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Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Top 20 Most Unusual Rockstar Deaths


Top 20 Most Unusual Rockstar Deaths
"And dying is dry, like a fact of history. And when you die, you'll become something worse than dead. You'll become a legend."
- Mike Patton (STAR A.D. with Faith No More)

As some people may have worked out by now, I quite like music. Painfully so, it physically hurts me. And a big part of this hurt, is the irrational jealousy I feel towards the people who perform such music; the faces we put to the songs we love so much, who live life at full speed and get photos taken of them while they do so. However (and as everyone knows), the only thing better than a rockstar, is a dead rockstar. So it goes without saying (and yet I’ll say it anyway) that the only thing better than a dead rockstar, is a rockstar whose death was caused or surrounded by strange circumstances or weird controversy. Because who doesn’t like a story? So armed with this very thought, I decided now was the time to dedicate an entire article to the subject, and happily went along my merry way to tackle the topic which would no doubt be loads of fun to dive right into and research as deeply as I could.

I was wrong. So very wrong. It wasn’t fun at all. Between these reports of overdoses, suicides, murders and conspiracy theories, I became quite depressed. I watched in horror as talented stars fell into traps of excess and ill-judged decisions, their existence snuffed out in some seriously ridiculous and tragic manners. Mortality, man, it’s just so real, so final. I mean, make no mistake, I am not afraid to die, I welcome the fucker, but it’s still kinda sad when it happens to other people (which is why I plan to die before all of you). Regardless, I persevered with my mission, and after many long nights of crying into my coffee and discovering some questionable images on the internet, I eventually arrived at the other end with this gift for you: the Top 20 Most Unusual Rockstar Deaths (according to me). God, the things I do for you people. The least you could do is clean up this mess once in awhile.

Final notes before we get started: The order of this list was difficult, as I tried to mostly ignore musicianship or cultural impact, in favour of the actual deaths themselves. I hope I did ok. Also, I use the term "rockstar" in the broader sense, as it is a name no longer exclusive to those who actually played "rock music". Some of the biggest rockstars I've ever met couldn't play an instrument whatsoever, so there you go, and here we are:


Top 20 Most Unusual Rockstar Deaths: 20. Tommy Tucker

20. Tommy Tucker (1933 - 1982)


As one would expect, a list of this nature would always be rife with musicians whose careers were somewhat overshadowed by their deaths, and this is the case with Tommy Tucker. Which is a shame, because the dude did have some skills. Well, maybe one skill, this one time, but it was still a pretty good time. Basically, he wrote a song called Hi-Heel Sneakers and everyone loved it. So much so, that it climbed up the Billboard Hot 100 chart and settled at #11, continuing on to be recorded by over 1000 artists including such extreme heavyweight legends to likes of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin, Tom Jones, etc etc etc ETC.

Unfortunately he never quite lived up to that one good song, and was eventually forced into a life of real-estate salesmanship, deciding now would be a good time to refinish the hardwood flooring in his house. He got out his standard cleaning carbon tet product, and got to work, polishing everything in sight whilst inhaling a bit too much of the fumes in the process, and then dying suddenly. Moral of the story? Housework is dangerous and can kill you, kids. Which is why I don’t do shit anymore.

But his songs will live forever. Well, one song. Because other people recorded it. Had anyone even heard of Tommy Tucker before?


Top 20 Most Unusual Rockstar Deaths: 19. Bob Marley

19. Bob Marley (1945 - 1981)

The Wailers

Uhm, absolutely no fucking introduction necessary for this prophet-like musician, but I’ll do one anyway because whatever. The Honourable, Nesta Robert "Bob" Marley, OM, is pretty much officially the most popular and best selling reggae performer in history, shipping more than 75 million records worldwide and going on to be rated the 11th greatest artist of all-time by Rolling Stone. The reasons are obvious. He spread the word of Rastafarianism to a higher consciousness. He spread the word of love throughout the globe using the power of music. He spread the word of peace to normal citizens and politicians alike. But unfortunately, these were not the only things that were spreading...

In 1977, it was discovered that Bob had a type of cancer-forming malignant melanoma underneath the nail of his big toe (which some claim was a result of a football injury, others arguing it was a symptom of an already-existing cancer). It didn’t matter. What did matter was that the problem was easily solved, and doctors urged Marley to get his toe amputated, no harm done. Except Bob refused the procedure, as he was a Rastafari, and their Bible verse Leviticus 21:5 states "They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in the flesh." There is something admirable about that. While Angelina Jolie cuts off her tits at the very suggestion of a potential infection, Marley wouldn’t even let his toe go. Instead, he opted to fight the disease with healthy food and liquids, which obviously didn't do a fucking thing, and eventually the once avoidable cancer consumed and killed the god at age 36. He left his final words with son Ziggy: “Money can’t buy life”. Slap that on your filtered Instagrammed sunset photo with Helvetica.

