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Strangest Rock Deaths: 10 Most Bizarre Casualties In Music History
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List & Guides

Strangest Rock Deaths: 10 Most Bizarre Casualties In Music History

Even by the music industry’s eccentric standards, the strangest rock deaths of all time perplex as much as they intrigue…

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For decades, the rock’n’roll lifestyle has attracted many musicians enthralled by the idea of living fast and dying young. However, while music history is littered with examples of death by self-inflicted misadventure, it also accounts for a small coterie of artists who have prematurely checked out in such mysterious ways they almost suspend belief. Here we pay heartfelt respect to the ten strangest rock deaths of all time…

Listen to our Rock Classics playlist here, and check out the ten strangest rock deaths of all time, below.

10: “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott

Died: 8 December 2004 | Age: 38

Cause of death: Fatally shot while performing

The story
Famous for founding influential Texan thrash metal outfit Pantera alongside his brother, drummer Vinnie Paul, “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott enjoyed mainstream success during the

90s when his band’s ferocious third album, Far Beyond Driven, went to No.1 on the Billboard 200.

However, the influential guitarist suffered one of the strangest rock deaths, in especially violent circumstances, on 8 December 2004. Pantera had disbanded a year earlier, and Abbott was performing live with his new act, Damageplan, at the Alrosa Villa in Columbus, Ohio. Shortly after the group steamed into their set, a 25-year-old former marine, Nathan Gale, shot Abbott multiple times with a 9mm Beretta pistol.

The guitarist took three bullets to the head and died instantly. Gale went on to kill four people in total and wound seven others before police officers shot him dead. Thousands of fans attended Abbott’s public memorial, and the guest list included artists such as Eddie Van Halen, Slipknot’s Corey Taylor and Alice In Chains’ Jerry Cantrell.

Abbott was buried alongside his mother, Carolyn, at the Moore Memorial Gardens cemetery in Arlington, Texas. Gene Simmons donated a Kiss Kasket for the service, and Eddie Van Halen gifted his original black-and-yellow-striped 1979 Charvel “Bumblebee” guitar, featured on the back cover of Van Halen II, to be included in the coffin.

Must hear: War Nerve

9: Claude François

Died: 11 March 1978 | Age: 39

Cause of death: Electrocuted in the shower

The story
Though not a household name in the UK or the US, the celebrated Egyptian-born French singer who wrote Comme D’Habitude (the original version of Frank Sinatra’s My Way) was a huge star in his home country, selling a staggering 70 million albums during his career and – at one stage – dating Eurovision winner France Gall. Former French President Valéry Giscard D’Estaing even went so far as to claim François was “the French equivalent of The Beatles, meaning the great talent of a generation”.

After such a glittering career, François died by accident in a manner which is both bizarre and banal among the strangest rock deaths. While taking a shower in his Paris apartment, he noticed that a light fixture in the bathroom wasn’t correctly placed on the wall. He decided to try to straighten it and, as he did so – with his hands all wet – the vocalist was fatally electrocuted.

Must hear: Comme D’Habitude

8: Steve Peregrin Took

Died: 27 October 1980 | Age: 31

Cause of death: Asphyxiation after choking on a cherry

The story
English multi-instrumentalist Steve Peregrin Took (real name Stephen Ross Porter) enjoyed a modicum of fame alongside Marc Bolan in Tyrannosaurus Rex during the late 60s, but never rose about cult status, despite being involved in outfits such as Pink Fairies and Hawkwind offshoot Inner City Unit during the 70s.

Offstage, Took was an extremely colourful character. He had a well-documented history of drug abuse and was in a relationship with drug baroness Gertrude De Freyne during the mid-70s. By 1980, however, Took was living in London’s Notting Hill district with girlfriend Valerie Billiet. The day before Took died, the pair had injected morphine, yet it wasn’t an overdose that killed the musician – he asphyxiated after inhaling the cherry in a cocktail he was drinking at the time.

