30 music legends tragic deaths; remembering Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Selena and more

Music is a powerful force that connects members of a generation, and when an icon of that generation passes away, the loss is felt among the masses; it is especially shocking when that larger-than-life celebrity dies suddenly and at a young age. Sadly, we have lost several musical artists much too soon, often due to the pressure, exposure or commitments that come with fame. Tour our photo gallery remembering 30 music legends and the details around their tragic deaths.

I was only nine years old when John Lennon died, and over 40 years later, I remember sitting at the kitchen table hearing the report on the radio that crazed fan Mark David Chapman had shot the legendary singer to death. This was one of the most shocking events in rock and roll history; fans were devastated, with a least three committing suicide. Chapman pleaded guilty and remains incarcerated. Just 15 years later, promising young singer Selena was murdered by an obsessed fan, Yolanda Salvidar, who also remains in jail.

In the 1990s, two influential rappers were murdered within a year of each other when East and West coast hip-hop rivalries became heated. Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. were each shot in drive-by shootings. Crips gang member Orlando Anderson was a prime suspect in Shakur’s death, but many thought Biggie was involved. When Biggie was later killed in a similar fashion, theories arose linking Wallace’s death to Shakur’s as a revenge theory; corrupt L.A. cops were also implicated. Both murders remain unsolved.

Sadly, many have fallen into the trap of substance abuse. It is disturbing to note that in some instances, the musician’s personal physician is responsible for supplying unnecessary “medication.”  In fact, some of these doctors have been held accountable. Although there were differing opinions on the role of drug use in Elvis Presley‘s death, his primary physician had his license temporarily suspended for overmedicating; it was later permanently revoked due to further allegations. Michael Jackson‘s doctor was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, and served a short stint in jail.

We have lost too many of these gifted musicians at too young of an age, with an unfortunate link connecting many of them. Between September, 1970 and July, 1971, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison all died from drug-related causes. They were each only 27 years old, leading to the concept of the “27 Club,” which was also linked to Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse decades later.

One of the most common causes of deaths for musicians is plane crashes, as the artists attempt to get from one concert venue to another in a short period of time. Aaliyah, Otis Redding and Patsy Cline were still young and in the beginning stages of promising careers when their planes went down. The most famous of these crashes was immortalized by Don McLean in the song “American Pie,” which references the tragic deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper, who were all terribly young, as “The Day the Music Died.”

Some, like Nat King Cole and Bob Marley, have died young from an illness such as cancer.  Others, like George Michael and Karen Carpenter, seemed to have overcome their demons and were continuing to work and thrive; however, the damage they had done to their bodies with substance abuse or eating disorders had taken its toll. The following is a list of some of the most shocking deaths of popular musicians, most of whom were pioneers in their genre and left an impressive body of work, but also left us wondering what else they would have gifted the entertainment world with had they not left us much too soon.

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