And, as we all know, his legacy lives on. He was posthumously presented with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award; was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; his compilation album Legend has had the second longest Billboard 200 chart run in history (of 992 non-consecutive weeks); films have followed; everyone talks about him all the time; I’m talking about him right now; you know him; you love him; enough; fucking; said.


Top 20 Most Unusual Rockstar Deaths: 18. Kid Thomas

18. Kid Thomas (1934 - 1970)


Reliable details about Mr Thomas are hard to come by, owed mostly to the fact that this American rock and roll/blues musician never reached any proper level of recognition. It’s a bit unfortunate, really, because he obviously had some talent, performing with Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley at a time, as well as landing a couple of solo record deals all by himself. But nothing seemed to stick and the hits alluded him, so much so that his only source of income came from mowing lawns in Los Angeles, dreaming each day away that his Little Richard-esque stage act would push him to the top.

And it never did. Instead, in late 1969, Kid Thomas ran over a young boy with his truck, and killed him, which sucks, as I'm sure you'll agree. But it was purely accidental, mind you, and even though a full-blown manslaughter charge followed, the case was later dismissed due to lack of evidence, allowing Thomas to walk out a free man.

Or so he thought. For waiting outside the courthouse was the deceased child’s father, who took “justice” into his own hands, and shot Kid Thomas dead with one bullet to the head, all those dreams and ambitions leaking onto the sidewalk. Eye for an eye? Two wrongs don’t make a right? What goes around comes around? Pick your cliché wisely.


Top 20 Most Unusual Rockstar Deaths: 17. Kirsty Anna MacColl

17. Kirsty Anna MacColl (1959 - 2000)


Know her or not, Kirsty achieved some proper impressive musical stuff in her career. She worked as a backing singer for some artists you may have heard of, like, I dunno, Robert Plant? The Smiths? Talking Heads? Not to mention she also had a huge string of successful solo records, 18 of her songs hitting the UK Singles Charts, leading on to good artistic friendships with the likes of The Pogues and Johnny Marr. Ok, great, good on her, so what happened? How did she die? I know why you’re here.

Like this: on holiday in Mexico, Kirsty and her sons went diving at the Chankanaab reef, a designated area said to be safe, as no boats were granted entry. Except on this particular day, one naughty speedboat didn’t quite get the message, and upon surfacing from a dive, Kirsty saw the vehicle before anyone else did. It was soaring across the water at mass speeds, heading straight towards her son without showing any signs of slowing down or even noticing him. Instinctively, she did what any good mother would do, and dived towards the child, shoving him so violently out the way that his head was severely bumped and his ribs got bruised. But Kirsty was not so lucky. The boat traveling miles above the speed limit viciously collided into MacColl’s skull with such a force that it killed her instantaneously.

Controversy was quick to follow the tragedy. The boat in question was owned by a Mexican supermarket millionaire named Guillermo González Nova, who was on board at the time. However, it was one of his employees, José Cen Yam, who claimed to be the deadly driver despite witnesses stating otherwise, and he was charged with culpable homicide, sentenced to 2 years 10 months in prison. However, under Mexican laws, he paid a total of about $2,240 instead of serving his time, which many theorised was paid by González Nova himself, the price to keep Cen Yam as the quiet scapegoat. People rightfully felt this was unfair, to the point that the BBC made a documentary about the incident, and U2’s Bono vocally opposed the act during a concert in Mexico. It didn’t matter much though, because the damage had been done and her life was gone, but her legacy lived on with various biographies, films and album re-releases coming out as a result. A memorial concert was held, and a dedicated bench was placed in London's Soho Square, engraved with her fitting lyrics “One day I'll be waiting there. No empty bench in Soho Square". I’ve sat on it before, so it's kinda like our bums have touched because that's the sort of thing I think about. I'm not proud of it.


