When Heath Ledger died in January 2008, I posted a top ten list of young lost legends in movies. Basically, a list of people who died far too early. I actually try to keep a list of these people. I have a movies list. And, I have a music list.
When I started these lists back in 2001, I made the age requirement under 50. With the advancement of medicine and life expectancy, I bumped the age up to under 60. Let's face it, everyone should live to at least 60. Soon, 70 is going to be no big deal.
As everyone with access to news knows by now, Michael Jackson is dead at 50. This (sadly) gives me an excuse to do this list. In music, there are so many legends that left too young that this list is a top 25.
If you are interested in the list I did way back in January 2008, click HERE.
Anyway, here is the list of music legends that we lost too soon. Let me know if you think someone should be on this list and they aren't.
25. Cliff Burton, 24
I've never been a fan of Metallica, but original bassist Burton helped them create their heavy metal sound. Early Metallica with Burton is much different than the one with Jason Newstead. It's less commercial and hardcore fans will tell you it's better. Burton was killed in a car accident when the tour bus flipped over and he was thrown through the window.
24. Phil Lynott, 36
Thin Lizzy never really gets the respect their deserve. It's too bad since frontman and bassist, Phil Lynott is not a household name. He's actually a legend in Ireland (he's Irish) and he should be one in the United States. He was one of the few African American rock stars in his day and Thin Lizzy are one of the first hard rock bands. After the band disbanded, Lynott struggled with drugs and alcohol. He died of heart failure and pneumonia before the band ever reunited.
23. Cass Elliot, 32
The Mama's and The Papa's were one of the classic folk groups of the 60s. They actually headlined the Monterey Pop Festival. Elliot was somewhat of a rarity. Her size was comparable to her talent. It was huge and after the break-up, she embarked on a short solo career. Contrary to popular belief, Mama Cass did not die by choking on a ham sandwich. There was one found by her bedside, but it was simply a coincidence. She simply died of heart failure. Oddly enough, The Who's Keith Moon died in that same flat roughly four years later.
22. Ian Curtis, 23
Curtis could have been one of the greatest frontman in the history of rock with his band, Joy Division. Every time I watch him perform, it just looks like he always put it all on the line. He was a little awkward at times with his dancing, but that's why I like him. He was different. Bono called him the greatest frontman when he was alive. The band's most popular hit, "Love Will Tear Us Apart" is a haunting piece of music that was recorded shortly before his suicide.
21. Bon Scott, 33
At times even I forget that AC/DC had another lead singer before current frontman, Brian Johnson. They did and he's arguably better than his successor. Actually, Johnson sounds a lot like Scott and it's on purpose. Scott was that good. The Australian helped established the band's heavy metal sound and Highway to Hell is a great album. Scott died after a night of heavy drinking. The band carried on without him and recorded Back in Black as a tribute to their former frontman.
20. John Bonham, 32
Drummers often don't get enough credit, but Bonham made sure that changed. He's one of the best of all time. Led Zeppelin was probably the band of the 70s and Bonham was responsible for that as much as Page, Plant, and Jones. Who knows how long Zeppelin could have kept going. Bonham died after a night of heavy drinking. Zeppelin decided to disband after his death.
19. Brian Jones, 27
The founding member of The Rolling Stones was one of those classic rock stars of the 60s. He used a lot of drugs and dressed in some flamboyant attire. He was a true multi-instrumentalist with The Stones, playing everythign from slide guitar to kazoo to mellotron. His increased drug use and the rise of Jagger/Richards songwriting started his decline with the band. He also is famous for introducing the then unknown Jimi Hendrix at Monterey Pop. Jones officially left The Stones in 1969. Weeks later he was found dead in his pool. It has been rumored for years that there was foul play, but it was never proven. It's officially known as "death by misadventure".
18. Stevie Ray Vaughan, 35
Vaughan was one of the best blues guitarist of the last 50 years. He had that southern sound and edge to him. Rolling Stone ranked him the seventh greatest guitarist of all time. I'm not a huge fan of his, but it's hard not to respect his work. His backing band Double Trouble helped him become one of the best live acts of the 80s. Stevie had his troubles and went into rehab by the mid 80s. While on tour, Vaughan was killed in a helicopter crash in an effort to avoid traffic. The cause of the accident was inadequate planning by the pilot.
