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Popular Musicians Who Died From Drugs

Updated on April 23, 2016
RJ Schwartz profile image

When he's not writing poetry or political articles, Ralph fills his time by researching various topics that are influencing society today.

With the recent passing of the legendary pop icon Prince, right on the heels of Scott Weiland of the Stone Temple Pilots, society once again will pay attention to history and relive the lives of other famous stars who left us too soon. Preliminary reports are that Prince was yet another victim of his own hand; not intentional, but nevertheless true, as he overdosed on drugs like so many others before had. Their is no question of his musical genius and total disdain for following the rules of the music industry, which is why he is mourned and will be forever remembered. His death due to drugs will be added to the star studded list that goes back for decades and when reviewed in its entirety is so chock full of talent that it's breathtaking.

Deaths in the 2010's

The last 6 years have taken their toll on the harder rock bands, who have lost multiple members from drug overdoses. David Brocke of Gwar and Jimi Jamison of Survivor both left us in 2014. Paul Gray of Slipknot and Mike Starr from Alice in Chains both died early in the 2010's from mixing lethal drug combinations. Mike Welsh from Weezer died from a heroin overdose. Yet the biggest news on this decade before Prince was the passing of Whitney Houston in 2012. The 48 year old mega-stpar was found face down in a water filled bathtub with drug paraphernalia by her side. Forensic toxicologists said she was acutely intoxicated from cocaine and her blood test showed prescription drugs and marijuana also. Twelve different prescriptions were recovered from the scene from five different doctors. Several other musicians died this decade from alcohol poisoning both in 2011. Jani Lane from Warrant, and Amy Winehouse, an English singer and songwriter known for her expressive vocals and wide range of styles, she was 26.

Amy Winehouse
Amy Winehouse
The Who legendary bassist
The Who legendary bassist

2000-2010 Deaths

Heroin came like the Grim Reaper this decade, consuming many and taking their souls to the other side. Allen Woody of the Allman Brothers was the first, but not far the last. Dee Dee Ramone, songwriter,bass player, and one of the founding members of the punk rock band the Ramones and Robbin Crosby guitarist for the glam rock band Ratt both passed in 2002 from heroin. 2003 saw Howie Epstrib from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Tim Hemensley from GOD, and Jeremy Ward from the dub reggae band De Facto leave this world. Gidget Gain co-founder of Marilyn Manson dies from heroin in 2008. Following on the heels of heroin came the deaths by cocaine the talent they claimed. Three superstars, as different as could be were laid to rest this decade. Kevin DuBrow, lead vocalist of the heavy metal band Quiet Riot rose to fame in the years following the release of the band's Metal Health album but would be dead a decade later from cocaine. Izear Luster "Ike" Turner, Jr. was an American musician, bandleader, songwriter, arranger, talent scout, and record producer and the former spouse of Tina Turner. He died in 2007 just a month after DuBrow. Earlier this decade, John Entwistle, the original bass player for the band the Who passed from coke. Nicknamed the Ox because of his size, Entwistle was considered to have done for the bass what Jimi Hendrix did for the guitar. He was voted the greatest bass player of all time by Rolling Stone magazine and was inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of fame. Other pill induced deaths were Layne Staley from Alice in Chains, The Dead Milkmen's Dave Schulthise, Rick James, and pop superstar Michael Jackson.

The King of Pop

June 25th, 2009 will be a day remembered in music history as it marked the passing of the worlds most successful musician. The King of Pop was involved in music for this entire lifetime, from his early days as part of the Jackson Five to his solo career which began in 1971. Winning hundreds of awards and breaking numerous records Jackson is the most awarded musician in history. His album Thriller is the best selling album of all time at 65 million copies sold. Jackson is one of the few artists to have been inducted into the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame twice, and was the only dancer from pop music inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Dance Hall of Fame. His awards include 13 Grammys, a Grammy lifetime achievement award, 26 American Music awards including the "Artist of the Century" and "Artist of the 1980s". Yet, despite all the fame and fortune, Jackson was a closet drug addict and ultimately died from propofol and benzodiazepine intoxication. His personal physician was convicted and spent two years in jail, but it was Jackson who had the addiction; his doctor only followed his wishes.

Kurt Cobain
Kurt Cobain

1990-2000 Heroin Haunts the Industry

Andrew Wood from Mother Love Bone, Rob Jones from the Wonder Stuff, Kristen Pfaff from Hole, Dwayne Goettel from Skinny Puppy, Bradley Sowell from Sublime, John Khan from the Jerry Garcia band all fell victim the the white horse. Also Jonathan Melvoin from the Smashing Pumpkins and lesser known David McComb from the Triffids, John Saunders of Mad Season, and Nick Traina from Link 80. Bobby Sheenan, bassist and founding member of Blues Traveller and Grateful Dead keyboardist Brent Mydland both dies from speedballing, when cocaine and heroin or morphine is mixed into the same syringe and injected intravenously. Steve Clark from Def Leppard died from a mixture of codeine, morphine, Valium, and alcohol. Johnny Thunders of the New York Dolls mixed cocaine and methadone leading to his demise. David Ruffin of the Temptations and Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon both overdosed on Cocaine. Hoon was trying to escape addiction but passed a mere three months after the birth of his daughter, going into a all night drug binge after a poor performance at a concert. Wes Berggren from Tripping Daisy died from Meth. The most famous death of the decade was when Kurt Cobain, lead singer for Nirvana shot himself with a shotgun. His blood had a lethal amount of heroin in it which indicated a high level of addiction.

