The music industry isn't all fun and games. It's a cutthroat business, one that can require heavy travel, complicated business deals, and raw emotions.
For as much joy and happiness music brings to the world, sometimes its greatest purveyors can't take the endless strains of success, succumbing to drug abuse and drunken fits of rage. Other times your hair just lights on fire for no reason. Or you just want to do some laundry during a long tour and it ends up killing you.
What we're trying to say is, it's hard out here. Life can come around and deliver a body blow just when things are looking up, so here are 13 morbid facts about dead rock stars to keep you on your toes.
3. Cliff Burton chose the wrong bunk.
An unlucky draw: Cliff Burton, Metallica's original bassist, drew his own demise. While on tour, Burton and band mate Kirk Hammett drew cards to see who would choose where they wanted to sleep for the evening. Cliff won by drawing the ace of spades and chose to sleep in Hammett's bunk and sent him to the front of the bus. The next morning, the bus hit a patch of black ice, sending Burton from the top bunk through the window. The bus overturned and he was crushed underneath.
Metallica was on top of the world before this tragic incident, and there was some investigation as to whether there was actual black ice on the road. Frontman James Hetfield walked the road in socks and underwear and said that he found no signs of black ice and suggested that drugs, alcohol, or the driver falling asleep behind the wheel could be the true cause of Burton's death.
5. Sid Vicious overdosed from drugs provided by his mother.
Sid Vicious is one of the biggest names in punk rock history, not just because of his contributions to the genre or his "ability" as a musician, but because of his notorious behavior that defined the punk aesthetic, and the cult following that grew in the wake of fights, drugs, and destruction.
It all came to a head at the end of his life. First, Sid's live-in girlfriend Nancy Spungen was found dead in the couple's Chelsea Hotel room. Vicious was interrogated and held briefly, but was eventually released on bail.
To celebrate his newfound, possibly short-lived freedom, Vicious had a party while awaiting trial. Unfortunately, he invited his mother, an established drug addict. Mom brought some heroin to the party, and while that probably wouldn't have phased Sid before his prison stint, he had been clean while behind bars and the detoxification had left him unprepared for the hit to come. The drugs provided by his dear old mum ended up killing the rock star when he was just 21 years old.
Sid Vicious said this in the last last interview he gave before his death:
7. Les Harvey is the only person in rock's history to be killed by a microphone.
Leslie Harvey, the bassist for Stone the Crows, died in front of a crowd of 1,000 people at the age of 27 when he was electrocuted while tuning up for a show. It was a rainy day, with puddles on the stage, and the electrocution was caused by a poorly grounded mic. While there have been two other deaths by incorrectly wired guitars, Harvey is the only person on record to go by way of the microphone.
Oddly enough, Harvey had already escaped the rock and roll mortuary once, as his former bandmates—Fraser Calder and bassist James Giffen—died in a car accident that Harvey himself escaped without harm. This time around unfortunately, it was his turn to go.
9. Michael Jackson's horrifying Pepsi accident happened at the exact mid-point of his life.
In 1984, Michael Jackson was filming an elaborate commercial for Pepsi, with whom he had signed a $5 million endorsement deal. The commercial was a huge production, involving a lot of choreography and pyrotechnics, but everything was going well until the sixth take. That's when trigger got pulled too early, and Michael Jackson's head burst into flames.
Jackson was rushed to a nearby hospital and was treated for second and third-degree burns on his face and scalp. It also (debatably) sparked a lifelong addiction to the painkiller Demerol. The accident happened on January 27, 1984, 9,282 days after MJ was born. He died June 25, 2009, 9,282 days after the Pepsi commercial.
Whether this means MJ is actually alive or not, I cannot say. But probably not.
11. The 27 Club is packed.
12. Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, and Brian Jones wanted to form a supergroup.
All three legends were dissatisfied with their bands, so a plan was hatched to join forces and make lemonade out of lemons. They allegedly got as far as a trial recording—this from Nicholas Fitzgerald's 1985 biography of Brian Jones, claims the Rolling Stones founder said:
"Towards the end of 1968, four musicians made a trial recording for Apple, the Beatles' label. They played under the group name of Balls. One of them was John Lennon and one of them was me. The other two swore me to secrecy, so I can't tell you about them, except to say one was a lead guitar and the other was a drummer. We recorded one track called 'Go to the Mountains.'"
"Alexis [Korner] brought the subject up. He said a band with John Lennon and Brian Jones together could be bigger than either [Beatles and the Rolling Stones]. But on top of that, add the name of Jimi Hendrix. In the same outfit. That's right. He's falling out with Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell—his bass guitarist and his drummer. He doesn't want to carry on with the old stuff, wants to play something new. So it could be all three groups could fall apart and a new one be born. John, Jimi and me."
No recording of "Go to the Mountains" currently exists online, but could it be out there? Praying...