Must hear: Syd’s Wine

7: Robert Johnson

Died:16 August 1938 | Age: 27

Cause of death: Alleged poisoning

The story
Other than being known as the pioneer of blues music and an influence on pretty much every rock musician to pick up a guitar, Robert Johnson’s life and death is shrouded in the kind of myth and mystery that rock’n’roll revels in.

Despite recording 29 hypnotic (and sometimes chilling) songs during his lifetime, very little was known of Johnson outside the small musical circuit in the Mississippi Delta where he spent most of his time – and much of his story has been reconstructed after his death by researchers. Johnson’s poorly documented life has given rise to much legend, including the long-running rock’n’roll staple that he sold his soul to the devil at a local crossroads to achieve musical success.

It has been ascertained that Johnson died on 16 August 1938, at the age of 27, near Greenwood, Mississippi. His death was not reported publicly; he merely disappeared from the historical record. It was not until almost 30 years later, when Gayle Dean Wardlow, a Mississippi-based musicologist researching Johnson’s life, discovered the singer’s death certificate and the truth became known. However, the document listed only the date and location of Johnson’s death, with no official cause.

Some say Johnson died after drinking some poisoned whiskey, while others say he was murdered by the jealous husband of a woman he was flirting with, but the jury will probably remain out forever. Indeed, even the location of Johnson’s grave remains contested, as three different markers have been erected at possible sites in church cemeteries outside Greenwood.

Must hear: Cross Road Blues

6: Randy Rhoades

Died: 19 March 1982 | Age: 25

Cause of death: Plane crash during dangerous prank

The story
The prodigiously talented Californian-born guitarist Randy Rhoades was educated in classical guitar, but cut his teeth as a rock guitarist with Quiet Riot before reaching his peak in Ozzy Osbourne’s solo band, enjoying acclaim for his playing on such heavy metal staples as Crazy Train and Mr Crowley, on the multi-platinum-selling Blizzard Of Ozz album.

Rhoades may have envisaged the brightest of futures for himself, but instead he died one of the strangest rock deaths of them all. While on the way to playing the Rock Super Bowl XIV Festival in Orlando, Florida, in March 1982, his band’s tour bus stopped in Leesburg for repairs to a faulty air-conditioning system. Noticing a nearby airstrip during this enforced break, bus driver and ex-commercial pilot Andrew Aycock stole a small plane without permission and, with Rhoads and makeup artist Rachel Youngblood on board, “buzzed” the tour bus. However, one of the plane’s wings clipped the top of the bus and the plane ploughed into a garage. Everyone on board was killed instantly.

Must hear: Crazy Train

5: Bobby Fuller

Died: 18 July 1966 | Age: 23

Cause of death: Accidental suicide

The story
Texan-born guitarist, singer and songwriter Bobby Fuller appeared to be destined for greatness after he moved to Los Angeles in 1964 with his band, The Bobby Fuller Four. The group were signed to Mustang Records by producer Bob Keane, who was noted for discovering Ritchie Valens and producing many surf-music outfits.

Fuller quickly made inroads in the US charts. He scored an initial Top 40 hit with the self-penned Let Her Dance, but his second, the Sonny Curtis-penned I Fought The Law, peaked at No.9 on the Billboard Hot 100 in March 1966 and looked set to propel the singer to stardom.

However, only a couple of months after this breakthrough, Fuller was found dead in his mother’s car. Gasoline vapours surrounded his body, but with no bruises, cuts, broken bones or any other evidence of bodily harm, Fuller’s death was ruled an accidental suicide. In retrospect, the verdict was shaky at best, with many people believing that Fuller was murdered, and that the vapours were added as a cover-up. Bandmate Jim Reese even suspected that the notorious Charles Manson played a role in Fuller’s mysterious demise, but couldn’t provide any credible evidence in support of his theory.

