Famous Musicians Who Died In Their 40s

One of the greatest things about music is that it lives on forever — even if the amazing artists who created it leave this world earlier than expected. To devoted fans, musicians can seem like these elevated beings who are safe from time's clutches; but they're human, and the clock ticks on for them, too. 

It's tough to say goodbye to such amazing talent, especially if they left this world in their 40s. It leaves us with this funny feeling; you're thankful for all they produced, but you just know they had more great music in them.

Take the artists on this list for example. They made an impact on this world but were gone seemingly in an instant, whether it was due to privately battled illnesses, completely senseless murders, or personal struggles the public may never fully understand. From rock n' roll superstars to jazz icons, these are some of the famous musicians who died in their 40s.

Elvis Presley

The "King of Rock and Roll" himself, Elvis Presley, is one of the most beloved and famous music acts in history — so much so that he's got a biopic in theaters at the moment. Born Elvis Aaron Presley in Tupelo, Mississippi, in 1935 (via Britannica), the music legend shot to fame in the mid-1950s with his distinct sound and risqué stage performance. According to Biography, Elvis scored his first number one hit in 1955 with "Heartbreak Hotel" and went on to release iconic songs like "Hound Dog" and "I Can't Help Falling in Love With You." He also dabbled in film, starring in movies like 1956's "Love Me Tender" (via IMDb). 

Alas, not everything was smooth sailing for The King in his kingdom. Per Britannica, the changing music scene of the late 1960s — a time when bands like Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Who were defining a fresh, new rock n' roll sound — wasn't exactly beneficial to Presley, known for playing blues and ballads. He made a small comeback in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but his status wasn't near what it was in the 1950s.

Presley was also dealing with personal issues outside of music. According to Biography, Elvis and his wife, Priscilla, split in 1973; he also had an addiction to prescription drugs and was putting on weight around this same time. As History reports, Elvis' overall health was on the decline leading up to August 16, 1977 — the day he died at Graceland of a heart attack. He was 42 years old.

John Lennon

John Lennon is one of the most iconic musicians and songwriters in modern music history. Born in Liverpool, England, in 1940 (via The Beatles Bible), Lennon rose to megastardom in the 1960s as a member of The Beatles — considered by many to be one of (if not the) most important and influential bands to ever play. According to Biography, Lennon started playing music with Paul McCartney and George Harrison when they were just teens; Ringo Starr came into the picture in 1962, completing the quartet that would rock the music industry to its core and launch Beatlemania.

To say the group saw phenomenal success is an understatement. As Insider reports, the Beatles had a whopping 20 singles hit No. 1 on the charts, including timeless tunes like "Hey Jude" and "Let It Be." But as they say, all good things must come to an end ... including the Beatles.

According to History, Paul McCartney dropped the bombshell news of the band's breakup in April 1970. Lennon dove into his solo career post-Beatles, releasing several albums from 1970 to 1980 (via Discogs), including the beloved "Imagine" in 1971. He also collaborated with his second wife, Yoko Ono, throughout his solo career. In fact, their album "Double Fantasy" was Lennon's last album. 

John Lennon's life came to an end on December 8, 1980, when he was shot and killed outside his apartment by an unhinged man named Mark David Chapman (via The New York Times). He was just 40 years old at the time of his death.

Marvin Gaye

You can't talk about Motown without talking about the unbelievable talent that was Marvin Gaye. Per Biography, the legendary soul singer was born in 1939 in Washington, D.C., and grew up under the watch of a violent and unpredictable preacher father, Marvin Gay Sr. He took refuge in music as a kid, and his passion for R&B grew in his teen years. An undeniable talent, Gaye was signed to Motown Records in 1961, according to the Motown Museum, where he was a jack-of-all-trades musician. 

It wasn't long before Marvin Gaye got behind the mic and released Motown hits of his own, including 1965's "How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You" and 1968's "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" (via AllMusic.) The 1970s were great to Gaye, too; he released his legendary album "What's Going On" in 1971 and released beloved songs like "Let's Get It On" and "Got To Give It Up." He also released the hit "Sexual Healing" in 1982 (via American Songwriter), a performance that earned him a Grammy

Things were starting to look up for the "Prince of Soul," who was previously living in Europe as a tax exile (via Britannica). Unfortunately, things took a horrific turn for Gaye in April 1984. According to Far Out Magazine, Gaye was shot and killed by his own father following an altercation on April 1, 1984 — just one day shy of his 45th birthday.

He was posthumously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

Chester Bennington

Chester Bennington had one of the most distinct, versatile, and powerful rock voices of the 2000s — and it was heard on MTV, the radio, and pretty much anywhere else that played rock music. Bennington was the frontman for Linkin Park, a nu-metal group that hit the mainstream in the early aughts. Their debut album "Hybrid Theory" sold more than 30 million copies across the globe (via Discogs), and their 2003 album "Meteora" hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 200. That album featured some of their staple songs like "Numb" and "Somewhere I Belong." Bennington's voice, paired with Mike Shinoda's raps, helped catapult Linkin Park into rock stardom. He also had a stint as the lead singer for Stone Temple Pilots from 2013 to 2015 (via Billboard). 