Top 20 Most Unusual Rockstar Deaths: 16. Rick Dey

16. Rick Dey (1948 - 1973)

The Vejtables

Despite playing as a key member of various Californian rock bands (including The Vejtables, The Wilde Knights, The Giant Sunflower, and The Merry-Go-Round, to name a few), Dey never really became the star he had pushed so hard to become, which is why any decent information on his life and eventual death are hard to come by. But this is how I understand it:

At some point during the early 70’s, Rick attended a Hollywood party, where laughing gas (nitrous oxide) was distributed freely, giving everyone the giggles whilst they conversed with God. Rick had a particular sweet tooth for the chemical, and hit that shit continuously, falling over and over again in hysterics, until he poisoned himself and passed away right there. He literally died laughing. Which isn’t all that funny.

However, his music does live on a bit, if not through him, then through the band Paul Revere & the Raiders. Reportedly, that bands’ manager had previously paid Rick $5,000 for the rights to his song called Just Like Me, which ended up hitting #1 and earning a lot more money than that, especially when it was later covered by Circle Jerks, Joan Jett and Pat Benatar. I’m still thinking about the nitrous thing, though.


Top 20 Most Unusual Rockstar Deaths: 15. Bugz

15. Bugz (1978 - 1999)

D12

Formed in 1996, the Dirty Dozen soared to superstardom, some say owed to a couple of decent hit singles, but deep down we all know it's because Eminem was a member. You see, while D12 may have sold four million copies in the US alone, Eminem has sold just under 50 million, which is a success most artists only have wet dreams about, whilst us common people couldn't even comprehend selling any albums at all. And unfortunately for D12 founding member Bugz, it never got passed that point either, as two years before their debut album dropped, he was murdered and missed all of it.

The incident occurred during a friendly picnic in Detroit's Belle Isle Park. Feeling cheeky in the sun, Bugz and his crew brought along water pistols and began to squirt each other, like playful kids on the school yard. Eventually it developed into a full-blown water gun fight, getting more and more serious, everyone becoming more and more soaked, until someone decided to up it to the next level, brought out a real gun, and shot Bugz three times in the neck and chest, at close range. Talk about shit escalating quickly, Jesus.

Bugz died immediately at the age of 21, and at this stage of their careers where everything looked like it was finally going right, his death hit the rest of the band really hard. Five of the members got Bugz’s name inked on their bodies to keep his role alive, whilst Eminem’s highest-selling album The Marshall Mathers LP was dedicated to his memory. When I die I’m hoping for the same treatment.


Top 20 Most Unusual Rockstar Deaths: 14. Nathan Maddox

14. Nathan Maddox (1977 - 2002)

Gang Gang Dance

First and foremost, let me go on record proclaiming my love for Gang Gang Dance, which is at a much higher level than most entries on this list. Their 2011 album Eye Contact is beyond amazing, going on to be called one of the year's best from Stereogum, Uncut and Pitchfork—to name a few. Yes, it looked like the 10 year old band had finally found the success they had worked so hard to achieve and undoubtedly deserved, which is why it’s such a tragedy that original vocalist Nathan Maddox never got to hear any of it.

This is due to an incident which took place one evening when the 25 year old and his girlfriend climbed onto a six story roof to watch a beautiful storm pass over. According to said girlfriend, they were having a great time, dancing in the rain and jumping to the thunder, when she suddenly awoke to find herself and Nathan lying down metres apart. Surprised, she called out and crawled to him, only to find a burn hole in his baseball cap, his shoes blown apart, and no breathing. The boy had been struck by lightening, and died instantly.

This was well sad, but the statements released from his family and friends did celebrate the man for all the right reasons. They spoke about how well-traveled the Japanese Maddox was, having gone around the world for six years, stopping in Egypt and Israel to study Islamic mysticism and the Kabbalah, before settling in New York to make music. He loved life and always felt there was something more out there for him. His sister even stated that Nathan “lived a lot of lives in 25 years”, and in that way, he existed fast and died young in a blaze of electricity, losing his soul purely out of a desire to witness something beautiful.

Please note: it is literally impossible to find a proper picture of Nathan, and believe me, I tried everything. However, the included image (artwork from Gang Gang Dance's album Saint Dymphna) did feature Maddox's eyes, as did a few of their other releases. Best I could do.


Top 20 Most Unusual Rockstar Deaths: 13. Mikey Welsh

13. Mikey Welsh (1971 - 2011)

Weezer

As one of the more recent unusual deaths in this article, I think it’s safe to say we have all heard about this bassist’s former band. They go by the name of Weezer, and are known as modern day pioneers of Geek Rock, achieving countless hit singles as a result, their debut album selling over 3,000,000 copies in the US alone. But the consistent drug abuse and relentless touring took its toll on dear old Mikey, who had a full-fledged mental-breakdown in 2001, freaking out and attempting to kill himself with an overdose, resulting in a coma for days and heavy psychiatric evaluation following. But this is not what killed him. On the contrary, it rather made him stronger, as he promptly quit Weezer and moved into a quieter more painting orientated lifestyle.

