For some, music is that which comes nearest to silence in terms of expressing the inexpressible; for others it’s more like their body parts, like their ribs, kidneys, or even the heart! Well what I’m trying to put through is Music has been, is and perhaps will always be the only thing that gives soul to the universe at large, gives wings to our mind, flights to our imagination and the only true sense of freedom from the haywire world of ours. However, human beings that devote themselves to this art of making human emotions audible, also get caught in worldly matters of family, love & life; some pursue the path to the unknown, in order to find out what the mysteries of nature and the universe have in store and distant themselves from the world in a quest to crack-open the unattainable like it’s no big deal! In such times, as any other human would do these talented artists spiral down into depression, finding refuge in alcohol, cigarettes, abusing drugs and getting hooked onto them for long, as it somehow makes them feel secure. As this continues, they tend to live in a little world of their own making and don’t even bother about what happens outside that illusory paradise. That’s how some find their way to spirituality, enlightenment and break on through to the other side; however some… and some of the bests in fact just kill themselves or so to say have killed themselves pointlessly, assuming they shouldn’t be alive anymore. Yes, as weird as that sounds, it has happened many of times in history. Whatever it is, that goes through their heads at that moment of truth; it sure as hell isn’t a pretty sight.
So here we have the top ten revolutionary musicians that catapulted and pole-shifted the culture that existed in their times but unfortunately committed suicide a little too early in their career.
10. Nicholas Rodney Drake (1948-1974)
Better known as Nick Drake was an English singer-songwriter famous for his gentle-guitar based songs in the 70s. He signed a contract with Island records in 1968 whilst graduating from the University of Cambridge. His debut album the Five Leaves Left was released in 1969. Nick was very reluctant about being interviewed or performing live, that narrowed down his commercial success. He suffered from depression and that clearly showed in the lyrics he wrote; he is said to have died on an overdose of amitriptyline; a prescribed anti-depressant. The case of whether his death was an accident or a suicide has never been resolved.
9. Donny Edward Hathaway (1945-1979)
Legendary blues and American jazz artist, Donny Hathaway was born in the October of 1945. Singer-songwriter by profession Hathaway was once marked as a major new force in soul music by the Rolling Stone magazine in 1970. He won a Grammy award for one of his singles called, ‘’Where Is the Love‘’ that scored sky-high in the charts in the 70s. According to Mtume, just before Hathaway’s mysterious death he had said that some ‘’white people’’ were trying to kill him and had connected his brain to a machine, for the purpose of stealing music and his sound, he sure sounded paranoid and delusional to his partner at the time. However, hours later his body was found dead on the sidewalk below the window of his 15th floor room in Essex House hotel.
8. Johnny Marshall Alexander, Jr. /Ace (1929-1954)
Famous by his stage name Johnny Ace was one of the greatest American Rhythm & Blues Singer of all times. He was most popular in the times of happy and pretty homemaker wives; the 50s. He scored a series of hit singles in the mid 1950s just before, accidentally killing himself while playing a Russian roulette with his .22 caliber revolver, according to Big Mama Thornton’s base player Curtis Tillman. According to journalist Nick Tosches however, Ace shot himself with a .32 caliber revolver not a .22 one and it happened just after Ace had brought himself a brand new 1955 Oldsmobile.
7. Ian Kevin Curtis (1956-1980)
English musician, singer-songwriter Ian Curtis was the lyricist and vocalist of the post-punk band Joy Division in 1979. The band Joy Division was born in the year 1976, at a Sex Pistols gig. Curtis met Bernard Summer and Peter Hook at the gig who told him about a band they were trying to form; immediately after that Curtis proposed himself as the vocalist and lyricist for the band. Unfortunately Curtis suffered from epilepsy and just around a year after their debut release, Curtis committed suicide. He was famous for his baritone voice, awesome dancing styles and songwriting filled with emptiness and alienation. No further description on Curtis’s death has been given except the fact that he hung himself.
6. Wendy O Williams (1949-1998)
Lead singer of the 80s American Punk band the Plasmatics, William was definitely considered the most controversial and radical female singer of her days. She also had a solo career going on her for herself which got her nominated for the Grammies in 1985 for best female rock vocalist. William first attempted suicide in 1993 by hammering a knife into her chest, the knife jammed in her sternum and she changed her mind. She again tried killing herself in 1997 trying to overdose on ephedrine. Finally, She died at age 48 on April 6, 1998, due to a self inflicting a gunshot in a wooded area near her home.
