A history of the musicians who died in their prime, from icons of the 21st century to hip-hop stars
Amy Weller
15:44 7th August 2013

Too many music stars have died too young, leaving behind legacies that have gone on to have extraordinary influence in the music world. 

Stars who were taken too soon include rock'n'roll front men, pop icons and some of the best soul singers. Some of whom encountered huge commercial success in their lifetime whist others only achieved it after their death.

An astounding majority on our list show a staggering number of young and incredibly talented artists who experienced difficulties in coping with the fame and lifestyle that came with their musical success.

They experienced careers that often led to self destructive habits, addiction, and media notoriety, all of which inevitably culminated in tragic deaths that cut short the success of many who were in their musical prime. 

 

  • Brian Jones - 1942-1969: Jones was the original frontman of The Rolling Stones and a crucial member in the band's formation, even choosing the members, songs, and the name. His role in the band gradually diminished as his drug problem grew. He was eventually asked to leave and less than a month later was found dead in his swimming pool, his heart damaged by drug and alcohol abuse.

  • Jim Morrison -1943-1971: Morrison was the lead singer of the rock band, The Doors. He died as a result of heart failure, believed to be induced by alcohol and heroin.

  • Nick Drake - 1948-1974: The reclusive and intellectual musician only achieved recognition after his death. A Cambridge graduate who made music in his parents house, he suffered depression and finally overdosed on antidepressants. Whether the overdose was accidental or intentional remains unknown.

  • Elvis Presley - 1935-1977: Considered a cultural icon all over the world, Elvis is still hailed as the King of rock'n'roll. He was one of the best selling solo artists of the twentieth century, but had a long battle with drug addiction, eventually becoming plagued by many health issues that culminated in heart failure.

  • Keith Moon - 1946-1978: Moon was the drummer in The Who, best remembered for his legendary and unique drumming style that gave him a legacy as one of the best of all time. The musician was also known for his alcohol and drug fuelled destruction, which included a habit of putting explosives down toilets. His life ended when he overdosed on a combination of pills.

  • Minnie Riperton - 1947-1979: The singer songwriter was best known for classic hits like 'Lovin You'. She later died of breast cancer aged 31.

  • John Lennon - 1940 - 1980: The Beatles musician was murdered in the street by super-fan Mark David Chapman who shot him several times in the back as he returned to his apartment with Yoko Ono.

  • Marvin Gaye - 1939-1984: The soul musician was shot by his father after an argument with the gun he had bought him as a Christmas present. The musician, who claimed to be influenced by Frank Sinatra, had a number of iconic tracks such as 'Heard It Through The Grapevine' and 'Sexual Healing'. The singer had struggled with a drug and alcohol addiction ever since the death of his musical partner Tammi Terrell.

  • Cliff Burton - 1962 - 1986: Burton was the original bass guitarist for Metallica and was tragically killed when the band's tour bus crashed. He was thrown from the window whilst sleeping and the bus landed on him.

  • Chet Baker - 1929-1988: The iconic jazz musician and trumpet player struggled with a heroin habit which had begun in 1950 and stayed until his death. He was found dead on the street with heroin and cocaine later found in his system.

  • Hillel Slovak - 1962-1988: The original guitarist and founding member of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. He recorded two albums with the band before he died of a heroin overdose, despite attempting to quit for a number of years.

  • Andy Gibb - 1958-1988: The younger brother of the Bee Gees had limited solo career success and a long battle with drug addiction and depression that led to his eventual death.

  • Freddie Mercury - 1946-1991: The iconic Queen front man, infamous for his flamboyant persona and stage presence, composed a large number of Queen hits including 'Don't Stop Me Now' and Bohemian Rhapsody'. He had a private and long battle with Aids which eventually caused his death after suffering with pneumonia.