17. The Notorious B.I.G., 24
I'm not going to pretend I know anything about rap because I don't. I just remember the east coast/west coast rap wars. I remember when B.I.G. died and I know a few of his songs. His final studio album, Life After Death, is certified diamond and it's a testament to his talent. His beats and lyrics were much better than anything I've heard since. Less than a year after his former friend and rival, Tupac died, Biggie Smalls was shot in a drive by shooting. His shooter was never found.
16. Tupac Shakur, 25
Like I just wrote above, I don't really know too much about rap. I just know that Tupac is one of the most respected artists of his musical genre. His career was short, but produced four platinum selling albums. He's probably the most successful rapper of the 90s. His success would have been even more if he wasn't gunned down in Las Vegas. He died days later. Like Biggie Smalls, his shooter was never found.
15. Duane Allman, 24
Allman's musical career was short, but he was an extremely talented guitarist. Actually, he was number two on Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Guitar Players (Hendrix was one). With his brother, Gregg, he formed The Allman Brothers Band. Allman was known for his amazing slide guitar playing and was a sought after session musician. He appeared on Eric Clapton's Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs album. The live album, At Fillmore East, released shortly before his death is one of the greatest live albums ever made. He died in a motorcycle accident soon after the release of this album. Gregg continued The Allman Brothers Band without him.
14. Marc Bolan, 29
A lot of people are not very familiar with Bolan. I recently got really into T. Rex and I have a far greater appreciation for him. He was a pioneer in glam rock and his band was one of the top selling acts in the UK in the early 70s. T. Rex were so huge that it was coined "T. Rextasy". Bolan fell on some hard times as glam rock began to fade. The lineup for T. Rex continually changed, but by the late 70s he was coming back. His music was taking on more of a punk edge and he began to host a show simply called "Marc". On that show, he played some music and introduced the UK to bands such as Generation X. Only weeks before his 30th birthday, he and his girlfriend, Gloria Jones, left a party early in the morning. Soon after, she crashed their mini into a tree and he died instantly.
13. Marvin Gaye, 44
Gaye was arguably Motown's biggest star. He was the highest selling solo act for them in the 60s. In the 70s, he came out with two amazing albums, What's Going On (1971) and Let's Get It On (1973). Gaye was called "The Prince of Motown" and "The Prince of Soul". He was one of the great singers of his generation. His performance of the National Anthem at the NBA 1983 All-Star Game is one of the best all time. After having an argument, he was shot and killed by his Dad a day before his 45th birthday.
12. Keith Moon, 32
He was not the best drummer in his day, but easily the craziest one. Moon was the definition of a rock star with The Who. He was called "Moon the Loon" for a reason. One of his defining moments was when he loaded explosives into his drum kit on the Smother Brothers show, which exploded and a piece of the kit injured him. Or who can forget when he passed out at the Cow Palace after mixing tranquilizers and brandy mid song? An audience member played drums the rest of the show. After taking about 32 pills of sedatives, Moon passed out and never woke up. Like I wrote a little earlier, he actually died in the same flat as Mama Cass.
11. Bob Marley, 36
Marley is arguably reggae's greatest star. With his band, The Wailers, he rose to fame with hits such as "No Woman, No Cry" and "Jamming". He brought reggae to the mainstream more than anyone else. Marley was a Rastafarian and helped spread those beliefs, one of which is the use of marijuana or "ganjah". In 1977, he was first diagnosed with melanoma. It later became cancer throughout his entire body a few years later. Almost four years later, he died on his way home to his native Jamaica.
10. Janis Joplin, 27
Joplin wasn't a great singer. She wasn't great looking. It didn't matter. She was great anyway. She became one of the most prominent figures of the late 60s with her eccentric style and personality. She got her start in the band, Big Brother and the Holding Company. At the Monterey Pop Festival, her performance with the band, blew people away. Cheap Thrills is one of the best albums of the psychedelic era, period. Janis later embarked on a short lived solo career. She died only weeks after another 60s icon, Jimi Hendrix. She overdosed on heroin.
