When considering the most famous bands in the history of popular music, the task can get melancholy quickly.
Videos by American Songwriter
Sadly, death is seemingly almost as much a part of fame and fortune as anything else. In music, of course, there is the famous “27 Club,” which includes artists like Amy Winehouse, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and Jimi Hendrix—artists who died at the young age of 27 years old. There is also the consequence of excess—for that, just look at the likes of Elvis Presley, who died at 42 years old.
There are also those artists like Jeff Buckley and John Denver who died by accident—Buckley by drowning and Denver by plane crash. The list goes on. And while we’ve covered many of these early passings in pieces prior, here we wanted to look at six groups whose essential members died way too young. Whether it’s the result of drugs, violence, or some other means, in music the song always has to end.
1. Alice in Chains
The Seattle-born grunge group was fronted by two artists in its early days, Jerry Cantrell and Layne Staley. Cantrell largely handled the guitar playing while Staley largely handled the vocals. He seemed almost effortless when belting songs like “Would?” and “Down in a Hole.” The band’s MTV Unplugged album is legendary, perhaps second only to their counterparts, Nirvana.
Sadly, though, Staley died in 2002. He was just 34 years old. He died, on April 5, which is the same day, eight years later, that Cobain died and it’s also the birthday of Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready. Today, the band, which recently went on tour with Bush and Thunderpussy in 2022, is still led by Cantrell and the somewhat recent skilled singer William DuVall. Nevertheless, Staley is missed.
When dealing with the legacy of gunge, death is impossible to escape. As with Alice in Chains above and Nirvana, which we covered in our “27 Club” article, Soundgarden has also experienced the passing of its frontman too early. The group that gave fans “Black Hole Sun” and “Fell On Black Days” lost its lead singer, Chris Cornell, in 2017 at the age of 52. While he lived longer than Cobain and Staley, he died way too young and at a time when Soundgarden was just getting going again.
Of course, Cornell had spent recent years as both a solo artist and as the frontman to the hard rock group Audioslave. But that all was dashed when he died by apparent suicide in Las Vegas after hanging himself. Since then, there have been reports that PNW great Brandi Carlile would like to front Soundgarden in Cornell’s absence.
3. Blind Melon
The band’s hit song still rings out today. If you close your eyes, you can hear the guitar riff in your head and even see the “bumble bee girl” in your mind’s eye. Yes, the Los Angeles-born Blind Melon was huge with their 1993 hit song, “No Rain,” which remains one of the biggest hits of the past few decades. But sadly the life of the group was cut short when frontman Shannon Horn died in 1995 at just 28 years old from an apparent cocaine overdose.
While Blind Melon still exists today, and they’re currently working on a new album, their presence is not the same. How could it be? With their frontman gone, the link to their glory days is no longer. Even with their signature guitar riff echoing in the ether.
In the ’90s, you couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing a Sublime song. The Southern California-born group, fronted by songwriter and performer Bradley Nowell, created hit after hit—from “Wrong Way” and “Santaria” to “Smoke Two Joints,” “Bad Fish” and “What I Got,” among others. They even had their own mascot, Nowell’s dalmatian. But sadly, Nowell died at just 28 years old (missing the famed 27 Club by a few months) from a heroin overdose. Reportedly the dalmatian was there whimpering when his bandmates found him.
Sublime tried to give it a go under several different monikers after Nowell’s passing, but of course, it just wasn’t the same.
In early 2022 when the band NHC released its debut EP, Intakes & Outtakes, many were dreaming of what the group could become. Comprised of Taylor Hawkins on drums and lead vocals, guitarist Dave Navarro, and bassist Chris Chaney, there seemed nowhere to go but up. But then it all came crashing down just a few months later when Hawkins died of a drug overdose in South America while on tour with his other band, Foo Fighters. The world mourned his passing and watched during tribute concerts to the fallen artist, who was also previously the drummer for Alanis Morissette.
When Hawkins died suddenly at the age of 50, so much was lost. With it perhaps the next great rock band.
Founded in 1977, the Australian rock band INXS was founded by bassist Garry Gary Beers, saxophonist Kirk Pengilly, keyboardist Andrew Farriss, drummer Jon Farriss, and guitarist Tim Farriss. Their lead singer was Michael Hutchence. For two decades the band was fronted by Hutchence, known for his stage presence and magnetism. A new wave pop group, the band evolved in later years to a more hard rock style, white included some funk and dance notes.
Sadly, though, Hutchence died in 1997 by a reported suicide by hanging. Afterward, the band tried several guest singers and even went on some tours, but it was never the same. In 2005, they held a reality TV series to select a new singer, but they officially broke up in 2012. To date, the group sold over 75 million albums.
Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Chris Cornell Estate