  • Aaliyah - 1979-2001: Aaliyah was killed in a plane crash returning from a video shoot for the track 'Rock the Boat' in the Bahamas. It was later dicovered that the pilot had cocaine and alcohol in his system. She is best remembered for her melodic, silky sweet vocals that crossed over from R'n'B, hip-hop and pop.

  • River Phoenix - 1970-1993: As well as being a famous child actor, River was an accomplished musician, using an ethereal folk rock style. He died on the night he was due to perform with Flea from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, after snorting a large quantity of cocaine and heroin. His brother, the actor Joaquin Phoenix, was by his side when he died outside the Viper Room nightclub.

  • Richey Edwards - 1967-1995: The songwriter and guitarist for Manic Street Preachers was only officially pronounced dead in 2008 following his disappearance in 1995. Best known for his intellectual and politicised style of song writing, he struggled with depression and self harm prior to his disappearance.

  • Eazy E - 1963-1995: Often considered the 'Godfather of Gangsta Rap, Eazy E was a member of N.W.A and died of complications from AIDs.

  • Tupac - 1971-1996: The figurehead of West Coast hip-hop was killed in a drive by shooting that has never been solved. However he made an interesting come back as the first ever hologram to perform on stage to an audience at Coachella with Snoop and Dr Dre last year.

  • Jeff Buckley - 1966-1997: The songwriter and guitarist only achieved one studio album in his lifetime with the critically acclaimed Grace. Whilst working on his second album he accidentally drowned in a river after a spontaneous swim with all his clothes on.

  • Michael Hutchence - 1960-1997: The INXS frontman achieved chart success with hits such as 'I Need You Tonight' but hanged himself after struggling with depression, a drug habit and alcohol addiction.

  • Dee Dee Ramone - 1951-2002: The founding member and songwriter of the iconic punk rock band The Ramones had a long struggle with drug addiciton that eventually led to a heroin overdose.

  • Lisa 'Left Eye' Lopes - 1971-2002: The TLC rapper was often in the media spotlight for her troubled and fiery relationship, during which at one point she set fire to her boyfriend's mansion. Before her death in a fatal car accident, she had claimed that she believed a bad spirit was after her.

  • Michael Jackson - 1958-2009: As well as some of the best selling pop hits that included 'Billie Jean', 'Beat It' and 'Thriller', the King of Pop had a troubled personal life leading up to his death in 2009. The singer was due to perform a series of huge gigs for his 'This Is It' tour, but he died before the tour could take place.

  • Charles Haddon - 1988-2010: Plagued with guilt after seriously injuring a girl when he stage dived at a music festival in Belgium, the lead singer of Ou Est Le Swimming Pool committed suicide after climbing to the top of a rigging tower and jumping off.

  • Gerard Smith - 1974-2011: The bassist in indie rock band TV On The Radio was discovered by front man Tunde Adebimpe, whilst he was busking in a Brooklyn subway in 2003. He died of lung cancer.

  • Whitney Houston - 1963-2012: Houston was a best selling artist famous for her overwhelmingly powerful vocal talent that was to have a huge influence on female pop singers ever since her discovery. The Queen of power ballads was found accidentally drowned in a bath, with cocaine, prescription drugs and marijuana discovered in her system.

  • DJ Mehdi - 1977-2011: The French hip-hop artist and DJ was part of the Club 75 group, a collection of influencial french dance producers and musicians that included Cassius and Justice. He died when the roof of his home collapsed as he celebrated a friend's birthday.

  • Otis Redding - 1941-1967: Otis remains one of the leading figures in soul music but was tragically killed in a plane crash only 3 days after recording 'Sittin' in the Dock of the Bay', a track he became best known for. The Dock of the Bay album was released after his death and went to Number 1.

  • Jimi Hendrix - 1942-1970: Hendrix left one of the greatest legacies in rock'n'roll history - but the circumstances of his death remain unclear. It is believed he asphyxiated on his own vomit after overdosing on sleeping pills.