However, a few years ago on September 26, 2011, Welsch posted to his Twitter that he’d "dreamt i died in chicago next weekend (heart attack in my sleep). need to write my will today", followed by "correction – the weekend after next". And then in a total self-fulfilling prophecy, Mikey Welsh died. 2 weeks later. From a heart attack. In his sleep.

Of course, Weezer were sad. We all were. But how eerie is all of this shit, hey? What’s even weirder is that I had a dream last night where I die in 1 week from a car accident. Need to write my will today.


Top 20 Most Unusual Rockstar Deaths: 12. Víctor Jara

12. Víctor Jara (1932 - 1973)


There is a lot to respect about Victor. Born in Chile, he was more than just your average folk singer/songwriter, but also a poet, a teacher and a political activist with a particular interest in theatre. So much so, that he devoted much of his life to the development of the Chilean stage, becoming a pivotal role in the industry. This, and all the other things I said before, and some other stuff I didn’t say, adds up as to why his death was a bit more tragic and depressing than most on this list.

On the morning of September 12, 1973, thousands of people (including Jara) were taken prisoner by the military for political reasons. Jara was recognised due to his fame, and subsequently pulled out of the crowd. There before everyone, the military repeatedly beat him whilst laughing, breaking his ribs but even more barbaric, tearing off his fingernails and smashing the bones inside of his hands. Once said hands were completely deformed, the military mockingly suggested that he should play guitar for them. He defiantly responded by singing part of Venceremos (We Will Win), a song which supported the Popular Unity, the very coalition which lead to his capture in the first place. Frustrated, they continued to beat and torture him until (upon growing bored) they opened machine gun fire onto his body, some 44 bullets found in the corpse afterwards.

Such a terrible story resulted in quite a legacy. Books were written about him. A rock opera was written about him. A film is being worked on about him. U2 sang about him. Bob Dylan played at a benefit concert for him. Even an asteroid was named after him. But for me the most interesting fact is that a lot of this remains unresolved. In 2008, the case was reopened for investigation, and in 2009, new arrests were made. In 2012 another arrest was warranted for a soldier who escaped to Florida and refused to comply, the country still trying to get hold of him. In light of all the new evidence, another funeral was set up for the man in 2009 where thousands came to pay respect to a guy who died in the most horrific of ways, standing up for what he believed in. I dunno, this one made me particularly sad.


Top 20 Most Unusual Rockstar Deaths: 11. Leslie Harvey

11. Leslie Harvey (1944 - 1972)

Stone the Crows (among others)

Scottish born Harvey had quite an impressive list of bands up his sleeve. Stone the Crows was one, Cartoone was another. He was asked to join The Animals, but instead remained with his brother in the Alex Harvey Soul Band. He was in this other group called Blues Council until their tour van crashed, breaking up the band by killing the singer and bassist, which fits this article’s theme nicely, sure, but is not what this entry is about.

No, this entry is about the time Harvey was on stage with Stone the Crows at Swansea Top Rank in 1972. During soundcheck, Les grabbed onto a microphone which was not properly grounded, and due to his wet hands, the circuit was complete and a mass amount of electricity shot through his heart. He died right there: on stage in front of many people, murdered by an acoustic-to-electric transducer.

Besides being a pretty unique and otherwise rockstar way to die, the main “cool” thing about this loss is that Harvey was 27 years old at the time, placing him in the ranks of the legendary Forever 27 Club as one of them lesser known entries. I’m kind of jealous, in a way.


Top 20 Most Unusual Rockstar Deaths: 10. Phillip Bury

10. Phillip Bury (1954 - 1992)

Buck Naked and the Bare Bottom Boys

Buck Naked and the Bare Bottom Boys were a strange sort of Rockabilly band, to the point that they considered themselves “Pornabilly”. What is "Pornabilly", you may ask? Well, if their band name wasn’t enough of a hint, their album title Teenage Pussy From Out Of Space might be a better example of the kind of thing they were into. Not to mention that Phillip (know on stage as Buck Naked) used to perform, uhm, buck naked, resulting in a band who are very difficult to Google at work.