While Bennington had an impressive music career, he struggled with some deeply personal issues. As Rolling Stone reports, Bennington wrestled with depression and addiction, which he had dealt with since his teens. However, according to CNN, he seemed to be in good spirits in the days leading up to death — making it all the more shocking. Bennington died by suicide at age 41 on July 20, 2017 — which, coincidentally, was his close friend Chris Cornell's birthday; Cornell, frontman for Soundgarden and Audioslave, had also committed suicide just two months prior (via Rolling Stone).

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

Whitney Houston

Legendary pop powerhouse Whitney Houston is one of the bestselling artists of all time (via Britannica), making it big with hits like "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" and an unforgettable cover of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You," which was featured on the smash-hit soundtrack for Houston's 1992 film "The Bodyguard." According to AllMusic, Houston was the first music artist to have seven hits in a row hit No. 1; her first two albums also went diamond platinum, further showing just how talented and beloved she was. No one's done it like Whitney Houston. 

While Houston's musical talent and achievements were nothing short of impressive, she did have difficulties in her personal life that, eventually, turned public. She married fellow singer Bobby Brown in 1992, per Vanity Fair, and their turbulent relationship was the subject of numerous gossip headlines until their 2007 divorce. Houston also struggled with drug addiction throughout much of her life, according to People, which had an impact on her career.

After years of struggling, however, it looked as though Houston was on the brink of a comeback with her 2009 album "I Look To You" (via Biography), but that comeback was cut short on February 11, 2012 — the day she died at age 48. As CNN reported at the time, Houston accidentally drowned in a bathtub while staying at a Beverly Hills hotel; other contributing factors listed were cocaine use and heart disease.

Freddie Mercury

Eccentric, iconic, and widely considered one of the greatest singers of all time, Freddie Mercury was the once-in-a-generation talent who fronted the beloved British rock band Queen (via the Songwriters Hall of Fame). Mercury (whose birth name was Farrokh Bulsara) was born in 1946 in Zanzibar, according to Biography. He met his future Queen bandmates while living in London in the 1960s, and together they created mega rock hits like "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Another One Bites the Dust" in the 1970s and 1980s. 

Mercury wasn't just a phenomenal singer; he was a pure entertainer, commanding the stage and welcoming the audience into his world. A perfect example of this is Queen's iconic performance at Live Aid in 1985 (via CNN) — a gig where Mercury proved he couldn't just entertain a crowd; he could unite it with his words and persona. 

All wasn't glitz and glamour in Mercury's life, though. As Rolling Stone reports, by the mid-1980s, there were Queen fans who weren't exactly keen on Mercury's speculated sexuality and flamboyance. Despite the gossip surrounding his sex life, Mercury went on entertaining the masses until he couldn't any longer. The Queen lineup changed forever on November 24, 1991 — the day Mercury died following a very private battle with AIDS (via The New York Times.) He was 45 years old.

Adam Yauch

Adam Yauch was one-third of legendary rap group Beastie Boys, who first shot to fame in the mid-1980s with their mega-successful 1986 debut album "Licensed to Ill," per the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The New York City trio, consisting of Yauch, Michael Diamond, and Adam Horovitz (aka MCA, Mike D, and Adrock, via Britannica), helped bring hip hop to the masses with their smash-hit debut — the first hip-hop album to reach the top spot on the Billboard 200 chart (via Fuse). The album features timeless Beastie Boys songs like "(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)," "No Sleep till Brooklyn," and "Brass Monkey" (via Discogs) — music that defines the group's genre-fused and unique sound. 

The Beastie Boys continued to ride the success train decades after their debut, scoring hits like 1994's rock-rap hybrid "Sabotage" and 2004's "Ch-Check It Out" along the way. However, as Rolling Stone reported, things took a turn in 2009 when Yauch was diagnosed with salivary gland cancer. Three years later, Yauch would die from it, on May 4, 2012, at age 47 — just weeks after Beastie Boys were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. 

Honoring a promise they made to Yauch, Diamond and Horovitz haven't made new Beastie Boys music since his passing (via NME); the group was disbanded in 2014, according to The Washington Post.

Nat King Cole

Vocalist, pianist, TV host — those are just a few of the titles belonging to the iconic Nat King Cole. Born in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1919 (via Biography), Cole showed interest in music from a young age. He first started tickling the ivories at the tender age of 4, and he stopped going to school at age 15 to pursue a career as a jazz pianist.

According to Biography, Cole created the King Cole Trio, a group with which Cole first saw success in the 1940s; his soothing sound helped score hits like "That Ain't Right" and "The Christmas Song." Cole's success continued into the 1950s, with songs like "Nature Boy" and "Unforgettable" becoming pop hits. 

On top of being a talented musician, Cole was very popular — so much so that he hosted his own variety show called "The Nat King Cole Show" in 1956 (via Britannica). According to the Clarion-Ledger, Cole was the first African American to land the role of host on a variety program, but the show didn't last long — it was canceled after only one season. Still, that one season on NBC (along with his music cross-over success) helped break the color barrier in TV and music for many (via NPR).