  • Tim Buckley - 1947-1975: A folk rock musician and the father of Jeff Buckley, the singer fatally consumed an entire bag of heroin when drunk.

  • Sid Vicious - 1957-1979: The bassist in The Sex Pistols and a punk icon. Vicious had a destructive drug habit, fuelled by his mother who supplied him with the heroin which was to eventually kill him. He was charged with the murder of his girlfriend Nancy who was stabbed in their hotel room, but he died of an overdose, aged just 21, before the trial could take place.

  • Bob Marley - 1945-1981: The iconic reggae musician, who became a figure head for Rastafarian culture survived an assassination attempt in 1976, but died following a battle with cancer that had begun in the toe. Due to his religious beliefs he would not have the toe amputated, and it quickly spread to the rest of his body.

  • Sam Cooke - 1931-1964: A pioneering soul singer, whose gospel and jazz infused records went on to influence the landscape of pop. He found success with hits like 'Twistin the Night Away' and 'A Change is Gonna Come'. He met a controversial death when he was shot in a motel by a woman claiming self defence against the singer. He was found dead only wearing a jacket and shoes.

  • Amy Winehouse - 1983-2011: After struggling with a well documented alcohol and drug addiction, her rapid descent was unfortunately played out in the media spotlight. She died of an accidental alcohol poisoning during a relapse, but she remains well known for her stunning musical prowess and is still considered one of the best soul voices the UK has ever seen.

  • Eva Cassidy - 1963-1996: The Songbird vocalist and guitarist is another musician to achieve big time success only after her death. Her effortless gospel and blues mix found mainstream recognition when her version of 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow' was discovered and played on radio after she had died from cancer.

  • Notorious B.I.G - 1972-1997: Christopher Wallace was murdered in an unsolved drive-by shooting only a year after his West Coast rival, Tupac. The Brooklyn based artist was the East Coast hip-hop leader and recorded two studio albums, the second being released two weeks after his death with the ominous title, Life after Death.

  • Tammi Terrell - 1945-1970: Terrell was the star singer of Motown records through out the 60s and is best known for her high profile collaborations with Marvin Gaye which included 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough and 'You're All I Need To Get By'. Starting out as a singer for James Brown, her and Gaye quickly became one of the best performing duos in Motown. She died of brain cancer, and Marvin Gaye, who himself died aged just 44, never recovered from her death.

  • Stuart Sutcliffe - 1940-1962: The original bassist in The Beatles, Sutcliffe left the band in 1961 to concentrate on his artwork and painting but died of a brain hemorrhage a year later. He is one of the figures who feature on the Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover.

  • Buddy Holly - 1936-1959: With hits such as 'Peggy Sue' and 'Everyday', Holly is considered a pioneer of rock and roll, and has influenced acts including The Beatles, Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones. His own success lasted only a little over a year though, as he was killed in a plane crash at the height of his fame, aged just 22.

  • Karen Carpenter - 1950-1983: The singer and drummer in the sibling duo The Carpenters, Karen suffered heart failure after a long battle with anorexia. In the 1980s, little was known about anorexia nervosa, but Carpenter's death led to increased visibility and awareness of severity of the condition.

  • Ian Curtis - 1956-1980: Curtis was the frontman of Joy Division, the iconic post punk band, and his angst-filled and dark romance were immortalised in tracks such as 'Love Will Tear Us Apart'. Curtis suffered with epilepsy and depression, and - following the breakdown of his marriage - committed suicide by hanging himself. Curtis's life and death are chronicled in the 2007 film Control.

  • Simone Battle - 1989 - 2014: One of this year's most harrowing tragedies, Simone Battle's passing was completely unexpected, especially considering GRL were about to score their first UK chart hit with 'Ugly Heart'. On the week of the single's release, Battle was found in her apartment after seemingly committing suicide, aged just 25.

