We hate to be a downer, but judging from incidents like the plane crash that seriously injured Travis Barker and DJ AM to the Deftones bassist Chi Cheng’s coma-inducing car crash and bus accidents involving acts like Against Me!, Disturbed and Feeder, 2008 is ending up to be a year full of rock star near-death encounters that should have everyone in the industry counting their own blessings.  

But not everyone gets the chance to enjoy the rock and roll road to recovery. As we’ve seen all too often, many of our beloved artists are taken from this world long before they should be. That’s why it’s not a bad idea to stop and smell the roses every once in a while and take in a small reminder that life is short, and should be appreciated and celebrated with as much energy and exuberance as humanly possible.

To that end, here’s a list of the top 10 all-time worst tragedies in rock and roll to remind us all that the rock dream is paved with many angels.


Dimebag Darrell

Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, most of us knew Dimebag Darrell as the Texas-bred riff master behind Pantera and Damageplan. By merging his Southern Rock roots with a heavy metal attitude, Darrell helped create a style unto himself — and his signature squeals inspired countless of young metalheads to pick up the guitar. Sadly Darrell’s career ended on Dec. 8, 2004, when he was gunned down onstage while performing with Damageplan in Columbus, Ohio. The shooter was taken out by a police officer, but only after he killed four people — including one of the world's most beloved guitarists — and injured two others. Ultimately this wasn’t just a tragedy because of the death of Darrell, but the innocence of going to a rock show was lost as well — and that may be a wound that never truly heals.

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The Exploding Hearts

The Exploding Hearts may not be a household name like the other acts on this list, but that doesn’t make their tragedy any less resonant in the music community. This power-pop band from Portland, Ore., had just started to build a national following, and was heading home from San Francisco when their van flipped over on July 20, 2003, killing three of the band’s four members and injuring guitarist Terry Six and the band’s manager Rachelle Ramos. Thankfully the band will always live on in their recordings — such as their 2003 debut Guitar Romantic and 2006 singles compilation Shattered — however it’s impossible to predict what amazing things the Exploding Hearts would have gone on to do had their careers and lives not ended so suddenly and prematurely.

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Cliff Burton

Metallica’s former bassist Cliff Burton is undeniably one of the most influential bass players in the heavy music arena. In addition to being one of the first bassists to use distortion and effects in a tasteful way, Burton also invented his own style of playing that had more in common with strummed guitar riffs than traditional bass lines. His contribution to Metallica’s classic first two albums, Kill ‘Em All and Ride The Lightning,are overwhelming, especially on his solo “(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth.” Unfortunately, Burton’s career was cut short at the age of 24 when Metallica’s bus ran over a slick of black ice while on tour in Sweden on Sept. 27, 1986, throwing Burton through the window of the bus before it landed on top of him and killed him instantly. If you’re interested in learning more about Burton, we recommend checking out Cliff ‘Em All, a video retrospective of Burton’s tenure in Metallica.

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The Day the Music Died

If you’ve ever heard the classic Don McLean song “American Pie,” you already know about the day the music died. At 1 a.m., on Feb. 3, 1959, a plane carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson crashed near Clear Lake, Iowa, killing all three musicians as well as the pilot. Holly had enjoyed success barely a year when the crash occurred, but his influence on acts like the Beatles and Rolling Stones is heavily documented. Valens’ career was also in its nascent stages when he was killed; in fact his recording career was only eight months old, though it produced a handful of hits, including “La Bamba.” At the time of the crash, the Big Bopper was the most established of the three, and was just beginning to establish himself as a true performer with hits like “Chantilly Lace” and “Beggar to a King.” All of these artists’ music has been collected posthumously, but there’s no doubt that they all would have gone on to have impressive careers had they had the opportunity.

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Randy Rhoads

No one saw much in common between the genres of heavy metal and classical music before Randy Rhoads came along to unify these two words. Via his work with Quiet Riot and Ozzy Osbourne, Rhoads combined classical finger-picking and composition with tapping and shredding to create a completely new style on classic Ozzy tracks like “Mr. Crowley” and “Crazy Train.” On March 19, 1982, Ozzy, Rhoads and the rest of the band were heading to a concert in Orlando, Fla., when they decided to spend the night in nearby Leesburg, at the home of tour bus company owner Jerry Calhoun. As the band got some rest on the bus, tour bus driver Andrew Aycock took Rhoads and hairdresser Rachel Youngblood on a flight aboard Calhoun’s Beechcraft Bonanza – without Calhoun’s permission. During the ill-fated flight, several attempts were made to “buzz” the tour bus where the other band members were sleeping. On the third attempt, however, the plane’s right wing clipped the bus by accident and the plane crashed into Calhoun’s nearby mansion, killing everyone on board. Rhoads was only 25 at the time of his death, and this bit of recklessness cost the world one of its foremost guitar talents — and the fact that he died completely in vain only adds insult to this tragedy.

