What is a rock n roll death? Let’s start by quoting writer Willard Motley, “Live fast, die young, leave a good looking corpse.” Well, good looking may be pushing it when your corpse is pulled from plane wreckage, but lets not split hairs here. A rock and roll death is the untimely death of a young, popular musician during the rock n roll era (1953-present). For the sake of this list, the deaths are not always singular but sometimes grouped due to similarity, which symbolizes some collective significance. You’ll get the picture.

Also for this list the rock star stereotypical drug overdose in a hotel room is not good enough. Hell, anybody can do that. Dope deaths had to involve extenuating circumstances or historical significance. Also the corpse has to have some major level of notoriety. So, your childhood friend who got stabbed by a transsexual hooker in a crack house bathroom does not count just because she played bass drum in the high school band.

Number 10: Johnny Ace (1925-1954)

Due to incessant touring, liquor, and blatant immaturity, it was originally reported that R&B sensation Johnny Ace lost a game of Russian roulette between sets backstage at the City Hall Auditorium in Houston, Texas. Subsequent eyewitness accounts of the 1954, Christmas-night incident recall that Johnny was just fooling around and had no idea the gun was loaded. At any rate he Decked the Halls with brain fragments. Historians consider this the first Rock N Roll death.


Number 9:The Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and Big Bopper “Triple Play”

While on tour these three Rock n Roll pioneers died in a plane crash in an Iowa cornfield on February 3, 1959. Holly was the 22 year old guitarist/lead singer of a hit making group The Crickets. Valens was a 17 year old guitarist/singer/songwriter superstar on the rise and J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson was a DJ, hype man. This event solidified two facts in the public consciousness: 1) Plane crashes are an occupational hazard of the Rock and Roll lifestyle 2) Corn cobs are deadly going up your nostrils at 700 mph. The cultural value of this event was immortalized in the 1971 hit song “American Pie” by singer songwriter Don McLean which labelled this “the day the music died.”


Number 8: The Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison “Trilogy”

This set of rockers were among the biggest and brightest stars of the late-60’s hippie rock scene. Within a period of 8 months and 15 days these three 27 year olds died of drug overdoses.


Hendrix is generally considered the by a host of historians and musicians as the greatest guitarist of all times and Joplin’s vocal prowess is still the standard with which female blues singers are compared.


Jim Morrison’s pretty-boy-prison-bitch good looks and performance artist ingeniousness as the lead singer of The Doors fashioned him an international sex symbol.


The resulting fallout manifested itself in three ways: 1) Recognition of drug abuse, addiction and overdose as a side effect of the Rock Stardom due to the proximity of these deaths, 2) An end of the Hippie Generation’s naiveté in considering drugs a simple, fun way of anti-establishment protest, and 3) The international ritual of junkies pissing their pants on the eve of their 27th birthday.

Number 7: The Kurt Cobain, Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls “Hat Trick”

Over a 3 year period in the mid-90s, these three trendsetting, authentic, innovators died as a result of guns. Kurt Cobain, (Feb.20, 1967-April 5, 1994) songwriter, lead singer and guitarist for the group Nirvana was named, by Rolling Stone Magazine “Musician of the Decade” for the 90s. After conquering the rock world Cobain committed suicide via shotgun.


Rapper Tupac Shakur (June 16, 1971-September 13, 1996) was noted for his lyrics of social consciousness, poetic flow, brutal honesty, a budding acting career, and a rape conviction.


Rapper Christopher “Biggie Smalls” Wallace, one of the greatest musical storytellers of all times, was an ex drug dealer who, when given the chance, proved a deft and clever wordsmith.


Tupac and Biggie became figureheads in a feud between east coast and west coast rappers which resulted in a distribution of individual drive-by shooting deaths for the two. This macabre 90’s hat trick demonstrates the prevalence of gun violence in our world. These days, laughing at a bad act may get a cap popped in you at your 8 year old’s ballet recital.

Number 6: Sid Vicious (May 10, 1957-February 2, 1979)

John Simon Ritchie, better known by his stage name Sid Vicious was the bassist for the seminal British punk rock originators the Sex Pistols. Known for such endearing stage antics as cutting himself, cursing out the audience, and proudly displaying a complete lack of any musical talent this social misfit became the poster boy for the anti-corporate, anti-hippie, anti-normal punk movement. After the Sex Pistols imploded during an American tour Sid and his groupie girlfriend Nancy Spungen took their heroin fueled shenanigans to the Chelsea Hotel in New York City where Nancy ends up stabbed to death and Sid ends up in jail accused of her murder. While out of jail on bail Sid died of a fatal overdose of heroin which was PROCURED AND INJECTED IN HIM BY HIS MOTHER. Ultimately, added to Sid’s nihilist, hedonist and murder suspect merit badge list is momma’s boy.