Regardless, all of these shenanigans came to an abrupt end one day when Phillip was walking his Rottweiler in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Not far off was a man named Michael Kagan, well-known to locals as The Pigeon Man. He was doing what he did best: feeding the pigeons like he did every single day, while Bury played with his dog, everyone minding their own business and having a wonderful time. That was until all Hell broke loose. At some point Phillip’s dog decided to chase the pigeons, which is obviously totally unacceptable, because what kind of dog chases stuff? So naturally, this annoyed The Pigeon Man greatly, so much so that he decided to defend his feathered homies by pulling out a gun and opening fire, hitting Phillip in the heart. Murdered for disturbing pigeons. Right.

The Pigeon Man went to jail, and the band faded into distant memory despite their cult following, except for their friends in Primus who were adamant to keep Bury’s memory alive. They referenced the man in their videos for Mr. Krinkle and Wynona's Big Brown Beaver, and they even thanked him in the credits of their Pork Soda album. I totally support this all of this. I totally support nudity.


Top 20 Most Unusual Rockstar Deaths: 09. Yukiko Okada

09. Yukiko Okada (1967 - 1986)


As far as Japanese pop stars go, Yukiko had more than her fair share when it came to a quick rise up the success ladder, and a promising future ahead. She was driven by passion and focused on becoming a star at a very young age, applying to every audition she could find, big or small, even when in junior high. This drive eventually landed her a slot on the Star Tanjō! talent TV show, which she effortlessly won, forcing the world to take notice as doors began to open up all around her. Her third single earned the 26th Japan Record Awards' Grand Prix Best New Artist Award; she played the leading role in the television drama Kinjirareta Mariko; and she achieved a number 1 single the following year. All of this was before the age of 18, by the way.

And then the story gets weird. One day, her manager entered her apartment, only to find it had been intentionally filled with noxious gas from her stove. He frantically searched her home until he discovered the star sobbing in her closet, both wrists slashed while she bled out, waiting to die. Was this merely a cry for help? Personally, I don’t think so. I say this because, two hours later, she simply walked over to her seven-story window, and jumped out to her demise, proving she was dead serious on being seriously dead. And nobody has any idea why.

But even as peculiar and unresolved all of this is, it’s the ultimate result which truly earns the spot on this list. Within a month, 17 fans had performed copycat suicides, and it didn’t even end there, the death toll eventually rising to 31 (19 of which came from building jumps). It escalated into such a media storm that the term “Yukiko Syndrome” was coined to describe the phenomenon, and to me, that’s pretty fucking unusual.


Top 20 Most Unusual Rockstar Deaths: 08. Dimebag Darrell

08. Dimebag Darrell (1966 - 2004)

Pantera/Damageplan

One of the more recognisable members on this list, Dimebag Darrell’s guitarwork (and death) have pushed his name into legendary levels throughout the metal world, and far beyond driven. This is understandable, as the band Pantera (who he helped create) have sold around 20 million records worldwide, some of which went to #1, and all of which influenced more Nu Metal groups than you could shake a peaked cap at. Dimebag himself was often praised even higher than his comrades, ranking as the 92nd Greatest Guitarist of all time according Rolling Stone magazine, while Metal Hammer said he was best.

But all of this came to a tragic halt when, in 2004 whilst playing a set with Damageplan in Ohio, a crazy fan named Nathan Gale opened fire onto the stage. Darrell got hit three times in the head, while three other guys died and a further seven were wounded. Nobody knew why this silent murderer had performed such an act; some theorising it was in retaliation to Pantera's break up, others insisting that Gale believed Dimebag had stolen a song from him. But we never found out. Instead, the proven severely schizophrenic man was blasted into his own death by a cop shortly afterward, and the whole messy scene came to a dissatisfactory end.

As for Darrell, he will forever be remembered not only for his killer riffs, but also as a really nice guy—which is why the metal world’s tributes knew no bounds. Some of the artists who have paid their respects include: Creed, Trivium, Disturbed, Buckethead, Nickleback, Machine Head, Static X, Avenged Sevenfold, Black Label Society, Ace Frehley, Slayer, Type O Negative, Korn, Evanescence... it would really take too long to list them all. But I feel, in some small way, it’s totally cool that Dimebag died doing what he loved the most: playing his music on his guitar for his fans. There are worse things.


Top 20 Most Unusual Rockstar Deaths: 07. Charles Haddon

07. Charles Haddon (1988 - 2010)

Ou Est Le Swimming Pool

While Charles and his band were never the most famous London synthpop outfit in existence, they weren’t doing all that bad for themselves either. Their song Dance the Way I Feel hit number 10 in the UK Indie charts; they supported La Roux on one of her tours; and they performed at such prestigious festivals to the likes of Glastonbury, Besitval and Pukkelpop. Actually, Pukkelpop is kinda where this story begins...