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John Bonham

If you’re on this web site you probably already know that John Bonham was the drummer for the legendary rock act Led Zeppelin. Known for his heavy sticks and hard-hitting style, Bonham perfectly complemented guitarist Jimmy Page’s classic riffs on songs like “Kashmir” and “Immigrant Song,” and was the secret weapon behind the band’s nearly palpable heaviness, In fact, if you’ve ever seen video of the band live you know that his performance during “Moby Dick” is one of the most impressive examples of rock percussion, well, ever. Sadly, and like so many other great musicians, Bonham had an addiction to alcohol, and after an entire day of drinking copious amounts of vodka during rehearsals for Zeppelin’s pending North American tour, Bonham choked on his own vomit on Sept. 25, 1980, at the tender age of 32. Instead of continuing without Bonham, Led Zeppelin disbanded shortly afterward proving what an invaluable asset the drummer had been to the band.

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Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix is arguably the most innovative guitarist of all-time and has been named as such in countless magazine and television polls over the past 40 years. In addition to being one of the first guitarists to utilize feedback and overdriven amplifiers, Hendrix’s unique playing style helped define the ’60s psychedelic scene and influenced countless teenagers to pick up the guitar in his wake. After a career-defining performance at Woodstock in 1969, Hendrix met his untimely demise on Sept. 18, 1970, in a London hotel room due to an overdose of sleeping pills. Hendrix was only 27 years old and considering the impressive amount of work he amassed during his eight-year career it’s literally impossible to imagine what he would have done to guitar playing if he had lived long enough to realize his full potential.

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Duane Allman

As the guitarist for The Allman Brothers Band, Duane Allman probably did more for slide guitar, specifically when it comes to improvisation, than any other guitarist in the world. In addition to performing on classic Allman Brothers tunes like “Whipping Post,” Allman was also an established session musician who performed alongside Aretha Franklin and Boz Scaggs, among many others. Sadly, Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident on Oct. 29, 1974, at the young age of 24, and although the Allman Brothers Band are still regarded as one of today’s top live acts many people believe the essential magic of the original band died with Duane on that fateful day. The band, however, has enjoyed a revival of sorts ever since 29-year-old Derek Trucks assumed lead guitar duties in 1999, evoking both the images and sounds of his legendary predecessor. Nonetheless, Duane’s recordings and live performances still sound as innovative and impassioned today as they did when they were originally recorded.

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Stevie Ray Vaughan

Forget about his full name, the initials “SRV” are enough to evoke images of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s blistering brand of blues-driven rock playing. Initially influenced by his older brother Jimmy, SRV released Texas Flood — his breakthrough album with his band Double Trouble — in 1983, and quickly established himself as one of the most exciting blues players of the 1980s. Though he struggled with drug and alcohol addiction throughout most of his career, Vaughan had finally rid himself of those demons by the end of the ’80s and was widely recognized as one of the greatest talents to ever pick up a six-string. Ironically enough, Vaughan died on Aug. 27, 1990 – after jamming with Eric Clapton and Robert Cray – when the helicopter he was riding into crashed into a ski slope and killed all five people aboard the aircraft. In 2000, Vaughan was inducted into the Blues Hall Of Fame, but anyone who’s ever heard his recordings knows SRV doesn’t need a plaque to prove he’s one of the most influential bluesmen of the 20th century.

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Kurt Cobain

It’s difficult to write anything about Kurt Cobain that hasn’t already been documented a million times before, however it’s also difficult to envision the current musical landscape without his band Nirvana and their paradigm-shifting sophomore release Nevermind. While the glam-rock icons that reigned supreme in the ’80s seemed like superheroes, Nirvana’s brand of grunge made being a musician seem accessible to hordes of teenagers in the Midwest who didn’t want to spend hours teasing their hair before school. Cobain never set out to be a role model, and ultimately his anxiety and chronic stomach problems drove him to drug use. On April 8, 1994, an electrician discovered Cobain’s body inside his Seattle home with a shotgun lying next to him. A suicide note was also found inside the room, as were traces of heroin and Valium in his body. It is estimated that the Nirvana frontman had been dead for three days.

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