The 1940s and 1950s were good to Cole, but the 1960s brought him tragic news. Per Biography, Cole was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1964 and passed away from the disease on February 15, 1965. He was just 45 at the time of his death.

Dolores O'Riordan

You can't talk about 1990s alternative rock without mentioning Irish rockers the Cranberries. As NPR reports, the group scored international hits like "Dreams," "Linger," and "Zombie" throughout the decade — songs you'll easily find on a plethora of '90s Spotify playlists. One of the things that set the Cranberries apart from other alt acts was the distinct voice of lead singer Dolores O'Riordan.

Sharp and powerful (thanks, in part, to that Irish accent), O'Riordan's voice flowed through your ears and nicked that oh-so-satisfying part of your brain with each Cranberries song. Selling more than 40 million records around the world (via the Cranberries' official website), the Cranberries have proven to be an enduring act that spans generations and continents.

Yes, O'Riordan was the voice of a successful band; but she was also human and had her personal struggles. According to the Belfast Telegraph, the singer battled depression, suicidal thoughts, and anorexia, but, as Rolling Stone reported, she sounded like she was in a good place just days before her shocking death. On January 15, 2018, Dolores O'Riordan died in her London hotel room — the result of an accidental drowning brought on by alcohol intoxication, per NPR. She was 46 years old.

Scott Weiland

Scott Weiland, a talented singer and songwriter whose career spanned some three decades, was known to the masses as the singer for rock band Stone Temple Pilots and supergroup Velvet Revolver (via Billboard). Born in California in 1967, Weiland really started getting into rock n' roll music while recovering from a football injury as a teen, according to The Washington Post. Though he had a postpunk band in his early days, per the Post, he wouldn't find mainstream success until Stone Temple Pilots; the group signed to Atlantic Records in 1992 — just in time for grunge to take over the radio. 

While their first record didn't make many waves, Stone Temple Pilots' second album, "Purple," was hugely successful; it claimed the top spot on the Billboard 200 in 1994 and produced hits like "Interstate Love Song" and "Big Empty." Weiland was with STP until the band fired him in 2013 (via Rolling Stone). His unique and adaptable voice could also be heard as the lead singer of Velvet Revolver in the early 2000s. 

Weiland wasn't just known for his musical chops, though; in an interview with Esquire, Weiland explained how he publicly struggled with addiction, using substances like alcohol, cocaine, and heroin while Stone Temple Pilots rose to stardom. It was a struggle he dealt with throughout his life — a life that came to an end on December 3, 2015, when he died of an accidental overdose at age 48 (via Loudwire).

Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday is an icon of jazz, with her unmistakably smooth-yet-compelling voice defining the genre during her career. She had a way of soaking every word she sang with emotion, and when you listened to her music, she commanded your full attention. 

According to the PBS series American Masters, Holiday came from difficult beginnings. She grew up in poverty and even worked as a prostitute before she started singing in Harlem jazz clubs. She first started recording music in 1933 (via Britannica), and would go on to collaborate with jazz legends like Duke Ellington and Lester Young throughout her career, per PBS; Young would become a frequent collaborator and a dear friend to Holiday during her life. Her popularity grew after she released the 1939 song "Strange Fruit," a haunting and powerful anti-lynching number (via USA Today), and she would remain a staple jazz performer through the 1940s and 1950s.  

While Holiday had a successful professional life, her personal life was tumultuous. According to Biography, she struggled with alcohol and drug addiction; her heroin addiction is believed to have started in the early 1940s. Her drug use led to several encounters with the police over the decade, and by the 1950s, her career — and her health — were feeling the wrath of her vices. Billie Holiday was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver in May of 1959 and passed away just two months later on July 17 (via Carnegie Hall). She was only 44 years old.

Joey Jordison

Donning twisted masks and a seriously heavy sound, metal band Slipknot burst onto the rock scene to close out the 1990s with their combative mosh-pit anthems and intense performances. As reported by Rolling Stone, one of the band's founding members was drummer Joey Jordison. Jordison, along with Shawn Crahan and Paul Gray, formed the band in Iowa in 1995; the group's first big success could come just a few years later with their 1999 self-titled debut album (via Variety).

As Slipknot quickly became a global rock force, Jordison got to play with some huge rock acts, including Metallica and Korn (via The Independent), proving just how talented he was. Jordison was with Skipknot all the way through 2013, when he and the band parted ways. According to Variety, Jordison claimed he was fired from Slipknot in a blindsiding move. 

A few years later, he would tell the world about the health issues he faced around the same time he departed from Slipknot. He revealed during the 2016 Metal Hammer Golden Gods Awards that, near the end of his time with the group, he was diagnosed with a neurological disorder called transverse myelitis — a disorder that impacted his ability to play. Yet, Jordison would play on, playing with the band Sinsaenum from 2016 up until his death. Joey Jordison passed away in his sleep on July 26, 2021, at age 46, via NPR; his cause of death has yet to be released.