During said festival, the 22 year old singer got a bit excited and stage dived into the crowd, as you do. Unfortunately, he didn’t aim quite right and landed heavily on a young girl near the front, injuring her so badly that she had to be carried off the dance floor and rushed to the hospital. Haddon naturally felt terrible about this, and after the show, called the girl’s Dad on the phone to apologise and get an update on her condition. Her dad aggressively informed Charles that the girl had suffered three damaged vertebrae and legal action would surely follow up. But he was wrong. No, instead what followed up, was Haddon drinking as much beer and vodka as he could stomach (reaching twice the legal driving limit), and then stage-diving once again, off of a 60ft scaffolding mast, and onto his concrete death.

A part of me feels this is weirdly admirable; such an overwhelming concern about his misjudgement that he took his own life due to the guilt. Another side of me thinks it’s fucking chicken-shit; afraid of facing the consequences and opting to die rather than deal with anything. But whatever your opinion, the music community recognised the loss of talent, and a few bands got together to play a tribute show in his honour, including The Kooks, Kissy Sell Out and The Horrors, raising more than £8,000 for charities fighting against depression. In fact, the singer from The Horrors’ side project (Cat's Eyes) dedicated their debut album to the guy, so he won’t be forgotten just yet, but probably quite soon.


Top 20 Most Unusual Rockstar Deaths: 06. Claude François

06. Claude François (1939 - 1978)


Born in Egypt and raised in France, this pop-singing/writing sexy-dancing superstar has been criminally overlooked in the English speaking world, but is a household name in his own country. Point proven when he was frequently said to be what Cliff Richard was to Great Britain for France, and when former French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing was quoted saying that Claude was his Beatles. No wonder then, that the man went on to sell 70 million records, and wrote the original versions of My Boy (made famous by Elvis Presley), and My Way (made famous by Frank Sinatra).

And like something out of Final Destination, Claude dodged the Grim Reaper like a boss, collapsing on stage due to exhaustion in 1971, then narrowly escaping an IRA bomb blast in 1975. Two years later, a gangster attempted to assassinate the singer in a drive-by, the gunfire luckily missing, fueling rumours that François was impervious to death. Not so much, as it turns out. For a few years later whilst having a bath, Claude noticed a defective light above his tub. With his feet in the water, he attempted to change the fixture, and electrocuted himself to death. Defeated by a light bulb.

Since the tragic passing, a memorial was built right outside the building in which he died, and a movie was put together about his life (fittingly titled My Way). However, the most surprising result was how many heartbroken women reportedly attempted to electrocute themselves in order to meet up with the star in the afterlife. Silly girls, celebrities and normal people go to different heavens, don't you know anything?


Top 20 Most Unusual Rockstar Deaths: 05. Rezső Seress

05. Rezső Seress (1899 - 1968)


Born in Hungary, Rezső will always be best remembered for his song Gloomy Sunday, as this piano driven tune has had more urban legends associated with it than any other composition I can think of, and for one reason: it was genuinely fucking bleak. So bleak, in fact, that no one initially wanted anything to do with it, one publisher famously quoting “it is not that the song is sad, there is a sort of terrible compelling despair about it. I don't think it would do anyone any good to hear a song like that”. However, someone eventually did release it, and what followed extended beyond astonishing. Suicides. A load of suicides. In fact, at least 19 rumoured suicides were directly linked to this track, including: a teenage girl drowning herself whilst clutching the sheet music; a shopkeeper killing himself, leaving the lyrics as a suicide note; a woman overdosing whilst playing the record on loop; an errand boy who overheard a beggar humming the song, and responded by jumping off a bridge; a Berlin man shooting himself after telling relatives he "couldn’t get that damn song out of my head"; a lady gassing herself after requesting the song be played at her funeral... I'll stop there. Because while the link between the song and those suicides have never been 100% authenticated, the list does go on and on and on, so much so that the authorities banned the track from all Hungarian public performances, and some radio stations refused to play it. Because people were dying, man.

But the song not only extended outward, but also inverted inward into Seress’ personal life. Some people claim that his ex-fiancee (of whom the song was written about) committed suicide after hearing it, her note including only the words “Gloomy Sunday”. True or not, Rezső continued to fall into deeper depressions, even talking about how he knew he could never write another song as good as this one. Eventually, he decided to follow all those he had inspired, and jumped out of a window to kill himself. Miraculously, he survived, but managed to choke himself to death with a wire whilst in hospital a few hours later.