5. Elliot Smith (1969-2003)
Omaha, Nebraska born and Texas raised Steven Paul ‘’Elliott’’ Smith was a singer-songwriter, who could play any of the instruments from piano, clarinet, bass guitar, drums, and harmonica proficiently. Smith however, preferred the guitar as his primary instrument. One of his songs ‘’Miss Misery’’ which was included in as an original soundtrack for the movie Good Will Hunting got nominated for an Oscar in the Best Original Song Category in 1988. As most of the others in the list, Smith as well suffered from significant depression, alcoholism and drug dependence, which appears in his lyrics. He was in Los Angeles when he died at the age of 34, two stab wounds to the chest. The autopsy was inconclusive as to if the stab wounds were self inflicted.
4. John Henry Bonham (1948-1980)
John Bonham, one of the greatest drummers from one of the best rock bands ever the Led Zeppelin; was marked as, ‘’the best drummer of all time’’ by the Rolling Stone Magazine in 2011. Esteemed for his power, fast right foot, distinctive sound, speed and feel for the groove, Bonham had begun learning drums at the age of five. John Bonham was one mighty alcoholic in his lifetime though, that’s what got him killed. An autopsy has suggested that before 24 hours of Bonham’s death, he had consumed approximately forty shots of vodka, Due to which he vomited and aspirated the vomitus, causing asphyxiation.
3. Kurt Donald Cobain (1967-1994)
Best recognized as the lead singer, guitarist and songwriter of the grunge band of the 80s Nirvana, Kurt Cobain was one of those musicians who changed an entire culture. One of the band’s ever favorite song ‘’Smells like Teen Spirit’’ from their second album Nevermind was IT!! Nirvana was labeled ‘’the flagship band’’ of Generation X and Cobain hailed as the spokesperson of an entire generation. On April 2 and 3, 1994 Cobain was spotted in various locations around Seattle. Cobain was not seen since April 4. Then April 7 rumors about the band breaking up started coming up, they even bailed out of that year’s Lollapalooza music festival. Cobain’s dead body was found on April 8, 1994 at his Lake Washington home by an electrician named Gary Smith who had arrived to install a security system. After an autopsy done on the body, Cobain was estimated to have died on around April 5. A high concentration of heroin and traces of diazepam were also found in his blood.
2. James Marshall Hendrix (1942-1970)
Jimi Hendrix was one of the most celebrated musicians of the 20th century and is considered to be one of the most influential guitarists in the history of popular music that the world has ever seen. Almost alienating riffs, futuristic solos, the world has yet to see another guitarist of his charisma, flare, and most of all that raw feel on the groove. Jimi Hendrix is one of the few generation defining musicians to have died at the age of 27. Although the details of his last day and death are unclear and widely disputed, however according to coroner Gavin Thurston concluded that Jimi had aspirated in his own vomit and had died of asphyxia while intoxicated with barbiturates, Monika Dannemann later stated that Hendrix had also taken nine of her prescribed sleeping tablets, 18 times the prescribed amount the night before as he couldn’t fall asleep.
He is often referred to by several names like the ‘’King of Rock & Roll’’ or just ‘’the King’’, but he is most commonly known by one single name ‘’Elvis’’. An American singer and actor, and a cultural icon that changed the way people viewed music and were introduced to figuratively, the GOD of rock himself for everyone including the generation of awesome and mind-boggling musicians and icons to follow in the 70s, 80s and so forth. Elvis pretty much paved a way for rock music to ever prosper in the commercial scene. Many believe that the king was brought down by a cancer and died due to it. However, in other records it is said that secret autopsy papers had been hidden by Elvis’s stepmother, Dee Presley, who made a promise to Vernon Presley to take the secret of Elvis overdosing, to their graves.
Final Conclusion: Well these were some of the most inconclusive and blur-ended suicide cases of probably the best musicians the world has ever seen. Some did it for the name, some for the fame, some just because they had nothing better to do; but whatever it maybe, all of them were great full-spirited human beings and nothing short of legends of their time. Even though these musicians had killed themselves, committed suicide or were just plain murdered, we have to understand that all of them had their own issues in life to worry about and perhaps weren’t able to cope up with them, and along with all the divine music they were making and listening to, they sure as hell didn’t want to die, except a few, who died under intoxication, they didn’t even realize they were dying but; what I’m trying to say is all of them cherished their lives, that’s why they made a perfect example to the world, of everything each of them wanted to be. Moral of the story, we should start doing the same!
Nikhil is musician by choice, writer by profession. Currently, studying Bachelors in Hospitality.