1960 — Eddie Cochran dies

Eddie Cochran was one of the classic Fifties rockers – young, rebellious and male, he sang one of the iconic early rock tunes: “Summertime Blues”. Cochran was a good friend of Buddy Holly and Richie Valens, and was deeply shaken by their deaths in 1959. He became consumed by a conviction that he too would die young.

A year later, he was proved right, when he was killed in a single car accident while on tour in the UK. Cochran, sitting in the back seat with his girlfriend, Sharon Sheeley, and fellow musician Gene Vincent, threw himself in front of Sheeley to protect her, and was thrown from the car in the accident. He died in hospital later that day from the head injuries he sustained. Sheeley and Vincent were both injured by survived the accident – the driver was convicted of dangerous driving.

Referenced in:
Rock And Roll Hall Of Death — Mitch Benn And The Distractions

1977 — Marc Bolan dies

After David Bowie (with whom he maintained a mostly friendly rivalry), Marc Bolan is the single biggest name in the history of glam rock. Born Mark Felt, he was two weeks short of his thirtieth birthday when an automobile accident claimed his life.

Bolan’s career had been a great one up to that point. As the lead singer of T.Rex, he wrote and performed such classics as “Get It On”, “Children of the Revolution” and “Telegram Sam”. His influence, and that of T.Rex, on later musicians, especially in Britain, was immense. His grave remains a site of pilgrimage to fans from all over the world.

Referenced in:
Rock And Roll Hall Of Death — Mitch Benn And The Distractions

1974 — Mama Cass dies

Ellen Naomi Cohen, better known to the world as Mama Cass, was only 32 years old when she died. Mama Cass was a member of the Mamas and the Papas, best known for their 1965 hit, “California Dreamin'”. Stardom had been good to the band, most of them living among the other musicians and artists of Los Angeles, but bad for Cass in many ways.

She had an addictive personality, and being able to afford basically any drug she wanted had led her to behave like a kid in a candy store. Cass was also known for her appetite, being considered somewhat fat (even by the more generous standards of the Sixties for most of her career). At the time of her death, she was fasting four days a week – the coroner speculated that this may have stressed her heart, leading to her fatal heart attack. No food was found in her windpipe – the story that she choked on a ham sandwich is simply an urban myth.

Referenced in:
Rock And Roll Hall Of Death — Mitch Benn And The Distractions
(He’ll Never Be An) Ol’ Man River — This Is Serious Mum

1969 — Brian Jones dies

Brian Jones was the original Rolling Stone. He coined the band’s name and recruited its members in 1960. But as their fame grew, Jagger and Richards outshone him in the media, especially as their songwriting partnership developed. In 1969, he was asked to leave the band by the other members, as his drinking and drug use were taking a toll on his abilities, and on June 9, he did so.

In the last month of his life, he kept writing songs and reached out to other musicians, including John Lennon, about forming a new band. At around midnight on the night of 2–3 July 1969, Jones was discovered motionless at the bottom of his swimming pool. The coroner’s verdict was death by misadventure, although he also noted that the condition of Jones’ organs was deteriorated due to his drug and alcohol intake. Two days later, the Rolling Stones dedicated a free concert in Hyde Park to his memory. Conspiracy theories about him being murdered swirl to this day.

Referenced in:
Rock And Roll Hall Of Death — Mitch Benn And The Distractions

1983 — Karen Carpenter dies

Karen Carpenter was one half of the Carpenters, her brother Richard being the other half. Richard played electric piano (and a variety of other similar instruments), Karen played drums, and both sang – although it was Karen’s voice that was the more popular. Offering a softer, more melodic alternative to the loudness and wildness of Seventies rock (the golden age of heavy metal), they became among the best-selling artists of their age. Their output consisted mostly of covers, such as “(They Long to Be) Close to You” was a #1 hit for them in America, “Please Mr. Postman” and “We’ve Only Just Begun”.

Karen Carpenter was longtime sufferer of anorexia nervosa. She died in 1983 of complications resulting from her anorexia, but in doing so, she helped to bring anorexia into greater prominence, leading to greater attention from the medical and psychiatric community.

Referenced in:
Rock And Roll Hall Of Death — Mitch Benn And The Distractions

1991 – Freddie Mercury dies

A true giant of popular music, and the possessor of one of the finest voices ever to grace a song, Freddie Mercury, born Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar, died at the age of 45 after a protracted struggle with AIDS. An openly gay man, Mercury had contracted the disease some years earlier, being diagnosed in 1987, but chose to conceal his illness from all but his nearest and dearest, including the other three members of Queen, until relatively shortly before his death. This desire for privacy has unfortunately tainted his legacy somewhat, as he arguably could have done much to promote awareness of AIDS had he announced his infection sooner – although this would likely have taken a greater toll on his health and seen him die even sooner.

Mercury left behind him an incredible range of musical accomplishments, both as singer and songwriter. In particular, he wrote 10 of the 17 songs on Queen’s Greatest Hits volume one: “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Seven Seas of Rhye”, “Killer Queen”, “Somebody to Love”, “Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy”, “We Are the Champions”, “Bicycle Race”, “Don’t Stop Me Now”, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “Play the Game” – all of them still played frequently on radio to this day. He was also a consumate showman in concert, rivalled only by Bowie and Jagger in his ability to charm a crowd.