In fact, the only piece of this story which actually survived, is the song itself. But despite being covered by such highly regarded acts like Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, Elvis Costello, Sinéad O'Connor, Anton LaVey, Sarah McLachlan and Bjork, nobody could quite capture the Hungarian essence of what made Gloomy Sunday "the suicide song", and as a result, left Rezső Seress the undefeated suicide master. I mean, his particular death wasn’t all that unusual per se, but the story and the related deaths themselves are a tale unlike any other, as if he played the pied piper, singing the children over the cliff before jumping right after them when the job was done. And that's unusual.


Top 20 Most Unusual Rockstar Deaths: 04. Steve Peregrin Took

04. Steve Peregrin Took (1949 - 1980)

T.Rex

Took was in loads of bands during his time, but the most well-known by far would be the glam rock outfit T.Rex. At one time, this legendary band consisted only of Took and guy named Marc Bolan, together earning quite a hippie following owed in part to the high praise they received from renowned disc jockey John Peel. But tensions were high between the two members; Bolan was engaged to his sweetheart and preferred the quiet life, while Took made friends with Syd Barrett and consumed mass amounts of LSD. Their strained relationship came to breaking point during a Rolling Stone launch party, where Took (well known as “The Phantom Spiker”) placed the hallucinogen STP in the social punch. The drug really fucked Bolan's head in a bad way, and he wasn't impressed with the spiking whatsoever, so much so that he fired Steve immediately after he'd sobered up.

Took responded by taking a fuckload more drugs and creating some weird music to minimal success. However, royalties from T.Rex were still coming in quite regularly, meaning money wasn’t an issue, which ultimately became the issue. On the day of his passing, armed with a recent paycheque, Took bought a load of magic mushrooms and morphine, getting well smashed and messy. He then made himself an innocent cocktail, drank it, accidentally inhaled the cherry, and choked to death. Murdered by a small fruit, a little less rockstar.

But his work with T.Rex will never be forgotten, as they are often cited as huge influences on The Smiths and Oasis, as well as being referenced in songs by The Who, David Bowie, Ramones, My Chemical Romance and R.E.M. Some unknown English rock band called Pocketful O'Nowt also named a song after him, probably only to get a mention on his Wikipedia page.


Top 20 Most Unusual Rockstar Deaths: 03. Johnny Ace

03. Johnny Ace (1929 - 1954)


As an ex-member of the B. B. King band, and with nine or so hits in a row during the 50’s all by himself, it’s safe to say this American rhythm and blues singer knew what he was doing and wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Except to say, of course, he did go somewhere pretty soon. He went dead. Obviously, why else would he be here?

Exactly what happened isn’t entirely clear, but one thing was for certain: Ace loved his guns, and that’s where the trouble began. He always carried one with him wherever he went, and was known to shoot them from his car randomly when he grew restless. This behaviour all came to a fitting end when, during a break between sets at a Christmas show in Texas, he decided to have a quick play with his .22 caliber revolver. Some say he was partaking in a game of Russian roulette. Others say he was showing off to some girls by aiming the gun at them, and upon making them feel uncomfortable, wanted to prove it wasn’t loaded. Whatever the case, he pointed the gun at his head with a smile on his face, pulled the trigger and blasted his brains out, completely by accident. A Darwin Award worthy death for certain.

Because of the sudden and sad loss, his song Pledging My Love went straight to number one for 10 weeks, and interestingly enough, Elvis Presley later recorded his own version of the track in his last studio session ever. Bob Dylan was known to cover the man’s tunes too, and Paul Simon even wrote a song called The Late Great Johnny Ace, preserving his name in history and keeping the man alive forever on that level. It was pretty stupid though.


Top 20 Most Unusual Rockstar Deaths: 02. Taylor Mitchell

02. Taylor Mitchell (1990 - 2009)


Born in Canada and only surviving until the ripe age of 19, this folk singer appeared to have quite a promising career ahead of her. She already had one independent release under her belt; had performed at Winnipeg Folk Festival; and was nominated for a Canadian Folk Music Award for Young Performer of the Year a mere few days before her death. Which is why this story sucks.

During an afternoon hike alone through the Skyline Trail in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia, three coyotes crossed her path. While there were no witnesses, it has been suggested that Mitchell attempted to flee instead of standing her ground (which isn’t a good idea, in case you ever fall into the same situation, free survival advice right there) and a chase ensued. The coyotes soon caught her and began to eat her brains out of her head, until another group of hikers came across the scene, and managed to chase the coyotes away before calling emergency services. She was airlifted to a hospital but died overnight due to her injuries, making Taylor the only adult person (and second person overall) known to have been fatally attacked by coyotes in history.