John Bonham
John Bonham


The eighties started off with the death of two music icons due to alcohol poisoning. Bon Scott, the original vocalist of the band AC/DC passed out in his car at 33 years old and aspirated. One of the most dynamic frontmen in rock history had his life snuffed out prematurly. John Bonham, drummer for the high powered blues rock band Led Zeppelin also died from drinking a copious amount of alcohol while rehearsing with the band at guitarist Jimmy Page's house. He never woke as he too aspirated in his sleep. James Honeyman Scott of the Pretenders died from Cocaine in 1982 and bandmate Pete Farndon died the following year from heroin. Phil Lynott founding member, the principal songwriter, lead vocalist and bassist of Thin Lizzy died after collapsing from a drug binge with heroin being the primary choice. Hillel Slovak, original guitarist and founding member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers died from speedballing. Paul Butterfield, American blues harmonica player and singer died in 1987 from a heroin overdose.

Keith Moon
Keith Moon

1970-1980 Death Came Knocking

The period between 1970 and 1980 saw more death than any industry should see in a decade. Drugs of all kind accounted for the heavy losses which included Jimi Hendrix, who in only four short years as a professional musician became one of the most celebrated guitarists in history. With his unique left handed technique, Hendrix experimented with distortion and feedback into a sound that ignited a generation. His band, the Jimi Hendrix Experience headlined Woodstock but he would be dead a little over a year later from barbiturates. Just over two weeks later, another Woodstock headliner Janis Joplin, an electric stage presence died from a heroin overdose. Less than a year later, frontman and music icon Jim Morrison of the Doors died in France from a suspected heroin overdose. Like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, Morrison was only 27 years old. Other musicians like Alan Wilson of Canned Heat, Brian Cole of the Association, Gram Parsons of the Byrds, Zeke Zettner of the proto-punk band The Stooges, led by Iggy Pop died from various assortments of drugs. Uriah Heep lost bassist Gary Thain to heroin and Deep Purple lost Tommy Bolin. Heroin claimed Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols, Jimmy McCulloch of the Wings, Lowell George of Little Feat, and Gregory Herbert from Blood, Sweat, and Tears. In 1978 Keith Moon, drummer for the Who, who is still today considered the greatest drummer in history died from heminevrin, a hypnotic and powerful sedative. His death was considered accidental as the drug was supposed being used to treat alcoholism. Ironically Moon died in the same flat as Mama Cass Elliot founder of the Mamas and the Papas, who had died from a heart attack four years earlier. But perhaps the most newsworthy death of this decade was that of Elvis Presley.

Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and Janis Joplin
Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and Janis Joplin
Hendrix at Woodstock
Hendrix at Woodstock

The King

Elvis Presley was regarded as one of the most influential icons in the twentieth century. As a musician and later an actor, Presley began his music career at the age of 19 and within 2 years had a #1 hit single. With a steady stream of chart topping songs, Elvis was everywhere. His provocative stage performances and pure energy drove crowds crazy. Elvis was fascinated with prescription drugs which ultimately led to his death. He loved "downers": barbituates, sleeping pills, painkillers, the combination of which will induce a sleepy, calm euphoria. In addition to the ten drugs found in his system at the time of death, Elvis was known to have tried Dilaudid, Percodan, Placidyl, Dexedrine (a rare "upper," then prescribed as a "diet pill"), Biphetamine, Tiunal, Desbutal, Escatrol, Amytal, Quaaludes, Carbrital, Seconal, Methadone, and Ritalin. Elvis was 42 when he died.

Brian Jones
Brian Jones

Pre 1970

Brian Jones, founder of the Rolling Stones was found floating face down in his swimming pool in 1969, at 27 years old; he drowned while under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Rudy Lewis of the Drifters died in 1964 from a heroin overdose and Frankie Lymon, lead singer of the Teenagers also died from heroin in 1968.


Rock legend Jerry Garcia died in 1995 from a heart attack while in a drug rehab center. Baby Hueye died of a drug related heart attack in 1970. Darby Crash of the punk rock band The Germs intentionally overdosed on heroin at 22 to commit suicide. Andy Gibb died of myocarditis worsened by cocaine addiction in 1988. Bobby Hatfield of the Righteous Bothers died in 2003 from a cocaine induced heart attack. Greg Ham from pop band Men at Work died in 2012 from a suspected heroin overdose.

Jerry Garcia
Jerry Garcia


As long as Rock 'n Roll has existed, its been surrounded with groupies, alcohol, and drugs. Everyone parties, some a little too hard, and some allow addiction to take them to an early grave.


Submit a Comment

  • RJ Schwartz profile image

    Ralph Schwartz 23 months ago from Idaho Falls, Idaho

    It is quite sad to report this kind of information. When I decided to research it a little for this piece I was shocked as well. I didn't include other musical genres such as rap, blues, etc. The total numbers are much bigger than this.

  • fpherj48 profile image

    Paula 23 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

    Ralph, I am in shock after reading this. Never could I or would I have guessed at the huge number of alcohol-drug-related deaths in the music world. The number is staggering (Unintended pun)....good heavens, what a terrible tragedy~~all the lost lives, talent, many of them taken at just the beginning of their careers & adulthood.

    As Mike noted, the many you bring to our attention are only from the community of music celebrities. What of the ever-rising number of deaths throughout the world caused by severe addictions? This leaves me with such a heavy heart, not only for them but their many loved ones. A huge waste.

    You summary is a powerful end to an amazing read. Thank you for sharing, Ralph.

  • profile image

    Old Poolman 23 months ago

    Ralph, the really sad thing is this is just a list of famous people who have died from drug overdoses. There are thousands of others dying every year who don't make it past the local obituaries. It takes the death of someone famous to again call attention to our nationwide drug problem

    Almost every week yet another huge load of drugs coming from Mexico is seized at our Southern border. Mexico blames this on us saying if there were no market for their drugs they would not be smuggling them into our country. There is some truth to what they say.

    Perhaps it will be illegal drugs that bring this country to its knees rather than the politicians.