9. Freddie Mercury, 45
Mercury was arguably the most flamboyant frontman in the history of rock and roll. He led his band, Queen, for two decade and sang a plethora of hits for them. Songs such as "We are the Champions" and "Bohemian Rhapsody" are continually stapes on the airwaves. Queen's performance at Live Aid was the best of the night and their concert at Wembley in '86 is phenomal. They don't make lead singers like Mercury anymore, truly one of a kind. Mercury was also one of the few openly gay rock stars of his day. Mercury was diagnosed with AIDS in 1987. On November 22, 1991, he publicly announced he had the virus. The next day he was dead.
8. Jim Morrison, 27
Morrison was one of the first great lead singers in the rock and roll. He was a rock star blessed with charisma and a stage presence unknown at the time. He wasn't flashy, but he knew how to put on a show. He famously was arrested in Miami for exposing himself in public. Though, it is debated whether actually did it. Morrison also was much more than a frontman. He was an incredible lyricist and wrote some of the great songs of the 60s such . The Doors' debut album is not only one of the best debuts, but also one of the best albums of the decade period. Morrison was also not shy of partying. He took a lot of drugs and drank a lot of alcohol. In 1971, he moved to Paris. He died only months later from a supposed drug overdose. To this day, the actual case of death is up for debate. Some even belief, The Lizard King faked his own death.
7. Buddy Holly, 22
Holly tends to be overlooked in these lists. It's really unfair to one of the first great rock stars. Holly influenced many bands including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and even Bob Dylan. Hell, The Beatles even named their band after Holly's band, The Crickets. "That'll Be The Day" is one of the finest early rock songs. Holly's death is famously known as the day the music died". A plane that he flew carrying The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens crashed into a field in Iowa. The great tragedy of his death was his young age. His influence was so strong at 22. One can only imagine what he would have done if he lived longer.
6. George Harrison, 58
Harrison is the oldest person on this list. One could argue that he didn't die that young. I would disagree as 58 is young. At least in this day and age. Harrison was a member of the greatest band of all time, The Beatles. He established himself as a talented lead guitarist and in later years, emerged as a talented songwriter. After The Beatles, he had a up and down solo career. His solo debut, triple album, All Things Must Pass, is arguably the best Beatle solo album. And his charity concert, The Concert for Bangladesh raised over $200,000. In 1997, Harrison was diagnosed with cancer. He died four years later.
5. Jimi Hendrix, 27
Hendrix will always be the greatest guitar player in history. If there is someone better, then I hope I'm around to see him play. No one is even in the same category as Jimi. He was so talented and he did it all in such a short period of time. The Jimi Hendrix Experience burst onto the scene at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, which was one of the finest performances of the decade. He then followed that with three amazing studio albums showcasing his amazing guitar playing. He also headlined the iconic Woodstock Festival. Hendrix had an eccentric style and playing style. The guy played guitar with his teeth sometimes. He also took way too many drugs and liked his alcohol. His death at the age of 27 of a drug overdose by drowning in his own vomit arguably ended the 60s. Following his death other 60s legends such as Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison followed less than a year later.
4. Kurt Cobain, 27
Cobain was the voice of his generation. He was a little before my time, but it's hard to not appreciate Nirvana's influence on the early 90s. They literally changed the music landscape with grunge. They single handedly ended glam metal. Nevermind is arguably the best album of the decade. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was the anthem of the genre. Cobain was extremely talented as a songwriter and performer. Nirvana's unplugged performance only months before his death is a phenomenal. Sadly, Cobain developed a heroin addiction that he could never kick. He went in and out of rehab. After having enough, he shot himself with a shotgun and became another member of the "27 Club". His death left a huge impact as grunge lost its voice and one of the most talented musicians of the last 25 years.
