For some, music 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 up in worldly matters of family, love & life; some pursue the path to the unknown to find out what the mysteries of nature and the universe have in store and distance 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, these talented artists spiral down into depression, finding refuge in alcohol, and cigarettes, abusing drugs and getting hooked on 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 and enlightenment and break through to the other side; however, some of the bests kill themselves or have killed themselves pointlessly, assuming they shouldn’t be alive anymore. Yes, as weird as that sounds, it has happened many times in history. Whatever goes through their heads at that moment of truth, it sure 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 careers.
10. Nicholas Rodney Drake (1948-1974)
Better known as Nick Drake, he was an English singer-songwriter famous for his gentle guitar-based songs in the 70s. He signed a contract with Island Records in 1968 while graduating from the University of Cambridge. His debut album, Five Leaves Left, was released in 1969. Nick was very reluctant about being interviewed or performing live, which narrowed down his commercial success. He suffered from depression, which clearly showed in his lyrics; he is said to have died on an overdose of amitriptyline, a prescribed anti-depressant. 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 October 1945. Singer-songwriter by profession Hathaway was once marked as a significant new force in soul music by Rolling Stone magazine in 1970. He won a Grammy award for one of his singles, ‘’Where Is the Love‘’ which 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 to steal 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 time. 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 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, which happened just after Ace had brought himself a brand new 1955 Oldsmobile.
7. Ian Kevin Curtis (1956-1980)
English musician and 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 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 had epilepsy, and around a year after their debut release, Curtis committed suicide. He was famous for his baritone voice, fantastic dancing styles, and songwriting filled with emptiness and alienation. No further description of Curtis’s death has been given except that he hung himself.
6. Wendy O Williams (1949-1998)
Lead singer of the 80s American Punk band the Plasmatics, William was considered the most controversial and radical female singer of her day. She also had a solo career, 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 into 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-inflicted 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 proficiently play instruments from piano, clarinet, bass guitar, drums, and harmonica. Smith, however, preferred the guitar as his primary instrument. One of his songs ‘’Miss Misery’’ included in an original soundtrack for the movie Good Will Hunting got nominated for an Oscar in the Best Original Song Category in 1988. Like most of the others on the list, Smith also suffered from significant depression, alcoholism, and drug dependence, which appears in his lyrics. He was in Los Angeles when he died at age 34, with 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, Led Zeppelin, was marked as ‘’the best drummer of all time’’ by 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 suggested that before 24 hours of Bonham’s death, he had consumed approximately forty shots of vodka. Due to this, 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 songs ‘’Smells like Teen Spirit’’ from their second album Nevermind, was IT!! Nirvana was labeled ‘’the flagship band’’ of Generation X, and Cobain was 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 on the body, Cobain was estimated to have died 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 one of the most influential guitarists in the history of popular music that the world has ever seen. With almost alienating riffs and 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 who died at 27. Although the details of his last day and death are unclear and widely disputed, coroner Gavin Thurston concluded that Jimi had aspirated in his vomit and 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.
1. Elvis Presley (1935-1977)
He is often referred to by several names like the ‘’King of Rock & Roll’’ or ‘’the King’’, but one name, ‘’Elvis, most commonly knows him’’. An American singer and actor and a cultural icon that changed how people viewed music and were introduced to, figuratively, the GOD of rock himself to everyone, including the generation of astonishing and mind-boggling musicians and icons to follow in the 70s and 80s, and so forth.
Elvis paved the way for rock music to prosper in the commercial scene. Many believe that the king was brought down by cancer and died. However, in other records, it is said that secret autopsy papers had been hidden by Elvis’s stepmother, Dee Presley, who promised 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 may be, they 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 issues to worry about and perhaps weren’t able to cope with them. Along with all the divine music they were making and listening to, they didn’t want to die, except for 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, and that’s why they made a perfect example to the world of everything each of them wanted to be. The moral of the story, we should start doing the same!
Nikhil is musician by choice, writer by profession. Currently, studying Bachelors in Hospitality.