Friday the 13th: 13 Bad Luck Rockers
When it comes to ranking the unluckiest people in the world, rock stars on the whole fall somewhere between lottery winners and heirs to vast oil fortunes. Not many people have sympathy for famous musicians, who rake in buckets of money, tour the globe, bask in the adoration of fans and tend to have successful romantic lives — all while never having to punch a clock at a nine-to-five job. But rock stars don’t always have it easy, and sometimes things can go very, very wrong. There seem to be significant dangers associated with the career, whether it’s from the constant traveling or simply just living the rebellious and deceptively high-pressure rock and roll lifestyle. With that in mind, join us on this Friday the 13th as we take a look at 13 artists and bands who have had their rock dreams sullied by extreme cases of bad luck …
Lynyrd Skynyrd was just five shows into the biggest tour of their relatively young career when on Oct. 20, 1977, the band’s chartered plane ran out of fuel and crashed into the woods of Gillsburg, Miss., killing Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines and Cassie Gaines and seriously injuring the rest of the band. Skynyrd broke up after the accident, only to reunite in 1987. Survivor Allen Collins’ bad luck only continued. He would be in a serious car crash in 1986 that left him paralyzed from the waist down and unable to take part in the reunion. He died on Jan. 23, 1990, from chronic pneumonia.
The Allman Brothers Band
Almost exactly one year after Allman Brothers Band guitarist Duane Allman was killed on Oct. 29, 1971 in a motorcycle accident at Macon, Ga., bassist Berry Oakley died in another motorcycle crash just a few blocks away. Duane’s crash happened right after the classic 1971 double-live album At Fillmore East — considered by many his shining moment as a guitarist — was certified gold.
In Ace Frehley‘s book No Regrets, he vividly recalls almost drowning on two separate occasions. The first happened while in Florida on a Kiss tour when he drunkenly fell into the hotel pool, only to be fished out by Gene Simmons. Frehley was also nearly electrocuted after touching an ungrounded metal railing while on tour – again in Florida. Despite the power surge, he returned 30 minutes later and managed to finish the show. That incident inspired the 1977 track “Shock Me.”
Members of the Rolling Stones are famous today for outliving their expiration dates, but Brian Jones did not experience such good fortune. After serving as the Stones’ early leader and manager, Jones saw his role steadily diminish as they gained popularity. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards took control in June 1969, when Jones was asked to leave. Less than a month later on July 2, his body was discovered floating at the bottom of his pool. The official coroner’s report ruled it “death by misadventure,” making Jones one of the first members of the so-called “27 Club.”
Syd Barrett served as frontman for Pink Floyd during its psychedelic early years. But, after composing the majority of Floyd’s 1967 debut The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Barrett’s increasing use of drugs seemed to trigger psychological problems. He became increasingly withdrawn, eventually suffering a psychotic breakdown from which he would never fully recover. By 1968, Pink Floyd had parted ways with Barrett. He released two more solo albums, then lived the rest of his life as a recluse before dying in 2006 from pancreatic cancer.
A member of the pre-fame Beatles, Best wouldn’t make it to their glory years – becoming a trivia answer for the ages. He was fired after producer George Martin suggested they bring in a session drummer for a 1962 session. Untold riches and rock immortality went instead to Ringo Starr, his replacement. A distraught Best is said to have attempted suicide at the peak of Beatlemania. Years later, however, he would finally cash in on his footnote role with a multi-million dollar royalty check after the 1995 release of the Beatles’ rarites-packed Anthology.
Cliff Burton was on top of the world after replacing original Metallica bassist Ron McGovney in 1983, as the group quickly became one of the biggest underground metal bands in the world. Four short years later, however, Burton died in a 1986 tour accident in Sweden, having been thrown from his bunk and crushed when their bus skidded on ice and flipped over. He’d won the privilege of sleeping in that particular bed by drawing an ace of spades in a card game with his bandmates.
AC/DC is justly famous for its work with a pair of well-known frontmen in Bon Scott and Brian Johnson over the years. Few seem to remember Evans, the band’s short-lived original vocalist. He fronted the Aussie outfit in 1973, releasing the single “Can I Sit Next To You, Girl” before settling into a series of far-less-famous bands after being fired over artistic differences and clashes with management.
Talk about adding insult to injury: Tracii Guns saw a band partly named after him go on to multi-platinum superstardom — after he departed. He’d helped form Guns N’ Roses with Axl Rose in 1985, merging his band L.A. Guns with Axl’s Hollywood Rose. The lineup didn’t last long, however, with Tracii and his fellow ex-L.A. bandmates soon departing. They were replaced with Slash, Duff McKagan and Steven Adler, as Guns N’ Roses went on to become, well … Guns N’ Roses. Tracii would reunite L.A. Guns, but continue to toil in relative obscurity.
Although he lost his arm in a 1984 accident, Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen’s story ultimately is one of triumph over adversity. After smashing his Corvette into a wall, he acquired a custom-made kit and taught himself to use it with one arm and two legs. He still drums with Def Leppard to this day. Bandmate Steve Clark, however, wasn’t so lucky. After years of battling addiction, he died of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs and booze. His girlfriend found his body at their Chelsea apartment in January 1991, the morning after a night of heavy drinking.
Forgive us for lightening the mood just for a second, but the word “luck” isn’t part of the vocabulary of Spinal Tap, a beloved fictional metal band featured in the 1984 mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap. Nothing ever seems to go right for them, least of all with the drumming position. Ultimately, they went through a seemingly endless series of bandmates, each of whom died under bizarre circumstances: spontaneous human combustion, a “bizarre gardening accident,” and choking to death on the vomit of person(s) unknown. The police ruled that last one “a mystery better left unsolved.”
Without bad luck, Badfinger seemingly would have had no luck at all. Sure, they scored four consecutive hits in the early ’70s, but from there the group would only endure bad business deals, diminishing returns and tragic loss. Members of Badfinger fell into a deep despair, and in April 1975 singer-guitarist Pete Ham hanged himself in his garage at just 27. Badfinger attempted to carry on, only to find itself rocked once again by suicide. Bassist Tom Evans killed himself in November 1983, again by hanging. Drummer Mike Gibbins then died in his sleep in 2005, the victim of a brain aneurysm.
Steve Peregrin Took
Took’s death might be the most bizarre of all. Guitarist for T. Rex in the early ’70s, he wouldn’t begin receiving long-overdue royalty checks until the turn of the ’80s. Flush with excitement over a payment in October 1980, Took loaded up on booze and drugs – only to be found the next morning having reportedly choked to death on a cocktail cherry. The official cause of death, echoing Brian Jones’ elsewhere on our list of 13 Bad Luck Rockers, was ruled “death by drug misadventure.”