3. Michael Jackson, 50
In the wake of Jackson's recent death, a lot of people think Jackson's death is the biggest and most tragic. I respectably completely disagree. It's a huge deal for sure, but people tend to be swayed by recent events. The two men following Jackson were much bigger in the whole landscape. Jackson in his day was a king. He was the "King of Pop" for a reason. His global appeal was untouchable. Thriller is the world's best selling album. It's the quintessential album of the 80s. The guy redefined the music video. They were like events. "Thriller" is the greatest music video ever. He was untouchable in the 80s. Bad (1987) and Dangerous (1991) are respectable followup albums. His moonwalk on Motown 25 is stuff of legend.
His personal life is where things get hazy. That's the problem with Jackson. He mysteriously got whiter and whiter. His nose and face continually changed. Then, he was accused of sexual child abuse in 1993 and fell hard. His albums such as HIStory still sold well, but his music has been irrelevant for like 15 years. With his personal life aside, it's nice to see people remember him for his music. It will always be there. He's definitely been one of the most influential people in the history of music. Who doesn't want to start to dance when they hear "Beat It", "Billie Jean", or "Thriller"? I wrote the other day that I remember dancing to "Black Or White". He was my favorite when I was real young. Now, Jackson joins this list. The details of his death are still unknown, but his death from cardiac arrest has left the world shocked.
2. Elvis Presley, 42
Elvis was "The King". His influence is insurmountable. It's so widespread and crosses multiple musical genres. Presley arguably lacked Jackson's global appeal, but without him there would be nothing including The Beatles. He famously appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show from the waist up to hide his "suggestive" dance moves. For his time, Elvis broke all the boundaries. His music was so different at the time. It's not as timeless as The Beatles, but it's so hard not to recognize his influence. Look no further than how much he's still in popular culture over 30 years after his untimely death.
My biggest problem with Elvis is that like Jackson, he was more or less irrelevant for the last 10 years of his life. He became more of a novelty act in his final years. He put on weight and his shows were hit and miss. Elvis was untouchable in the 50s and that's what makes him so legendary. The '68 Comeback Special was huge and Aloha from Hawaii in '73 was also a success, but he lacked the consistency. After years of prescription pills abuse, Presley died. Though, some people argue that he is still alive. At least people think they see his ghost, which adds only more to his legend as "The King".
1. John Lennon, 40
I was trying to convince myself that Lennon wasn't number one. I just couldn't do it. Not because of how much I admire the man, but because I honestly believe his death was the most important and tragic in the history of music. It's a combination of a lot of things. The way he was killed by a crazed fan. How he stayed relevant in the world from the time The Beatles invaded America in 1964 to his untimely death. And most importantly, how much of an influence he had on not just music, but also society and politics. That's something that Jackson and Presley both lacked in my opinion. Lennon used his music as an expressive voice that made him the voice of his generation. Some of his finest songs were his strongest statements from "All You Need is Love" to "Give Peace a Chance" to "Imagine". Let me put it this way, Lennon's voice was so powerful that President Nixon tried to get him deported in the 70s because he was a political threat.
Sure Lennon had his misses. His experimental albums with Yoko Ono in the late 60s are painful to listen to. Sometime in New York City is also a mediocre album. Still, the majority of his work is top notch. Plastic Ono Band and Imagine are amazing albums. The Beatles discography doesn't need any explanation. The Beatles are actually the world's best selling music artists. Their fan base is so huge that they have multiple fan conventions all over the world and countless tribute bands. There are internet radio stations and weekly radio programs based solely on them. Their legacy is unparalleled. The Beatles defined the 60s with everything from their style to their music.
It could be argued that he lacked the global appeal of Jackson, but he also didn't have the internet and died before the age of MTV. Lennon was smart, though. His "War Is Over" campaign in 1969 had posters appear in 12 major cities across the world. He knew how to reach out to the people and he did it in a positive way. I can almost guarantee that if you ask who's death was bigger in a year or five years between Jackson, Lennon, or Presley, that John Lennon would be chosen. His death was the most shocking and left the biggest impact out of the top three. Lennon was on the verge of a comeback with the release of his album, Double Fantasy, after taking roughly five years off. He was shot and killed almost 29 years ago in front of his apartment in one of the most senseless murders ever. His death continues to leave a void of one of music's true legends.