The list of rock stars who have died too young is much too long. Generally speaking, those bold enough to devote their lives to being a musician are risk-takers.
They follow their passions, for better or for worse. The phrase “Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll” came about for many reasons.
Here’s our list of five rock stars who died too young.
Let’s jump in.
5 Rock Stars Who Died Too Young
The death of those we love is one of life’s most challenging passages. It’s something that most of us have to face time and time again. When the person we lose has not had the luxury of growing old, it’s even more challenging. It seems unfair and often cruel.
When we lose an icon, we lose someone we look up to. Musicians can give voice to those of us who can’t seem to explain ourselves. We all have those moments when we hear a song or a lyric, and we wonder at its power.
How is this song speaking my truth? I can’t explain my feelings well – but this song sure can! When you have these thoughts and see a band live, your profoundly personal experience becomes universal. This is a gift.
Whether you’re celebrating, contemplating, or have no idea what’s happening, you suddenly transport. Then everything makes sense. At least, for that three and a half minute song.
When a rock star we love dies too young, we can lose sight of the hope it brought us. Sure – we’ve all heard the cliches of the hard and fast life of rock and roll. But even if the cliches are true, it does not make the facts easier to take.
Our rock idols often give us an image of someone who might be as lost as us but has somehow made it. They made something. And they want us to experience it with them.
This is a small homage to rock musicians that have died too young. There are many, many more. Our list is some of the more widely known stars, simply in alphabetical order.
#1 Buddy Holly
Buddy Holly was a 1950s singer/songwriter known for his pioneering rock and roll sound. He was part of the welcoming committee that ushered rock and roll to the world.
Born in 1936 in Lubbock, Texas, Holly loved music from an early age. Almost every member of his Baptist family played a musical instrument for fun. But Holley wanted more. He learned every musical instrument he could get his hands on.
Buddy Holly was destined to rock. He took this family’s hillbilly music, added a heavy dose of R&B, and spit out sassy be-bop rock. He played out regularly in high school and opened for Elvis Presley and Bill Haley a few months after graduation in 1955. Holly signed with a major label, and his life became a whirlwind of endless touring and recording.
Holly wrote 28 singles from 1956 to 1958. His most well-known songs are That Will Be The Day, Peggy Sue, and Everyday. Each hit the top 3 in the US Billboard charts, anchoring Holly’s legendary status in rock history. He is one of the most iconic rock stars of all time.
Buddy Holly proposed to Maria Santiago on their first date and married her on August 15th, 1958. She joined him on the road and was ready for a life of non-stop action. But the 1959 winter tour was lining up to be a logistical nightmare, so busses and wives were out.
Holly decided to book a four-seater charter plane instead. On February 3, 1959, the charter plane crashed just minutes after take-off. Buddy Holly and all others aboard died shortly after impact. Buddy Holly died too young at 22 years old.
#2 Janis Joplin
Janis Joplin was a 1960s hippie singer best known for her 1968 cover of Piece of My Heart. Her performances at festivals like Monterey Pop and Woodstock are the lore of legends.
Born in Texas in 1943, Joplin was a rebellious dreamer and fled to California to pursue her musical career. She took her early influences from beat poets Ma Rainey and Besse Smith and infused them into her wildly unique vocal style.
Joplin had a reputation as a heavy drug user, using everything from cocaine to speed to heroin. She took temporary residence at LA’s Landmark Motor Hotel in August 1970 to be near her recording studio.
Joplin’s band was working on her new solo record. But the Landmark was a notorious hangout for drug users and dealers. Janis Joplin was found dead in her room on October 4 from a heroin overdose at 27.
She’s most well known for her second solo album Pearl; the record Joplin had been working on during her stay at the Landmark. Producer Paul Rothchild and bandmates rushed to finish Pearl, which came out in January of 1971. It held Billboard’s number one spot for nine weeks. The album features the popular hits Me and Bobby McGee and Cry Baby.
Pearl is a tragic yet beautiful example of a voice cut off in its prime. Although Joplin’s crude confidence was happily present in every recording of her short career, something even better was coming.
She had a backing band that lifted her up. She had a producer to polish her feral outcries just enough to bring them to the world. Unfortunately, future howls from our first lady of rock will live in imagination only.
#3 Jim Morrison
Jim Morrison was the lead singer of the psychedelic rock band The Doors. All six albums released during Morrison’s lifetime are certified gold, making The Doors an all-time top-selling band. Popular songs include Light My Fire, Touch Me, and Hello, I Love You.
Jim Morrison was a military brat raised in 1950s Florida. His rebellious nature thrived in high school, and his craving for all things art drew him to California in the early 60s. Morrison found he enjoyed drugs, booze, and women as much as his poetry and filmmaking.
College friend Ray Manzarek convinced him to start The Doors in 1965. The band quickly became known for Morrison’s poetically dark lyrics and outrageous stage antics.
