On the surface, rock ‘n roll superstardom looks like a teenage fantasy come true: a non-stop party of sold-out shows, private jets, and an endless supply of adoring groupies and mind-altering party favors in the ongoing pursuit of rock and rolling all night and partying every day.
But the dark and seedy underbelly of that outwardly glamorous world is teeming with tales of young, promising talents succumbing to the seductive and endlessly addictive claws of the very same drugs that at one time might have “helped” fuel their creative muse.
Surveying the depressingly long line of notable musicians who’ve sadly succumbed to the power and influence of narcotics, we’ve culled this list of 10 of rock’s most influential musicians who lost their battle to the inevitable downward spiral that comes with hardcore drug addiction.
Janis Joplin – the ‘60s blues-rock rebel and pioneer was only 27 when a longtime addiction to heroin claimed her life in the Landmark Motor Hotel on Franklin Ave. in Hollywood, CA back on October 4 of 1970. Her death made her the first female member of the notorious “27 Club” of influential musicians to die at the same age, including Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse.
Jim Morrison (The Doors) – The enigmatic singer of ‘60s L.A classic rock legends the Doors was as famous for his enormous appetite for drugs and alcohol as he was for his poetic and psychedelic ramblings fronting the Doors. While mystery and conspiracy theories still surround his 1971 death (an autopsy was never performed on his body), signs point to him dying of a heroin overdose in Paris, where his body is famously buried at the Pere Lachaise Cemetery.
Keith Moon (The Who) The original drummer for the British rock superstars was known for self-destructive behavior, including a penchant for blowing up hotel toilets, (allegedly) driving a Cadillac into a Holiday Inn swimming pool and setting off an explosive during a 1967 performance on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour that many believe started guitarist Pete Townsend’s hearing problems with tinnitus. It was a massive overdose of more than 30 Clomethiazole tablets (used to manage alcohol withdrawal) that ended his life on September 7, 1978 at the age of 32.
John Entwistle (The Who) – Out of the ten overdose deaths chronicled here, none went out in sucha blaze of true rock star excess as the Who’s famous bass player. He was partying in the Hard Rock Hotel Las Vegas with notorious groupie/stripper Alycen Rowse on a cocaine binge that triggered a massive heart attack, killing him at the age of 57. He died on June 27th of 2002, the night before the Who was scheduled to begin an American tour.
Sid Vicious (Sex Pistols) – The bass player for ‘70s rock upstarts the Sex Pistols is considered by many as the personification of punk. Vicious was still three months shy of this 22nd birthday when he fell off the sobriety wagon by taking a fatal dose of heroin given to him by his own mother. He was declared dead on February 2, 1979, just one day after making bail and getting out of Rikers Island for assaulting Todd Smith, brother of punk poetess Patti Smith.
Layne Staley (Alice in Chains)—The lead singer of popular ‘90s grunge band Alice in Chains was one of the decade’s most infamous drug abusers, regularly showing up late or missing shows altogether due to his crippling dependency on heroin. Despite his band’s growing popularity, he slowed slipped out of the spotlight, hiding out in a Seattle condo before dying of a “speedball” mixture of cocaine and heroin at the age of 34 in April of 2002. Staley’s emaciated body lay dead on his couch for two weeks before being discovered, weighing less than 90 lbs.
Shannon Hoon (Blind Melon) – The lead singer of ‘90s alternative rockers Blind Melon struggled with drugs for years, going into rehab multiple times and his band even resorting to an intervention, which Hoon blew off. For Blind Melon’s 1995 tour, a personal minder was hired to keep Hoon away from drugs. Within three days, Hoon was found smoking crack on the tour bus. The minder was fired, and a few days later, Hoon was discovered dead of a cocaine overdose on the same bus, less than a month after his 28th birthday and just missing the “27 Club.”
Bradley Nowell (Sublime) – A longtime heroin addict, Nowell’s drug use spiraled out of control the closer the reggae-tinged ‘90s SoCal alt-rock band came to breakthrough success. Just a week after getting married, Sublime drummer Bud Gaugh found Nowell’s dead body in a San Francisco hotel room just hours before the band was to play a sold-out show at Maritime Hall in March of 1996. He was 28.
Steve Clark (Def Leppard)—This axe-slinger was a founding member of the perennial UK hard rock icons, who in 1990 were still riding high on the enormous popularity of 1987 album Hysteria, which went on to sell 20 million copies. But Clark’s crippling alcoholism had become such a problem that even after rehab, intervention and a 24-hour personal handler, the band was forced to put the guitarist on a “leave of absence” from Def Leppard. Less than a year later, Clark was discovered dead from an overdose of codeine complicated by Valium, morphine and alcohol at the age of 30 in January of 1991.
Paul Gray (Slipknot) —A founding member and bass player for the masked extreme metal band, Gray had a history with drugs, including a 2003 arrest after a car crash where he was charged with possession of cocaine, marijuana and syringes. In May of 2010, he was found dead in an Iowa hotel from an accidental overdose of morphine and fentanyl at the age of 38. His doctor was later charged with involuntary manslaughter of eight people, including Gray.
–Scott T. Sterling, CBS Local