8 Rock Artists Who Left Us Too Soon

Sadly, the history of rock and roll is littered with loss of life. So many of the genre’s best and brightest bid farewell far before they should. There is even a club named in honor of some of these, the 27 Club, a group to which no one should aspire.

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From the music’s early days to quite recently, rock and roll has mourned many. Below we wanted to honor eight of those hit makers, guitar players and front people. Names who helped make rock music what it is today, despite bowing out early.

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Indeed, here are eight rock artists who left us too soon.

1. Buddy Holly (September 7, 1936 – February 3, 1959)

On February 3, 1959, the burgeoning genre of rock music lost not just Buddy Holly, but “La Bamba” singer Ritchie Valens and DJ the Big Bopper. The event, which is likely given the dubious distinction of the most famous plane crash in rock music, was the mournful inspiration for the line, The day the music died in Don McLean’s timeless track, “American Pie.” If Holly had lived, he may have rivaled others like Elvis and the Beatles. But sadly, he died before any of that could unfold.

2. Jimi Hendrix (November 27, 1942 – September 18, 1970)

Known as the greatest electric guitar player of all time, the Seattle-born Jimi Hendrix died before the 1970s could really begin. He is, of course, one of the members of the tragic 27 Club, those famous musicians who died at 27 years old. With songs like “Foxy Lady” and “Purple Haze,” Hendrix was rock music incarnate. While it’s believed Hendrix died from vomiting in his sleep, some have claimed he was murdered over contractual disputes. The mystery may never be totally solved.

3. Janis Joplin (January 19, 1943 – October 4, 1970)

Boasting somehow one of the most powerful and yet brittle voices in rock music, Janis Joplin died on October 4, 1970, she too was just 27. Known for her renditions of “Summertime” and “Me and Bobby McGee,” Joplin is believed to have died from a drug overdose, perhaps from heroin that was much stronger than she had been accustomed to using at the time. Either way, her loss was a major one for rock music history.

4. Jim Morrison (December 8, 1943 – July 3, 1971)

Yet another sad member of the 27 Club, Jim Morrison’s death is also shrouded in mystery. The lead singer of the Doors, known for songs like “People Are Strange” and “Light My Fire,” died in France. But there was no autopsy done at the time, so no one knows exactly how it happened. Morrison died two years to the day after the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones died, and only months after Hendrix and Joplin passed away.

5. Kurt Cobain (February 20, 1967 – April 5, 1994)

Welcome another member to the 27 Club and to the mysterious death club. Kurt Cobain, the frontman for the Seattle-born grunge band Nirvana, died by alleged suicide after fleeing a drug rehab facility. Some believe his widow Courtney Love may have had something to do with it, perhaps accidentally. In fact, the 1998 book, Who Killed Kurt Cobain? explores the many details around Cobain’s passing. Regardless of how it happened when he died, the world lost one of its best songwriters, to be sure. Not to mention an iconic rock voice.

6. Layne Staley (August 22, 1967 – April 5, 2002)

Another grunge icon from Seattle, Layne Staley, died on the same day as Cobain eight years later. Strangely, that day, April 5, is also Pearl Jam lead guitarist Mike McCready’s birthday. Staley, the Alice in Chains co-frontman, may have boasted the best rock singing voice in the past 30 years. It was like a wildfire, capable of torching acres and touching the heavens. He died of a drug overdose. When Staley was found, the six-foot singer weighed just 86 pounds as his body had already begun to decompose.

7. Chris Cornell (July 20, 1964 – May 18, 2017)

Another grunge legend, Chris Cornell, former frontman for Soundgarden, took his own life in 2017 in a Detroit casino hotel room. The banshee-voiced frontman had dealt with addiction and depression during his life in Seattle and it was felt he had found peace with his wife and family. In the wake of his passing, Cornell’s wife Vicky has called foul play, including a suspicious head injury.

8. Chester Bennington (March 20, 1976 – July 20, 2017)

Not long after Chris Cornell died, Linkin Park co-frontman Chester Bennington killed himself as well. Incredibly, the date he died would have been Cornell’s 53rd birthday. The shocking passing of one of rock music’s best vocalists at the time was enough to floor fans, despite his history of depression and drugs.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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