20 Legendary Musicians Who Died Way Too Soon
by Faith Brar
Death may be inevitable, but it’s still painfully tragic when it seems to come too soon, as was the case with these iconic musicians. Some were victims of accidents while others died due to health complications and addictive behaviors. Regardless, each and every one of these artists made a huge contribution to their respective musical genres. Here are 20 iconic musicians who left behind incomplete legacies and many broken hearts.
The British singer and songwriter was found dead in her home on July 23, 2011. The “Rehab” singer passed at the tender age of 27 due to an accidental alcohol overdose.
She was apparently watching YouTube videos of herself and drank enough to put her in a coma that eventually caused her to stop breathing. Her live-in personal assistant said that Winehouse was her usual bubbly self the day before she passed.
Just days after checking out of a drug rehab center in LA, the legendary frontman for the band Nirvana was found dead in his Seattle-area home as the result of a fatal gunshot wound to the head. The death was confirmed to be a suicide after the shotgun he purchased was found lying on his chest. The star died Tuesday, April 5, 1994, at just 27 years old.
On February 11, 2012, the Grammy-award-winning singer was found face down in a water-filled bathtub in the Beverly Hilton Hotel. She was only 48 years old at the time of her death. The Los Angeles County corner’s office reported that the singer’s death was accidental and was an effect of atherosclerotic heart disease and cocaine use. An additional toxicology test revealed that she also had diphenhydramine, alprazolam, cannabis and cyclobenzaprine in her system.
The King of Pop died in his L.A. home on June 25, 2009, as A result of acute propofol and benzodiazepine intoxication. Reports say that the singer’s personal physician Conrad Murray found Jackson in his room not breathing, with a hardly detectable pulse.
Murray was later found guilty of providing Jackson with propofol, which, when combined with other drugs in his system, caused his death. After serving two years of a four-year sentence, Murray was released from prison for good behavior and due to prison overcrowding.
The rock singer was was found dead in her apartment on October 4, 1970, the result of an apparent drug overdose. She was just 27 years old. Joplin rose to fame in the mid ’60s as the lead singer of the acid rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company. Known as one of the greatest artists of all time, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995.
Ian Curtis was one of the biggest stars of the post-punk scene. He rose to fame at 22 and was dead by 23. The British singer, who suffered from epilepsy, married young, at just 19 years old. According to reports, the pressures of touring with his band Joy Division and maintaining his health and marriage were simply too much for the young talent to handle. On May 18, 1980, he hung himself in his home, on the eve of his band’s North American tour.
Oscar-nominated singer and songwriter Elliot Smith died October 21, 2003, at just 34 years old. Smith reportedly suffered from depression, alcoholism and substance abuse and those themes often surfaced in his music. On the day of his death, Elliot’s girlfriend reportedly locked herself in the bathroom after the couple had a fight. Soon after, she heard a scream and opened the door to see Smith standing with a knife in his chest. Police found a possible suicide note on the scene that said: “I’m so sorry – love, Elliot. God forgive me.”
With more than 60 million albums sold worldwide, brother/sister duo The Carpenters were ’70s sensations, largely because of Karen’s talents as a drummer and singer. The Grammy-award-winning singer suffered from anorexia, however, which ultimately took her life on February 1, 1983, less than a month before her 33rd birthday. At 5′ 4″, Carpenter struggled with eating disorders for most of her adult life, dropping to as low as 91 pounds in September 1975. An autopsy revealed that she died of cardiac arrest caused by her condition.
His name was Christopher Wallace, but we all knew him as Notorious B.I.G or Biggie Smalls. One of the most mysterious deaths in the entertainment world, Wallace was killed in a drive-by shooting on March 9, 1997, during which he was shot four times. He was just 24. His killer has never been caught. The rapper is generally considered one of the industry’s most influential artists; he was nominated for four Grammys and won two Billboard Music Awards.
On February 3, 1959, while traveling from a performance in Clear Lake, Iowa, to Moorhead, Minnesota, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper, and their pilot died in a tragic plane crash that occurred just after takeoff. The tragedy was later memorialized by Don McLean as The Day the Music Died in a song titled “American Pie.” Known for hits like “That’ll Be the Day” and “Peggy Sue,” Holly was at the peak of his career when he passed away at just 22 years old.
On September 7, 1996, rapper Tupac Shakur was shot multiple times while leaving a boxing event in Los Vegas. He was just 25 years old. His murder remains unsolved, but is rumored to part of the East Coast-West Coast hip hop war the was led by Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. Having sold more than 75 million records worldwide, Shakur was inducted into the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame in 2002.
Though his mainstream musical career spanned only four years, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame describes the legendary Hendrix as, “arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music.” He was by far one of the most influential guitarists of the ’60s. Unfortunately, on September 18, 1970, the artist was found dead at just 27 years old. He aspirated on his own vomit while intoxicated with barbiturates.
A founding member of the rap group N.W.A., Eazy-E tragically died of AIDS-related complications on March 26, 1995, at age 30. He was diagnosed with the disease just a month before it took him. Though his time as a musician was short, Eazy-E has been dubbed “the godfather of gangsta rap.”
Jamaican singer, songwriter, musician, and guitarist Bob Marley introduced reggae to the masses. He sold more than 75 million records during his career. In 1977, the singer was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma in his toe that eventually spread to his brain, liver and lungs. He died May 11, 1981, at the age of 36
Critically acclaimed for his work with Motown Records, Marvin Gaye was killed by his father on April 1, 1984. The “Prince of Soul” was allegedly trying to stop his parents from fighting over insurance papers at the time. His mother told Ebony that the situation got out of hand when Gaye became aggressive with his father, who retaliated by shooting his son in the chest twice. Rushed to the hospital, Gaye was pronounced dead on arrival. He was just 44 years old.
On April 21, 2016, Prince was found dead in an elevator in his recording studio in Chanhassen, Minneapolis. The Grammy-award-winning artist was just 57 years old and presumed to have died of natural causes. According to reports, Prince had been struggling with his health of late. He postponed tour performances in early April, stating that he was “battling the flu.” Though he performed at an Atlanta concert April 14, Prince’s private jet made an emergency landing at an airport in Illinois on his way back to Minneapolis so that he could seek medical treatment.
Iconic singer-songwriter Freddie Mercury of the British band Queen died of AIDS-related bronchial pneumonia on November 24,1991, at 45 years old. The “Bohemian Rhapsody” singer knew he was sick with the disease for years prior to his death but denied it publicly, letting only a select few in his inner circle know of his illness. It wasn’t until the day before he died that his manager shared a statement about Mercury’s illness with the press. Mercury’s four-octave vocal range and entertaining stage persona made him one of the most memorable performers of all time.
Famous for co-founding the Beatles, John Lennon was also known for his political activism. On December 8, 1980, while leaving his apartment in New York, the singer-songwriter was shot four times in the back by Mark David Chapman. He was 40 years old
Born Aaliyah Dana Haughton, the multitalented singer and actress released her first album, Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number, at the age of 14, and the album went double Platinum. Her sophmore album, One in a Million, was produced by Timbaland and Missy Elliot, who also contributed to the album, which sold over 8 million copies worldwide. Her recording success paved the way for her foray into film; she took on roles in 2000’s Romeo Must Die and 2002’s Queen of the Damned, which was release posthumously.
On August 25, 2001, the 22-year-old died in a plane crash while flying to the Bahamas. An autopsy later revealed that the pilot had traces of cocaine and alcohol in his system.