11 Legendary Artists Who Died Tragically in a Plane Crash

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Artists are often flying from city to city. With that, sadly, comes risk.

Unfortunately, plane crashes have taken many more than just a few musicians over the past decades. Here, we will dive into 11 of some of the biggest names in modern songwriting and performance.

Though it might be hard to look this grief in the eye, it’s important to remember those who were taken from us too early. These are 11 artists who died tragically as the result of a plane crash.

1. Glenn Miller (1944)

Born in 1904, Miller died in 1944 after his military plane fell from the sky. The popular swing-era bandleader disappeared over the English Channel on December 15 en route to Paris. Miller, the pilot John Morgan and passenger Colonel Norman Baessell perished in the crash. Theories have included the plane being shot down or the wings iced over. Regardless, Miller, sadly, was never seen again.

2. – 3. Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens (1959)

Holly and Valens, along with legendary radio host the Big Bopper (born J.P. Richardson), died together in a plane crash that was later immortalized by Don McLean in the song “American Pie.” The plane took off from Iowa and headed to Fargo for a show in Minnesota. But they hit bad weather and crashed in a cornfield. No one survived.

4. Patsy Cline (1963)

Cline, who remains one of the biggest country stars ever, died at just 30 years old when her plane crashed in 1963. The flight was headed to Nashville after a show in Kansas City, Kansas. The pilot? Her manager Ramsey “Randy” Dorris Hughes. Bad weather had caused the plane to stop several times. But finally, after a takeoff in Dyersburg, Tennessee, it fell from the sky about 75 miles from Music City.

5. Jim Reeves (1964)

Country singer Jim Reeves died in a plane he was piloting. Leaving Arkansas with his manager as a passenger, he ran into bad weather, became disoriented, and the plane crashed going at high speeds. It took days to finally locate the wreckage.

6. Otis Redding (1967)

At just 26 years old, one of the greatest soul singers ever to have lived died in a plane crash. Redding left Cleveland to land in Madison, Wisconsin, when—yes—bad weather came into play. The airplane fell, crashing into Lake Monona. Today, the cause of the crash remains unclear, though some speculate there were engine troubles. Only one survived, 20-year-old Ben Cauley. Four months after the crash, Redding’s “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” hit No. 1.

7. Jim Croce (1973)

Sadly for Croce, his career was just beginning to hit big highs when he died at just 30 years old in a crash. Road-weary, Croce was itching to get to his next and last tour stop in Texas. But upon the plane taking off it almost immediately struck a pecan tree. All six people onboard died immediately and the subsequent investigation blamed the pilot, who had arrived at the airport initially after walking nearly three miles because he couldn’t get a cab.

8. Lynyrd Skynyrd (1977)

Three days after releasing its fifth album, Street Survivors, a plane out of South Carolina, heading for Baton Rouge, Louisiana, took members of this legendary southern rock band. The investigation afterward saw that the plane had run out of fuel with the pilots not checking the fuel gauges ahead of time. Lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and backup singer Cassie Gaines were all killed in the wreckage. Strangely and happily, 20 people aboard the plane did survive.

9. Stevie Ray Vaughan (1990)

One of the greatest guitar players (and a former six-string player for David Bowie), SRV died in a helicopter crash (not a plane crash) in 1990 after the chopper crashed into a ski mountain. Headed for Chicago after departing from Wisconsin, the subsequent investigation ruled pilot error.

10. John Denver (1997)

One of music’s greatest songwriters, John Denver died on October 12, 1997. A home-built aircraft he had recently purchased fell from the sky and plunged into the ocean. The 53-year-old Denver (born John Henry Deutschendorf Jr.) was an experienced pilot, even though his license had been suspended following drunk driving incidents. The investigation after the crash determined Denver probably wanted to switch fuel tanks in flight but pressed the button for the rudder pedal by mistake. This made him lose control of the plane.

11. Aaliyah (2001)

The singer, performer, and actor was just 22 years old when she died. Despite being so young, she had already released three best-selling albums. She was also briefly married to the now-disgraced singer R. Kelly. She and friends had boarded a plane to the Bahamas after shooting a new music video and the plane sadly crashed just after takeoff, killing all on board. The investigation saw that the pilot had drugs in his system and that the plane had been overloaded.

Photo: The John Denver Estate / Sacks & Co

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