when he received no response, he immediately called the police at about 9:22 p.m. Authorities immediately combed the area, but Buckley wasn't located. It wasn't until June 4 when a passenger aboard a riverboat spotted a body, which was later identified as Buckley. An officer from the Coast Guard told Rolling Stone that the river had strong undertows that many underestimate.

Jeff Buckley's manager's reaction

On the night Jeff Buckley went missing, his manager, Dave Lory, was in Dublin. He received a call at 5:58 a.m. and was told that Buckley had gone missing from the Mississippi River. "I was totally numb, no emotion," Lory told Talia Schlanger from NPR in 2018. He said that he just froze on the spot and had no idea what to do. Although Buckley's death wasn't confirmed until his body was found days later, Lory said that he knew right away that Buckley was dead. Lory flew to Memphis and visited the site where the musician was last seen. He was devastated and spent several minutes just crying and throwing rocks into the river to vent his grief and frustration.

Buckley's official cause of death was listed as accidental drowning. According to the medical examiner who conducted an autopsy, the singer the drug test came out negative, and although he had alcohol in his system, the level was only 0.04 milligrams, just enough to make a person feel relaxed and warm (via iDrive Safely). The NPR conversation with Schlanger was the first big interview Lory agreed to after Buckley's death.

Dave Lory's observations about Jeff Buckley before his death

Dave Lory revealed that he thought Jeff Buckley wanted to settle down just before his untimely death. He wanted to be a "normal" person, which was hard to do as he was widely recognized whenever he visited his favorite places in New York. In an interview with Bad Feeling Magazine, Lory said that Buckley proposed to his girlfriend and wanted to purchase a car and a house that weren't for sale. The singer also reportedly applied for a job as a butterfly keeper at a Memphis zoo. Lory said that it was uncharacteristic for Buckley to do such things, but he said it may have been a result of the singer wanting to have a normal life.

Six years after Buckley's death, Lory went to a psychic. The manager said that the lady told her things that only he and Buckley knew about. He also brought with him a Buckley's bracelet during the meeting, and told him, "I don't know if this makes sense, but he didn't mean for it to happen, but he didn't fight it. It's not your fault. It's okay to let go" (via NME).

Dave Lory's book about Jeff Buckley

Dave Lory said that many people approached him for offers regarding doing a movie about Jeff Buckley, but he turned them down. After two decades, however, he felt it was time to share Buckley's legacy with the world in the form of a book. As ABC noted, Lory finally knew that it was time. Some people believe that spotting a red cardinal after the death of a loved one symbolizes a visit from the person who passed away. Lory said he had been visited occasionally by a red cardinal in his backyard in a span of two years, and when he finished the book, he got a final visit from the cardinal. "I looked down and I said, 'Is it okay Jeff?' And the bird looked at me and flew away. And I've never seen the red cardinal again."

Lory's book, titled "Jeff Buckley: From Hallelujah to the Last Goodbye," was released in 2018. He told Bad Feeling Magazine that he cried for three days while writing the chapter about Buckley's death, and that's when he realized that he never truly grieved the death of his friend. The book includes stories from people closest to Buckley and never-before-heard anecdotes about the musician and the legacy that he left.