Live fast, die young. Being a true rockstar means walking on the edge of a knife. Tragically, these 13 talented musicians were gone too soon.
On the night of Sept. 26, 1986, Metallica were traveling between tour dates in Sweden when Burton and guitarist Kirk Hammett drew cards to decide who would get to choose a bunk. The bassist drew the Ace of Spades and chose the bunk Hammett had been occupying. “I said fine, take my bunk,” the guitarist recalled in VH1’s Behind the Music. “I’ll sleep up front; it’s probably better anyway.”
The bus left the road and flipped over on its side, and Burton – who had been asleep in the preferred top bunk – was thrown through the window. As the bus came down, it landed on top of the 24-year-old musician. Reportedly, attempts were made to rescue him from underneath the bus by lifting it with a crane, but the crane slipped, and the bus crashed down on top of Burton a second time. Band members and onlookers have given different accounts of whether Burton died upon the first impact or when the bus came down again, but the promising young star died at the scene.
Burton was cremated, and his ashes were scattered at the Maxwell Ranch in California. Metallica’s “Orion” was played at the ceremony, and lyrics from “To Live Is to Die” are engraved upon his memorial stone: “Cannot the Kingdom of Salvation take me home.” Former Metallica guitarist Dave Mustaine wrote Megadeth‘s “In My Darkest Hour” after hearing of Burton’s death, and fellow thrash pioneers Anthrax dedicated their Among the Living album to him.
Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson
Often referred to as the pioneer of blues rock, Holly was a 50’s legend who looked like Elvis Costello. He was a master at the guitar and bass. After two successful years, Holly decided to get on an airplane that was flying to North Dakota with Richie Valens and The Big Booper. The plane crashed due to a hurricane and all aboard were killed. Buddy Holly is buried in Lubbock, Texas.
By the time The Doors released their fourth album, drugs and alcohol were taking their toll on Morrison. His performances were affected and he was unreliable, missing sessions in the recording studio. He was found in a bathtub at his apartment at 17 Rue Beautraillis by his girlfriend, Pamela Courson. No autopsy was performed on the body of Jim Morrison nor was there much of an examination. The story told by his girlfriend changed on every telling, and rumors still exist today as to how he died.
The heavy metal community is no stranger to occasionally tragic incidents, be they accidental overdoses, tour bus crashes or in-concert audience mishaps. It’s safe to say, however, that little has felt as shocking as the senseless onstage murder of Dimebag Darrell on Dec. 8, 2004. A mentally deranged former U.S. Marine named Nathan Gale reportedly first attempted to board the Damageplan tour bus before the show, but had no success. Next, within moments of the start of Dimebag’s set, the heavily armed gunman stormed the stage and ruthlessly gunned down the guitarist at point-blank range.
One of rock’s enduring mysteries unfolded on March 19, 1982, as 25-year-old Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Randy Rhoads — despite having a reported fear of flying — perished in a fiery crash at Leesburg, Fla., after a joy ride in a Beechcraft Bonanza. When it was over, the dead included Rhoads, one of the era’s most promising young guitarists, as well as Rachel Youngblood, a 58-year-old seamstress and cook for the Osbourne band, and Andrew Aycock, a 36-year-old bus driver with an expired pilot’s license.
Aycock made as many as three passes over the home, apparently in a joy-riding attempt to buzz over the other band members. On the final pass, the plane clipped the tour bus, spun out of control, hit a nearby pine tree and then nose dived into the house. The ensuing fireball killed all three passengers, who were left unrecognizable by the flames. Rhoads had to be identified by his jewelry.
Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, Cassie Gaines
Founded in 1964, much of the Lynyrd Skynyrd music halted in 1977, when a chartered flight carrying the band to a concert at Louisiana State University ran out of fuel. An emergency landing by pilots failed, and the small aircraft instead crashed in a Mississippi forest. Among the casualties were frontman Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist and vocalist Steve Gaines, as well as Gains’s sister, backing singer Cassie. The wounds to other members were many and extensive.
On Feb. 19, 1980, Bon Scott was found dead. The legendary AC/DC frontman had been out drinking with friends — but the casual evening took a terrible turn as Scott passed out in his car, and ultimately choked to death on his own vomit. He was only 33 years old.
“For us, it was like losing a member of your family,” guitarist Angus Young said in a subsequent interview. “It’s very, very difficult to go through something like that. Not only is it your friend, it’s also somebody you’ve been working with all that time.”
Stevie Ray Vaughan
Stevie Ray Vaughan was 35 when he died in a helicopter crash outside East Troy, Wisconsin, August 27, 1990. After one of his shows, four helicopters, owned and operated by Omniflight Helicopters Inc., were reserved to fly the artists and their crews back to Chicago. One helicopter was reserved for Stevie, Jimmie and Jimmie's wife Connie. Members of Clapton’s crew, however, had already taken seats on the helicopter when the Vaughans arrived to board.
Eager to return to Chicago, Stevie asked Jimmie and Connie for the last seat. With dense fog settling in, the helicopters began departing at 1 a.m. Jeff Brown, the pilot of Vaughan’s helicopter, banked sharply to the left about a half-mile after take off. The helicopter collided into a ski slope; everyone on board was killed instantly. Reports of the accident didn't begin surfacing until the morning when the helicopter failed to reach its destination of Meigs Field in Chicago. Double Trouble members Tommy Shannon and Chris Layton began thinking the worst when Vaughan’s hotel room in Chicago was found empty. Shortly after 7 a.m. Jimmie was called to identify his brother’s body.
Jeff Hyman fronted the Bronx New York punk rock group the Ramones. He was an excellent singer with a lot of range and diversity, often described as the Jim Morrison of punk rock. Johnny, Dee Dee and Joey Ramone were the only original members of the band to have been with the band to the end. Joey died suddenly of lymphoma in 2000 in New York. New York City dedicated a midtown street after Joey called Joey Ramone’s Place.
Freddie Mercury was the face of Queen's wildly popular mixture of hard rock, pop, cabaret, glam and opera in the '70s, before becoming one the the AIDS virus' most well-known casualties in the '90s. He died on Nov. 24, 1991 at the age of 44, just two days after confirming rumors that he had the disease.
Hail to the King, baby! Elvis was one of the world’s greatest musicians and who released tons of classic albums and movies. Elvis was found dead in his Vegas apartment in his bathroom. He died from an accidental overdose and combined too many anti-anxiety pills and painkillers with sleeping pills. His body is laid to rest in Graceland, in Memphis, Tennessee. Elvis fans believe to this day that he walks among us.... but usually it’s just a fat guy in an Elvis jumpsuit.
John Lennon was originally with the Beatles, but went on to become one of the biggest names in music, ever. An amazing singer and songwriter, he wrote such famous anthems as “Give Peace a Chance,” “Imagine," On December 8, 1980, John Lennon was gunned down in the NYC while standing in front of the hotel. It was a senseless death, caused by an even more senseless reason: The shooter, one Marc David Chapman, was an obsessed fan. Not surprisingly, he was sent to prison and remains there to this day.
Jimi Hendrix was one of the greatest guitar players in the world. Sadly, his life was cut short when he died in London from a drug overdose. The official version of Hendrix's death at the age of 27 is that he died from choking on vomit after a drugs overdose. James "Tappy" Wright, a 65-year-old former road manager who worked for Hendrix's manager Mike Jeffrey version is that Hendrix was killed on the orders of Jeffrey by a gang who broke into his hotel room and forced wine and painkillers down his throat until he drowned. Some skeptical fans believe he died from having sex with his girlfriend and had a heart attack. I guess we’ll never know the real story.