Must hear: I Fought The Law

4: Kirsty MacColl

Died: 18 December 2000 | Age: 41

Cause of death: Suspicious boating accident

The story
Much-loved singer-songwriter Kirsty MacColl notched up early solo hits with There’s A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis and her sublime cover of Billy Bragg’s New England, but her unforgettable duet with The Pogues’ Shane MacGowan on Fairytale Of New York turned her into a household name.

MacColl’s final solo album, 2000’s Tropical Brainstorm, went gold and should have been her springboard to further success. However, while she was on holiday in Cozumel, Mexico, with her partner and two sons in December that same year, she was hit by a speedboat and died instantly, aged just 41.

Aside from the human tragedy involved, it’s long been thought that MacColl’s death, though chalked up as an accident, was actually the result of foul play. For one thing, it occurred while she and her party were in a designated diving zone with restricted entry, so the speedboat should never have entered the area. Additionally, while boat hand Cen Yam was found guilty of culpable homicide and sentenced to two years and ten months in prison, eyewitnesses said he wasn’t at the controls, and that the boat was travelling much faster than was reported at the time.

Must hear: Fairytale Of New York

3: Jeff Porcaro

Died: 5 August 1992 | Age: 38

Cause of death: Bizarre gardening accident

The Story
The Spinal Tap anecdote in which the group’s original drummer dies in a bizarre gardening accident was, of course, entirely apocryphal, but it was anything but funny when a real gardening-related accident claimed the life of Toto drummer and session musician extraordinaire, Jeff Porcaro, in August 1992.

The story goes that Porcaro had been spraying insecticide in the garden of his home, suffered an allergic reaction, and died that evening in hospital. The LA County Coroner’s Office, however, stated that the cause of death was a heart attack induced by cocaine abuse.

Porcaro’s surviving bandmates and family vigorously denied this, saying that while Porcaro did use cocaine, he was in no way a heavy abuser. Guitarist Steve Lukather pointed out that Porcaro had a congenital heart condition and that two of his uncles had died of heart disease when they were 40. “It was irresponsible journalism,” Lukather told Classic Rock. “He was probably smoking a cigarette or a joint. He didn’t have gloves on. That’s how the chemicals got into his skin.”

Must hear: Africa

2: Mike Edwards

Died: 3 September 2010 | Age: 62

Cause of death: Crushed by a giant hay bale

The story
Even by rock music’s extreme standards, English cellist Mike Edwards suffered one of the strangest deaths in history. He was crushed by a cylindrical hay bale weighing 1,300 pounds, which rolled down a hillside and collided with the van Edwards was driving on the A381 in Devon.

A member of Electric Light Orchestra from 1972 to 1975, Edwards had moved to the West Country in later life, in order to work on a variety of projects. He also taught the cello and viola, but was working for a water-delivery firm at the time of his death, on 3 September 2010.

It transpired that two local farmers had created the enormous hay bale for use as silage, but had left it halfway down a field, where it later rolled away of its own volition and landed on Edwards’ van, crushing him to death as he was driving to his home in Totnes. Despite this tragic outcome, a subsequent court case ruled that the two farmers were not guilty of health-and-safety violations.

Must hear: Daybreaker

1: Jim Morrison

Died: 3 July 1971 | Age: 27

Cause of death: Heart failure from unknown causes

The story
Though the most high-profile of these strangest rock deaths, Jim Morrison’s tragically premature demise remains shrouded in mystery and still leaves questions unanswered.

Widely renowned as one of the best frontmen of all time, The Doors’ singer epitomised the rock’n’roll lifestyle: enigmatic, somewhat troubled and prone to excess, Morrison was also an incredibly talented lyricist and performer. He famously died in the bathtub in his Parisian apartment, with drug-related misadventure strongly rumoured, but never proved, as no autopsy was ever carried out. To add to the enigma factor, after Morrison’s closed-casket funeral, stories spread that he’d faked his own death – rumours which continue to fly in the social-media-obsessed 21st century.

Must hear: Break On Through (To The Other Side)

He’s topped our list of the strangest rock deaths of all time, now find out where Jim Morrison ranks among our best frontmen in rock’n’roll history.

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