  • Andrea Marongiu: The most recent addition to this list, Crystal Fighters' drummer Andrea Marongiu was found dead in his home in September 2014, just 10 hours after tweeting he was "at home recovering". The cause of his has yet to be determined, however needless to say fans of one of the best live bands in the world are devastated, whilst the group themselves issued an emotional statement commemorating the great drummer's life.

  • Janis Joplin - 1943-1970: Joplin found major success as a solo artist with iconic tracks including 'Piece of My Heart.' Often hailed as the Queen of psychedelic soul, she earned her place in rock'n'roll history with her unrestrained, raw vocal style that expressed pain and heartache in a devastatingly bluesy and empowering style. She was found dead in a hotel room following a heroin and alcohol overdose.

  • Benjamin Curtis - 1978 -2013: Formerly of the incredible but underrated Secret Machines before forming School Of Seven Bells, the talented singer, songwriter and guitarist tragically passed from T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma at the age of 35. "We will all miss this incredibly talented and rare person every day, but we are fortunate enough that he shared with us his music, and that is something that we can keep forever," said the School Of Seven Bells in a a statement. He is survived by his brother Brandon, a touring keyboardist with Interpol.

  • Alan Wass - 1983 - 2015: Alan Wass, close friend and collaborator of Pete Doherty, passed away aged 33 following an injury obtained after falling through a glass partition at his home in Ladbroke Grove, where he severed an artery and two nerves in his arm. He was recovering in intensive care at St Mary's Hospital, where he suffered a heart attack and died. Wass fronted his own bands The Lipstick Melodies and Left Hand as well as collaborating with The Libertines and Pete Doherty. Doherty paid tribute to Wass during The Libertines' secret set at Glastonbury 2015.

  • Wayne Static - 1965 - 2014: The Static-X frontman was well-respected within the world of metal, sending shockwaves throughout the industry when he died from a "mixed prescription drug (oxycodone, hydromorphone, alprazolam) with alcohol toxicity" at the age of 48

  • Nick Talbot - 1977-2014: The Warp Records artist Nick Talbot, stage name Gravenhurst, died aged just 37 after recording five acclaimed studio albums in his career, had his passing confirmed by his record label, who paid tribute alongside his manager Michelle Hilborne - who described him as "outstandingly intelligent, compassionate, fascinating and witty, Nick was the dearest friend and his absence brings indescribable sorrow."

  • Alexis Gotts - 1982 - 2015: Wet Nuns drummer Alexis Gotts sent waves of sadness beyond the Yorkshire music scene when he died aged 32. The Yorkshire duo were local favourites around the music scene of Sheffield and Leeds - as well as finding fans throughout the UK. They announced their split in 2013. The band then revealed that drummer Gotts, known to friends as Leki, has passed away after taking his own life. "It's with a deep sadness and a heavy heart that I try to find the words to express the deep sense of grief that I feel as I come to terms with the loss of my friend, band mate and brother Leki," wrote frontman Rob Graham.

  • Ross Dawson - 1988 - 2015: The Late of The Pier drummer tragically from a 'tragic and sudden accident. As well as the likes of Alex Kapranos and Erol Alkan paying tribute, his family wrote: "As well as writing and playing his own material Ross was a drummer with many other successful artists including Misty Miller, Kai Fish and most recently Zibra. Ross was a monumental force in the lives of everybody who knew him, multi-talented, modest, kind and generous; he loved and was loved by his family. The world has become a sadder place without him. He will be eternally missed by all who knew and loved him."

  • Kurt Cobain - 1967-1994: The iconic grunge frontman and songwriter for Nirvana achieved a huge breakthrough with their second album Nevermind in 1991 which featured tracks like 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'. He battled with heroin addiction and severe depression. His body was discovered days after his suicide with a gun shot wound to the head.

  • Prince: 1958-2016: His Royal Badness was just 57 when he left us - still gigging and partying for fans up until his dying day. Restlessly creative, the 'Purple Rain' icon released a staggering four albums in his last two years, and we doubt he had yet more greatness to unload.