Number 5: John Lennon (October 9, 1940-December 8, 1980)

As a founding member of the most famous rock group in history, The Beatles, John Lennon was one of the most famous people on the planet. Eleven years after the breakup of The Beatles Lennon was returning home to his New York City apartment enjoying the glow of the success of a solo comeback album he had just completed. Among the crowd of fans gathered outside of his apartment Lennon did not notice the young man, Mark David Chapman, for whom he had signed an autograph earlier that evening, until Chapman shot him four times in the back. He was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. America received the news of this murder during the nationally televised Monday Night Football game when commentator Howard Cosell made the announcement between plays.


Number 4: Sam Cooke (January 22, 1931, December 11, 1964)

Cooke was one of the most celebrated gospel singers of the 1950s before turning to the devil’s music and becoming a pioneer of the Soul music genre. Between 1957 and 1964 he had 30 U.S. Top 40 hits and three more after his death. On the final night of his life he picked up a groupie from a Los Angeles nightclub and proceeded to a motel. Allegedly, while Cooke was in the bathroom his date got dressed, left the room with most of his clothes, his wallet and went to a phone booth to call the police and cry rape. Once Cooke discovered he had been fleeced he left the room wearing only a sports coat and a shoe. According to the motel manager Cooke physically confronted her prompting her to fatally shoot him in self defense. A police report concluded that Cooke was drunk and the shooting was justified. Adding insult to fatality the motel manager sued Cooke’s estate and was awarded a judgement of $30,000 for her inconvenience and three months later Cooke’s widow married his guitar player, the future soul star and recently deceased Bobby Womack.


Number 3: Marvin Gaye (April 2, 1939-April 1, 1984)

Singer, songwriter, musician Marvin Gaye’s long and mercurial career started, in earnest, when Motown records owner Berry Gordy hired the 21 year old upstart as a sessions drummer. The peaks included his ascension from major solo status at Motown to major soul music superstar recognition with worldwide acclaim and major astronomic money earning. Along the way he picked up a nifty little cocaine habit which hemorrhaged his earnings. One day before his 45th birthday his father, Minister Marvin Gaye, Sr. shot and killed him with a gun Marvin Jr had given him for Christmas, in the house Marvin Jr had bought for his parents. Domestic bliss was broken, allegedly, due to a days long argument concerning legal papers, and/or, Marvin Sr’s repeated abuse of Jr’s mother, and/or, Marvin Jr’s uninhibited cocaine smoking, and/or, Marvin Jr’s kicking Marvin Sr’s ministerial ass. Marvin Sr pleaded no contest and received probation.


Number 2: Dimebag Darrell (August 20, 1966-December 8, 2004)

Guitarist extraordinaire “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott and his brother drummer Vinnie Abbott founded the band Pantera. After 6 years of treading water as a B list Hair Metal Band they changed lead vocalists for one who could growl lyrics like a caveman with syphilis and changed styles to a heavier (Thrasher) sound with more guitar soloing. In the 90s, Pantera had three, multi-platinum albums with virtually no radio hits or televised videos and became eardrum assaulting millionaires. Dimebag graced the covers of all of the Major Guitar and Heavy Metal magazines like any self respecting guitar god. When the inevitable drug fueled breakup of Pantera ensued Darrell and Vinnie form a new band called Damageplan. On the 24th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder Damageplan was performing at a club in Columbus, Ohio when a fan with schizophrenia and a gun walked up to the stage and shot Dimebag. As pandemonium ensued the six-foot three, 250 pound gunman, Nathan Gale’s shooting frenzy claimed the life of a club employee, an audience member who was trying to perform CPR on Dimebag, and wounded 7 others before taking a hostage. The shooting spree ended when a policeman quietly approached the killer from behind and shot him in the face killing him instantly. Dimebag was pronounced dead at the scene.


Number 1: Michael Jackson (August 29, 1958-June 25, 2009)

Because of the totally over the top death of the “King of Pop” from an overdose of the general anesthetic usually administered only in hospitals, Propofol, is now a part of the American lexicon. But over the top behavior typified the lifestyle of Michael Jackson’s adulthood. As a child prodigy the lead singer of his family’s Soul group, The Jackson Five, he seemed normal enough except for his incomparable talent. As he grew into adulthood his talent level assumed prodigious proportions making him the most popular and famous person in the solar system. The architect of the modern music video art form Jackson set international records for album sales and concert attendance. But also with adulthood things got weird; very weird. Between the plastic surgeries, wives, pets, live shows, pedophile charges, and extravagant spending he had to outdo everyone else. So it’s only fitting his death would push the envelope well past bizarre. Because of chronic insomnia he slept with an intravenous feed of propofol, not in a hospital, but in his home. Dr Conrad Murray was being paid $150,000 per year to just sit and watch Michael sleep. HOW HARD CAN THAT BE? Evidently that was too much for the incompetent quack Murray to handle because Jackson died of acute propofol and benzodiazepine intoxication. For $150,000 if you or I had been watching him he would be moonwalking today. Unfortunately it’s highly unlikely this generation will ever see another entertainer of his statue.


Photo Credits:

  • http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/Making-Sense-of-Amy-Winehouse-And-The-27s-Tragedy-1575836.php
  • http://weallbe.blogspot.com/2011/06/happy-life-affirmation-day-johnny-ace.html
  • http://blogs2.startribune.com/blogs/oldnews/archives/142