14. Weezer bassist Mikey Welsh predicted his own death.
Mikey Welsh left Weezer in 2001 to pursue a career in painting. He died ten years later at age 40 in a Chicago hotel after an apparent drug overdose. And while Welsh's death certainly came too soon, the man himself seemed to know it was coming—he literally tweeted about it.
The prediction (see below) came true, down to the cause of death. And while some have speculated it was a planned suicide, Welsh's friends and family take issue with that reading. He was in Chicago to rejoin Weezer onstage at RIOTfest, an event he had been looking forward to for a long time.
Weezer remembered their fallen friend thusly: "Mikey was never one to shy away from the absurd, dangerous or strange, and he did so with a gusto few others had. No one had quite the stage presence of Mikey, nor have there been many who pulled the types of shenanigans he did at shows. If it rocked, he had to try it—and he always found a way to pull it off."
16. Jerry Lee Lewis once showed up wasted to Elvis' house with a loaded gun.
You think Drake vs. Meek Mill was good beef? Imagine if Drake had got a gun, driven wasted through the streets of Philadelphia, and crashed his car into the gates of Meek Mill's house.
That's essentially what happened in 1976, when Jerry Lee Lewis rolled up to Elvis Presley's Graceland mansion in Memphis. It was 2:30 A.M., and Jerry was hammered. He was also bleeding—the rock star had tried to throw an empty bottle of champagne through his (closed) driver-side window, and both bottle and window had shattered, resulting in the nose gash visible in Jerry's mugshot.
The mugshot came after Elvis' security guard called up to Elvis to let him know Mr. Lewis was outside waving a gun around and demanding to see him. Elvis declined the invitation, and security called the cops instead—they found a Derringer pistol cocked and loaded, resting in Jerry's seat. Here's Jerry's side:
18. Buddy Holly's decision to fly had everything to do with laundry.
"The day the music died" is a reference to the plane crash that ended the short, prolific careers of Buddy Holly and Richie Valens. The rock pioneers were performing in the American Midwest during a brutal winter, and their plane went down in an Iowa cornfield amidst swirling snows.
From Time: "The musicians had been traveling by bus for over a week and it had already broken down once. They were tired, they hadn't been paid yet, and all of their clothes were dirty. With the airplane, Holly could arrive early, do everyone's laundry, and catch up on some rest."
Tragically, he never got the chance. But as is often the case, Holly's death catapulted his music career to new heights—he was, among other things, immortalized on wax as the inspiration for Don McLean's "American Pie."
20. Otis Redding never heard the final mix of "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay."
More reasons to stay away from planes in the Midwest: Otis Redding's remarkable career was cut short when his planed crashed over Wisconsin in 1967. The tragic turn of events came soon after he had finished vocals for what would become his first number one hit and biggest song ever, "Sittin' On The Dock of the Bay."
Legend has it that Otis composed the song while looking out on San Francisco's waters from his houseboat. Wherever you are now, Otis, thank you.
22. Janis Joplin died the night before she was scheduled to record a song called "Buried Alive in the Blues."
The song appears on Joplin's Pearl album (which came out three months after her death and remains an immortal record), but she never got the chance to record the vocals. "Buried Alive in the Blues" was left on the track list as an instrumental homage to the band's fallen leader.
24. Gram Parsons' body was stolen and burned (in accordance with his wishes).
The brief, bright life of Gram Parsons was dominated by music. In his 26 short years on Earth, he produced timeless country and rock classics as part of The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers.
Unfortunately, Parsons also spent his twenties in the arms of spiraling drugs and alcohol problems. It came to a head at Joshua Tree, where the musician had spent many a night and day tripping with his manager, Phil Kaufman. They decided to make one last trip out to the desert park in 1973, before Parsons was scheduled to begin another tour. The rock legend subsequently went too hard and was pronounced dead in a hotel room.
But the story doesn't stop there: Parsons' stepfather arranged for the body to be flown back and buried in Louisiana. Unfortunately for Bob, Gram Parsons had told his close friend Kaufman that he wanted his ashes scattered over Joshua Tree's Cap Rock. Kaufman and a friend rented a hearse and stole the body from Los Angeles International Airport. They drove the coffin all the way out to the desert and lit it on fire.
26. El Duce passed a lie detector test after claiming Courtney contracted him to kill Kurt.
Eldon Hoke was part of the legion of shock-rockers who made waves in the '90s. He went by "El Duce," and was the singer and drummer for a band called The Mentors, and a self-described "king of sleaze." They were an insane bunch, with a guitarist who played as "Sickie Wifebeater" and song titles like "Golden Showers."
In the 1998 documentary Kurt & Courtney, El Duce tells director Nick Broomfield that Courtney Love offered him $50,000 to "blow [Kurt's] head off." He had already passed a lie detector test claiming as much, but the documentary interview may have been a step too far: El Duce was struck and killed by a passing train just two days after speaking with Broomfield. He died in the middle of the night, with no witnesses present.