Rumours went crazy due to the usually placid nature of the animals, some claiming it must have been wild coyote-wolf hybrids, others arguing they were surely rabid. But after six were shot and killed (three of which were directly linked to the murder due to pieces of Taylor found within their stomach contents), it was confirmed that neither of these scenarios were the case. But what is interesting is that my friend and fellow Funpowder Plot member, The Freewheelin’ Troubadour, ended up meeting one of the hikers who stumbled across Taylor whilst she was under attack. So if you wish to hear this gruesome tale from the mouth of someone who knows more than any, I recommend downloading and reading my mate’s book, which you can get for free here (with the simple trade of an email address, which we feel is fair).


Top 20 Most Unusual Rockstar Deaths: 01. Marvin Gaye

01. Marvin Gaye (1939 - 1984)


All hail the Prince of Motown and Soul. By now I am fairly convinced most people are aware of the Grammy Award Winning artist named Marvin Gaye, who had such a huge impact on black music which was said to “span the entire history of rhythm and blues from fifties doo-wop to eighties contemporary soul” (according to various historians), all the while tackling social issues coupled with overtly sexual themes like it ain't no thang. In total, Gaye reached the Billboard charts a total 67 times, and his album What’s Going On in particular hit #1 in the R&B charts, going on to be being ranked the 6th greatest album of all time by Rolling Stone magazine. So, yeah. Decent.

But Marvin had a couple of problems or so. Due to tax evasions, he was $4.5 million in debt. He recorded the album Here, My Dear purely to pay child support to his ex-wife which he could no longer afford. He had become pretty dependent on cocaine, which in turn increased his paranoia to the point that he would only perform if he wore a bulletproof vest. He started to do weird stuff like wearing three overcoats or putting his shoes on the wrong feet or jumping out of speeding cars in an attempt to kill himself. He eventually moved back in with his parents at age 44, but tensions between him and his father were high, as his mom and dad would frequently argue, and Marvin would always take his mom’s side. One night it got particularly heated over a missing document of some sort, and Marvin punched his father in the face a couple of times. To which his dad retaliated by retrieving his .38 Smith & Wesson caliber pistol (which Marvin had actually purchased for the man) and then shot the singer straight in the heart. Such a legend murdered by his own father seemed unusual enough for me to grant this entry the top position, because the thought of such a thing has always stuck with me in the worst of ways.

His dad was sentenced to a six-year suspended sentence and five years probation, and was reportedly very remorseful over the incident. I don’t think we should put too much blame on the guy though, especially when you learn that Marvin’s last words were “I couldn't do it myself, so I had him do it” in reference to his own failed suicide attempts. He wanted it this way. Regardless, the world mourned, as he was a major influence to many artists young and old, including: Stevie Wonder, A Perfect Circle, The Strokes, Gil Scott-Heron, Michael Jackson, Kanye West, Nas, and many many more. He went on to be posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He was also the 13th Top-Earning Dead Celebrity in 2008 according to Forbes Magazine, but funny enough, he never left a will, so dunno who’s actually rich right now. Not me, anyway. Enough of that.


Don't bother reading this.
Believe it or not, I actually started writing this post in late 2007. I have no idea why it took me so long to finish, but one of the reasons would be that the initial draft got derailed and developed into a completely different article all together. That article was one of my most revered pieces which went by the name of The Top 20 Naughtiest Musicians, Ever, released in 2010, and as I’m sure you would agree, it was in a very similar vein to this one. Which is why, by all means, I have always considered this idea to be the sequel, or at least the sibling of that effort, which has been stuck in my stomach for years, and it is a relief to finally get out my system.

But credit when credit is due, and just like the naughtiest musicians article, this piece owes (not exclusive, but major) thanks to Goregirl’s list on Rate Your Music, titled BIZARRE!!! The Dead, The Criminals and The Strange tales related to Music and Musicians, as it is such a huge resource and quick read for the fucking weird shit in the music world. I read every single one of those 1442 entries, whittled them down to my 73 favourites, painstakingly cut away until 32 were left, and then finally settled on the 20 you see above. It wasn't easy, some good ones got left off, maybe you'll disagree with some that got left on, but either way, we are all going to die. Have a nice evening.


2 comments :

  1. Somebody forgot the one and only Michael Jackson!

    ReplyDelete