The Man Comes Around: Top Ten Big-Deal Musical Deaths of the Decade
This past decade saw the passing of an innumerable amount of musical icons and pioneering giants. Not only did we lose the second coolest Beatle, but we lost two of the best dancers and performers the world will ever see. Punk rock and metal saw some of their best and brightest lights get snuffed out by disease, drugs, and the bullets of the insane. Some let their demons take over and were felled by their own tortured hands. Others were called home peacefully in hospital beds and in their sleep for the great juke joint gig in the sky. Rocks Off picked ten of the most influential and notable deaths of the past ten years to reflect on. One has to admit we were all pretty lucky to have these people for as long as we did, because there has to be some wicked jamming going on right now in the hereafter.Michael Jackson (June 25, 2009) Just like Elvis Presley a generation before, we will always remember where we were when the first fateful words began disseminating from Los Angeles. It began with Michael Jackson in the hospital with an unnamed emergency illness, and ended two hours later with the world blaring "Billie Jean" and "Beat It" from every car and rooftop in memorial of the Gloved One. People will be studying his dance routines and music until the end of time.
Johnny Cash (September 12, 2003) The passing of the Man In Black was a not an entirely sad moment, even as we mourned our loss of him. His wife June Carter had passed just months before and the look in Cash's eyes those weeks and months after was purely heartbreaking. When they were reunited in September 2003 after Cash lost his battle with Peripheral neuropathy, they were at peace together once again.
James Brown (December 25, 2006) Christmas 2006 will forever be remembered as the night we lost James Brown. Instantly every single one of his moves and nuances were under the microscope again as a whole new generation discovered that slick pompadour and purple cape for themselves. Simply put, artists like Black Joe Lewis and King Khan would have never been possible without the hardest-working man in show business.
Joe Strummer (December 22, 2002) It's hard to think of many deaths that hit the punk rock world as deep and crushing as the tragic passing of Joe Strummer. The former Clash front man was felled by a congenital heart defect, making the 50 years we had with him all the more precious. A documentary about his life, The Future Is Unwritten , is crucial and recommended viewing, as our the albums he made with his band the Mescaleros.
The Ramones (April 15, 2001; June 5, 2002; September 15, 2004) Within the span of three years, the world lost the lifeblood of the monolithic Ramones. Joey, Dee Dee and Johnny died in succession from 2001 to 2004 forever putting an end to the order of the Brudders. Joey fought valiantly against lymphoma, Dee Dee overdosed sadly (and predictably) overdosed on heroin, and Johnny was finally felled by prostate cancer after a five-year struggle. Original drummer/producer Tommy Ramone remains the band's last surviving member.
George Harrison (November 29, 2001) Arguably the most innovative and spiritual Beatle passed onto the new stage of life at the end of 2001. It's still hard to believe that only two of the Fab Four survive, seeing that the entire mob of the Rolling Stones is still stomping the earth and tour with unsettling regularity. "The Quiet Beatle" succumbed to lung cancer, and his ashes were scattered into the Ganges River in keeping with his Hindu faith.
Dimebag Darrell (December 8, 2004) No musical death came was more shocking than the murder of former Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell. During a gig with his new band Damageplan in December 2004, crazed fan Nathan Gale rushed the stage in Columbus, Ohio, and planted five bullets into Dimebag, killing him instantly. The shooter ended up killing four others and injuring two more before being killed by police officers. Next time you are at the Mink on Main, be sure to order up a "Far Beyond Driven" in Dime's honor.
Syd Barrett (July 7, 2006) Few people showed as much promise in the early '60s than former Pink Floyd lead singer Syd Barrett. He had a strange grace and force to him that mystified crowds and made for intriguing albums, including the Pink's debut The Piper at the Gates of Dawn . By that decade's end, he would be forever scarred by the hallucinogens he took at nearly hourly intervals. He was soon forced out of the band, and released the stellar, if damaged, solo outing The Madcap Laughs in 1970. He lived out the rest of his days as a sad testament to the dangers of drug use, becoming a reclusive painter and gardener.
Elliott Smith (October 21, 2003) If James Brown was the godfather of soul, then Elliott Smith was the same for sad-bastard rock, making his shadowy telegraphed death all the more surreal. The indie icon passed into legend after he was found with two self-inflicted wounds to his chest by girlfriend Jennifer Chiba after the couple had an argument. It's hard to go wrong with any Smith release, but our money is on 1997's phenomenal Either/Or. The voices he uses on his albums still have the ability to heal, torture and stun you all in the same breath.
Bo Diddley (June 2, 2008) No man was badder than Bo Diddley. With his signature square guitar and slithery vocal style, the man would prove to be the bridge between traditional blues and rock and roll. Diddley's music came directly from the pelvic region, and not in the fuzzy and poppy Elvis kind of way. His theme song, "Bo Diddley," was pure masculine force, drenched in reverb and his own come-hither lines. Incidentally it's also quite possible that his track "Say Man" birthed hip-hop over its three minutes of raunchy talk and loping beats.
Don't worry, we didn't forget Ray Charles, "The Ox" or Warren Zevon. The second and third parts of this list are coming next week. Quite a few people passed on these past ten years...
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.