Referenced in:

No-One But You (Only The Good Die Young) — Queen
Rock And Roll Hall Of Death — Mitch Benn And The Distractions

1990 – Kurt Cobain commits suicide

To his fans, and most other people for that matter, he must have seemed on top of the world. Why wouldn’t he? He was the lead singer and songwriter of Nirvana, the leader and figurehead of the Grunge movement (the reigning style of music and fashion), and considered as important culturally as Lennon or McCartney had been.

But Lennon and McCartney didn’t suffer from depression. Stardom seemed an unwanted distraction for Cobain – it was certainly an unwanted pressure. We may never know exactly what pushed him over the edge into absolute despair, but something did. Likely factors – most of which were exacerbated by his depression and its other symptoms, even while they too were symptoms – include Cobain’s drug use, his physical weariness after a long tour and bouts of illness, the sad state of his marriage to Courtney Love, and his long term depression.

His body was discovered on April 8, 1990. He had shot himself after taking a large dose of heroin (and possibly some diazepam) and writing a suicide note. The coroner later estimated that he had died on April 5. He was survived by his wife and daughter, his bandmates in Nirvana, the Grunge movement, and a number of urban myths that he had been murdered.

Referenced in:

Let Me In — REM
About a Boy — Patti Smith
Mighty K.C. — For Squirrels
Innocent — Our Lady Peace
Sleeps with Angels — Neil Young
You Were Right — Badly Drawn Boy
Too Cool Queenie — Stone Temple Pilots
Californication — Red Hot Chili Peppers
Rock And Roll Hall Of Death — Mitch Benn And The Distractions

1970 — Jimi Hendrix dies

Widely acclaimed as the greatest guitar player of all time, Jimi Hendrix was only 27 years old when he died. He had released only 4 albums before his death, but he was already one of the iconic figures of the Sixties. He popularised the use of the Fender Stratocaster, the guitar on which he played, and he played some of the greatest live sets of all time at Woodstock and Monterey.

Although occasional allegations of murder or suicide have been made, it seems most probably that Hendrix’ death was a tragic accident. He asphyxiated on his own vomit after taking a combination of an overdose of sleeping pills (Hendrix was unfamiliar with the brand and it was stronger than he likely realised) and red wine. He died in London, but his body was returned to his native Seattle for burial.

Referenced in:
L.A. Money Train — Rollins Band
Six Strings Down — Jimmie Vaughan
(He’ll Never Be An) Ol’ Man River — This Is Serious Mum
Rock And Roll Hall Of Death — Mitch Benn And The Distractions

1978 – Keith Moon dies of a drug overdose

In the history of rock and roll’s true wild men, Keith Moon stands above them all. He was the wild man’s wild man, a talented musician with a distinctive sound of his own, whose considerable musical talent was dwarfed by his talent at partying.

He was the drummer for the Who, and the last member to join the band. His driving beats powered them to stardom alongside the vocal talents of Roger Daltrey, the guitar playing genius of Pete Townsend and the dependable bass lines of John Entwhistle.

Moon died at age 32 when he overdosed on pills he had been given to help treat his addictions, in a series of small errors that added up to a full-blown catastrophe.

Referenced in:

Under A Raging Moon – Roger Daltrey
Rock And Roll Hall Of Death — Mitch Benn And The Distractions

1977 – Elvis Presley dies

One more day, and he would have been touring again. But as it happened, Elvis Presley’s lifestyle caught up with sooner than that. Over the last few years, he had become seriously overweight, and also addicted to drugs.

By the time of his death, Presley was sick enough that he was having difficulty staying upright throughout his concerts. His friends and crew were doing their best to conceal his difficulties, but things had been slipping for some time.

Elvis was buried in Memphis, next to his mother’s grave, two days after his death – although even today, thirty years on, sightings of the King of Rock and Roll continue (he’d be 74 years old today, so it’s just plausible that he might have lived to this point).

Referenced in:

Dead Elvis – Doug Anthony All Stars
Going to Graceland – The Dead Milkmen
Rock And Roll Hall Of Death — Mitch Benn And The Distractions

1971 – Jim Morrison dies

Morrison died on July 3, 1971, at age 27. In the official account of his death, he was found in a Paris apartment bathtub by Courson. Pursuant to French law, no autopsy was performed because the medical examiner claimed to have found no evidence of foul play. The absence of an official autopsy has left many questions regarding Morrison’s cause of death.

Many believed that Morrison had in fact faked his death, as he had occasionally talked of doing over the preceding few years, but if so, he has yet to reappear. And it’s hard to believe that a man with Morrison’s ego and drug use could have stayed anonymous for nearly 40 years now…

Referenced in:
Morrison Hostel — This Is Serious Mum
Rock and Roll Heaven — The Righteous Brothers
Rock And Roll Hall Of Death — Mitch Benn And The Distractions

1959 – Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper die in a plane crash

The facts, as generally agreed upon, are these:

At appoximately 1AM on February 3, 1959, Holly, Valens and Richardson (‘the Big Bopper’) boarded a plane in Clear Lake, Iowa, intending to fly to their next concert, in Moorhead, Minnesota. The three, flown by pilot Roger Peterson, were killed a short time later when their plane crashed.

The major cause of the crash appears to have been a combination of poor weather conditions and pilot error. Peterson was not qualified for nighttime flights, and it also appears that he may have been given incorrect information regarding the weather conditions on that fateful night.

Referenced in:
American Pie – Don McLean
Air Crash Museum – Dead Milkmen
We Didn’t Start The Fire – Billy Joel
Rock And Roll Hall Of Death — Mitch Benn And The Distractions