The problem with writing an article like this is you’ve got only a few slots to work with and, unfortunately, about 1,000 or so musicians who died before their time. About 90% of those – okay, maybe I’m exaggerating, but it’s a lot – died in plane crashes, most famously Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper. So rather than make this a list about plane crash victims, we selected eight, who couldn’t be classified into the “Acts of God” category. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, Life’d gives you Blood on the Bandstand: 8 Artists Who Died Too Soon.
1. Marvin Gaye
Age at the time of death: 44
Rolling Stone magazine called him the No. 6 Greatest Singer of All Time in 2006, and we’d have a hard time arguing against that. “Sexual Healing,” “Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “What’s Going On?” – if mankind had no soul prior to Gaye’s career, it sure did afterward. Unfortunately, Gaye’s life ended tragically at the hands of his own father on the morning of April 1, 1984. In the moments leading up to the shooting, Gaye had been involved in an altercation in which he’d struck his dad, knocked him down and kicked him. At 11:38 a.m., the elder Gaye entered Marvin’s room with a .38 Smith & Wesson revolver and fired two shots, both of which struck the icon. Gaye died at the California Hospital Medical Center at 1:01 p.m. Autopsy results discovered PCP and cocaine in the singer’s system.
2. Sam Cooke
Age at the time of death: 33
Cooke’s hits included “A Change Is Gonna Come,” “Twistin’ the Night Away,” and “Bring It On Home to Me.” Unfortunately, he lived a tormented life that saw him losing an 18-month old son in a drowning accident. That led to the dissolution of his marriage and sunk him, naturally, into a great depression that placed him at the Hacienda Motel in Los Angeles on the night of Dec. 11, 1964. Conspiracy theories abound as to the reason behind Cooke’s murder, but the official story is that Bertha Franklin, manager of the motel, shot Cooke in self defense when he broke in to her office demanding to know the whereabouts of Elisa Boyer, a woman Cooke had brought to the Hacienda. Boyer claimed Cooke had kidnapped her and that she’d escaped. Franklin shot Cooke in the torso, mortally wounding him. His final words: “Lady, you shot me.” Some believe Cooke was set up by Boyer and Franklin. Regardless, a lasting tragedy from this event is the premature loss of Cooke’s voice.
3. Kurt Cobain
Age at the time of death: 27
Cobain’s life as the tortured artist is a testament that money and fame can’t buy happiness. The alt-rock, grunge godfather, and Nirvana frontman died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Autopsy results discovered the “Heart-Shaped Box” singer had high amounts of heroin in his system. Traces of valium were also present. Cobain’s career began when he was 15 years old and caught fire with a major-label launch in 1991’s Nevermind, but even that and a young daughter couldn’t soothe his depression.
4. Tupac Shakur
Age at the time of death: 25
Tupac Shakur’s posthumous activities have been the butt of many jokes – counting collaborations and solo albums, he’s put out nine releases since his death compared to just six before, and only one of those is a greatest hits – but his foresight and influence over rap and hip-hop are undeniable. Shakur died in 1996 in a drive-by shooting while sitting in a parked car. The fatal bullets struck Shakur in the pelvis, chest, right hand and thigh. He died six days later at University Medical Center in Las Vegas, Nev. His murder remains unsolved.
5. Selena Quintanilla-Perez
Age at the time of death: 23
More popularly known as “Selena,” this starlet, born in Lake Jackson, Tx., developed a huge following through a combination of good vocals and a lovely and generous spirit that captured the hearts of her largely Latino fan base. In 1995, she was poised to cross over with her English language debut album, but was gunned down by Yolanda Saldívar, her former fan club president, when it was discovered Saldívar was embezzling money. Selena confronted Saldívar about it and was shot in the back. A couple of Selena hits you’ve probably heard: “Dreaming of You” and “I Could Fall in Love.”
6. John Lennon
Age at the time of death: 40
Lennon’s solo career was moving at a good clip in the days after The Beatles. From 1970 to 1975, he crackled with a newfound energy with hits like “Imagine,” “Happy XMas (War Is Over),” and “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night.” Lennon stepped back from the spotlight in 1975 with the birth of his second son and appeared content in his role as stay-at-home dad. In October 1980, around the time of his 40th birthday, he struck again with “(Just Like) Starting Over,” a number three hit that announced to the world Lennon was back. It would hit No. 1 on Dec. 27, 1980, close to three weeks after Lennon was shot and killed by gunman Mark David Chapman outside his apartment.
7. Mia Zapata
Age at the time of death: 27
The music community mourned one of its own when Mia Zapata left Seattle’s Comet Tavern in the early morning hours of July 7, 1993, and walked into the grip of her killer. Zapata is thought to have encountered her killer while wearing headphones on the walk home. She was beaten, raped and strangled, by an attacker, who until several years after her death remained at-large. (DNA evidence led to the conviction of Jesus Mezquia for the crime in 2004 and again in 2009.) Zapata was the lead singer of The Gits, an on-the-rise band, which was particularly well known in Seattle’s booming grunge scene of the early 1990s. Her death rallied artists like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Heart, the Presidents of the United States of America, Joan Jett and Soundgarden, behind the Home Alive project, which was set up in her honor.
8. Chris Bender
Age at the time of death: 19
Chris Bender had one of those blink-and-you’ll-miss-it careers that showed a lot of promise. At 16, he recorded the Baby Doll album. By the age of 19, he had signed a $500,000 deal with EastWest Records for seven albums. One of those albums, Draped, actually charted on Billboard’s 1991 Top 100 for R&B. Bender managed to build a following with songs like “Who Will I Choose?” demonstrating a smooth and burgeoning voice ahead of its years. Tragically, Bender was shot to death by Eroy Kindell and Stephen Fernandes while sitting in a car outside his mother’s housing project in Brockton, Mass., in the early morning hours of Nov. 3, 1991.