25 Most Famous Dead Musicians

Some of us have a perhaps unhealthy obsession with our musical heroes who are gone. 

Sure it will happen to all of us someday, but there are many musicians and singers who seriously burned the candle at both ends much like the “I hope I die before I get old” line from The Who’s My Generation.

But on a positive note, what they managed to accomplish during their short time on earth is more than most of us could ever hope for.

Even If you never personally met any of the people we will cover today, I’ll bet at least a few of them have had an effect on your life at some point. After all, that’s part of the beauty of music. 

First, let’s go over some of the criteria because I simply can’t include every famous dead musician for obvious reasons.

So these are some of the biggest stars from the 20th century and on, most of whom died young or in unusual ways.

And I’ve included a few others who lived to a ripe old age, but they are still household names and remain almost as popular now as when they were among the living. 

So although there are a lot of suicides and drug overdoses represented, there are also natural causes, accidents, and even several murders.

And if you don’t know about the notorious “27 Club”, you may be surprised how many of these stars ended their journey at that young age.

As for the fairer sex, I’ve included a few here that died due to alcohol or drugs, but for some reason that I can’t really explain, women don’t tend to die by suicide very often. Thank God for that!

Finally, I know that some of these may be depressing, but remember that we’re here to celebrate the lives and music of our best friends who we never met. 

1. Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy) – John Lennon

Some people remember where they were when they heard that John F Kennedy was shot. For others, it was the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.

But music fans of a certain age will probably remember the moment they heard that John Lennon had been shot and killed in New York City. He died in 1980 at the age of 40.

He was obviously most famous as a member of The Beatles but after the band split up, John had a lot of amazing music left inside him such as this track, Imagine, God, and Give Peace a Chance. 

Now I admit that I don’t believe he was always the kind gentle soul deserving of sainthood that some people pretend he was.

But once he was on his own, he and Yoko Ono did a lot to promote the idea of peace and he was influential enough that I think his message touched a lot of people’s lives and personal beliefs.

I wasn’t even born yet when he was shot and yet I still feel like he has had an impact on my musical tastes and maybe even my religious and political views. 

And I’m not alone. In fact, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Lennon and the Beatles are still popular one or two hundred years from now. 

2. Serve the Servants – Kurt Cobain of Nirvana

Generation X got another punch to the gut when Kurt Cobain, the king of Grunge Rock, took his own life after being in and out of centers for addiction treatment. 

There are a thousand theories about why people think there was foul play and he didn’t actually commit suicide. But I don’t buy it and you can’t believe everything you read on the internet. 

First, Kurt was well aware of the aforementioned “27 Club”, the age at which he died.

And much like Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell who often wrote lyrics about suicide including the very ominous Pretty Noose, Cobain’s songs are chock full of anguish and self-hatred.

For example, I don’t remember where I read it but people have pointed out that all twelve songs on Nirvana’s final album In Utero mention sickness or disease either in the lyrics or title.

Then Beatnik writer William S. Burroughs, who was a personal hero to Cobain, said that Kurt’s eyes were already dead when the two met. 

I could go on about heroin addiction and chronic stomach problems but you get the idea.

Let’s just be glad that we can enjoy his music and hope that he found some kind of peace or escape from his demons. 

3. The Man Who Sold the World – David Bowie

David Bowie died from natural causes (cancer) at age 69. 

He wasn’t exactly young but it still came as a surprise to everyone as he had not made any public statement about his battle with cancer even when he knew the end was near. 

And personally, this one was really rough for me… I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to Low, Scary Monsters and Ziggy Stardust but the number is easily in the hundreds.

He was wonderfully weird and a hero to generations of people that were often regarded as freaks or as outsiders who “didn’t quite belong” in popular society. 

That may seem more common now and in the past few decades, but in the Seventies not so much. 

And it gets better… he left his fans a final album that came out within a few days of his death. He really didn’t need to do that and it just shows his love of music and his appreciation for his fanbase. 

That album Blackstar is no small accomplishment either, with a lot of people considering it his best album in many years and even in his “top 10” albums. 

4. Leaving on a Jet Plane – John Denver

One of Folk Rock’s best songwriters died at age 53 while flying solo in a small two-seat (homemade) plane. 

He had a lot of experience flying small aircraft but when one of the cursed plane’s tanks ran out of fuel, he was unable to switch to the other tank and we lost a legend forever. 

I love all of the musicians on today’s list, but John Denver stands out as the guy who was always smiling and I find that his music gives off positive vibes even when the lyrical content is somewhat sad

The music world also lost Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and several members of the band Lynyrd Skynyrd to plane crashes.

5. Runnin’ with the Devil – Eddie Van Halen (of Van Halen!)

Died of natural causes at age 65.

6. Love Will Tear Us Apart – Ian Curtis of Joy Division

Died by suicide at age 23.

7. Can’t Help Falling in Love – Elvis Presley

Died of natural causes (many people think drugs played a role) at age 42. 

8. You Are Not Alone – Michael Jackson

Died from a drug overdose at age 50.

9. All Along the Watchtower – The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Died from a drug overdose at age 27.

10. When Doves Cry – Prince and The Revolution

Died from a drug overdose at age 57.

11. Piece of My Heart – Janis Joplin of Big Brother and The Holding Company

Died from a drug overdose at age 27.

12. Down in a Hole – Layne Staley of Alice in Chains

Died from a drug overdose at age 34. 

13. The Day I Tried to Live – Chris Cornell of Soundgarden

Died by suicide at age 52.

14. Break on Through (to the Other Side) Jim Morrison of The Doors

Died from heart failure (assumed to be a heroin overdose) at age 27.

15. Wake Me Up – Avicii (Tim Bergling)

Died by suicide at age 23.

16. I Will Always Love You – Whitney Houston

Died by drowning / drug overdose at age 48.

17. That’ll Be the Day – Buddy Holly and The Crickets

Died in a plane crash at age 22. 

18. Mouth for War – Dimebag Darrell of Pantera

Shot to death during a concert at age 38.

19. You Know I’m No Good – Amy Winehouse

Died of alcohol/drug poisoning at age 27.

20. Brenda’s Got a Baby – Tupac Shakur

Shot to death at age 25.

21. Big Poppa – The Notorious B.I.G.

Shot to death at age 24.

22. Needle in the Hay – Elliot Smith

Died by suicide at age 34.

23. I’m a Fool to Want You – Frank Sinatra

Died of natural causes at age 82. 

24. What a Wonderful World – Sam Cooke

Shot to death at age 33.

25. Leave Out All the Rest – Chester Bennington of Linkin Park

Died by suicide at age 41.