Although Morisson’s charismatic stage presence and The Doors’ eerie sound hypnotized their growing audience, Morrison grew tired of it. He rebelled against his own delinquency and left the band amicably in 1971. He wanted more time to write and make films.
Morrison and girlfriend Pamela Courson moved to Paris. On July 3rd, 1971, Courson found Morrison dead in their bathtub. Although many suspect heroin as a culprit, the official cause of death was heart failure. Jim Morrison was 27.
When rock stars with multiple passions like Jim Morrison die too young, we’re left wondering what might have come next. A book of poetry? A Short film? We’ll never know.
#4 Jimi Hendrix
It’s almost impossible to imagine that anyone who likes rock music has not heard Jimi Hendrix’s name. His legacy ignites images of a man kneeling before a guitar on fire. Aspiring guitarists turn to his innovative musical genius to this day. In fact, many fans and critics consider him to be the greatest guitarist of all time.
One example of Hendrix’s creative ingenuity is that he played right-handed guitars that were turned upside down and then restrung. Wrap your head around that for a minute!
Jimi Hendrix was born in Seattle in 1942. He turned to music from a young age to escape some troubled time at home. Hendrix even started a band while serving in the U.S. Army in the early 60s.
When he released his first single Hey Joe in 1967, famous musicians like Eric Clapton and Mick Jaggar were singing his praise. His live shows drew great crowds. His next single, Purple Haze, charted worldwide and eventually won a Grammy. Magazines such as Q and Rolling Stone ranked it as one of the greatest guitar songs of all time.
By the time Jimi Hendrix headlined the Woodstock Festival in 1969, he was the world’s highest-paid musician. His live rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner stunned the sold-out crowd. The New York Post said this was the single greatest moment of the sixties.
Another Taken Too Young
Unfortunately, Hendrix died on September 18, 1970, just over a year after this momentous event. Hendrix became a heavy drinker and drug user on his rise to fame. He was known as a part of the same hippie drug culture surrounding Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison.
Hendrix was rushed to the hospital after his friend Monika Dannemann found him unconscious after a late-night together. He died of drug-related complications a few hours later. He was 27 years old.
Jimi Hendrix became one of the world’s most sought-after guitarists in his four-year career.
Had Jimi Hendrix not died so young, how many more incredible live performances would he have graced us with?
#5 Kurt Cobain
Generation X saw the death of Kurt Cobain on April 5, 1994, as he was just getting started. Teenagers and young adults alike gathered in the streets for candlelight vigils. We saw the writing on the wall. But we never thought it would happen.
Kurt Cobain was born in the small logging town of Aberdeen, Washington, in 1967. He was singing by the age of two. His parents’ divorce turned his sensitivity into anxiety, plaguing Cobain with alienating thoughts. He dropped out of high school and focused solely on playing in bands. He couch-surfed, sang, and played guitar in the punk scenes in Seattle and Olympia.
Kurt Cobain started the band Nirvana in 1987 with friend and guitarist Krist Novoselic. When drummer Dave Grohl joined in 1990, Nirvana picked up speed and produced the iconic album Nevermind.
Released September 24, 1991, Nevermind was an unexpected commercial success. It brought punk to the mainstream and introduced the world to the Seattle grunge scene. Nevermind is one of the best-selling albums of all time.
The hit single Smells Like Teen Spirit is Kurt Cobain’s calling card, whether he meant it or not. It’s won Grammys, certifications, and awards too numerous to mention. It’s the anthem of teenage angst that never leaves us. Well, at least some of us. The lyrics are a window into Cobain’s mind.
With the lights out, it's less dangerous Here we are now, entertain us I feel stupid and contagious Here we are now, entertain us
Gone Too Young
Cobain was already walking down the dark alley of drug abuse when Nirvana hit the big time. He became a heroin addict. Some say he used it to relieve chronic back pain and stomach trouble.
But then he fell in love with fellow addict Courtney Love. They married, had a baby, played music, and shot dope. No matter how much he poured his heart into his songs, deep depression never let him be.
Some say Kurt Cobain was too sensitive for this world. He attempted suicide a couple of times. Unfortunately, he succeeded on April 5, 1994.
An electrician found him at his home. The cause of death was a gunshot wound. Although speculation led some to believe it was a case of murder, his suicide note, amongst other things, says otherwise.
The term “27 Club” was popularized by Kurt Cobain’s death. Another rock star to die at age 27. Another rock star who died too young.
The Legacy of Rock Stars Who Died Too Young
There’s no great way to talk about rock stars who died too young. But at least we have their music. Music is timeless. It’s something we can turn to at any age.
Your favorite song at age 15 may mean nothing to you at age 32. Listen to it again at age 47, and it could have a whole new meaning.
The creators of these songs gave us a great gift. Although they all left us too soon, we can still celebrate. Life is too short not to.
What’s your favorite song by an artist gone too soon?