Musicians tend to be a mouthy lot. It takes a certain kind of soul to want and express your own inner world to the outer world at large. So when the time comes for them to shuffle off this mortal coil, they often have some very interesting exit lines...
10. Ludwig Van Beethoven, "Friends applaud, the comedy is finished."
Exactly what killed the composer of the most pop-oriented classical music of all time in 1827 is up for debate. Heavy liver damage showed that he might have set the standard for many rock stars to follow by drinking himself to death. His last words are not just poetry by a master lyricist. They are the traditional ending to performances of the commedia dell'arte, a now-extinct form of semi-improvisational theatre from which many classic operas drew their inspiration.
However, like his cause of death, Beethoven's last words are disputed. One biographer claims that the deaf composer's final statement was, "I shall hear in Heaven."
9. Frederic Chopin, "The earth is suffocating... Swear to make them cut me open, so that I won't be buried alive."
Ah, Freddy. The original emo-kid musician. He bit it in 1849 from the poetical disease of tuberculosis after a very satisfying career penning nocturnes. Like many people of the 1800s, Chopin had a pathological fear of being buried alive. It wasn't too unreasonable a phobia. In 1905 the English reformer William Tebb collected accounts of premature burial and found 219 cases of near-live burial, 149 actual live burials, ten cases of live dissection and two cases of awakening while being embalmed.
So it did happen, although fairly infrequently when stacked up against all the people who died. Chopin's fear was so great that he instructed his sister to remove his heart after death, embalm it, and take it to be buried in Warsaw.
8. Harry "Bing" Crosby, "That was a great game of golf, fellers."
When Bing Crosby wasn't busy advocating pot over alcohol and allegedly beating around his kids, he was putting out some of the greatest recordings of Christmas music ever (until Twisted Sister, of course). His mash-up of "Peace on Earth" and "The Little Drummer Boy" with David Bowie on Crosby's 1977 Christmas TV special has become an annual holiday staple. Later that year, Crosby, against his doctor's recommendation to cut his game down to nine holes, played an 18-hole round of golf in Madrid, and died of a heart attack immediately after he and his Spanish partner finished whipping their opponents.
7. Kurt Cobain, "It's better to burn out than to fade away."
With any suicide note more than a few sentences long, the actual "last words" are kind of subjective. Cobain's final summation addressed to his childhood imaginary friend Boddah goes on for quite a bit, but it's hard to argue that the above statement adequately summed up the gist of what Cobain felt when he ended his life in 1994 (on Rocks Off's 13th birthday). Tired of fame, unable to kick heroin and in terrible pain from a stomach condition, the patron saint of grunge had simply been dealt more than he could handle, and the voice of a generation was silenced.
6. Terry Kath (Chicago), "Don't worry, it's not loaded."
Yes, it was. The original Chicago guitarist died playing Russian Roulette at Don Johnson's home in 1978.
5. Wendy O. Williams, "I don't believe that people should take their own lives without deep and thoughtful reflection over a considerable period of time."
There are women in music, there are women in rock, and then there was Wendy O. Williams. The Plasmatics front woman assaulted the planet with chainsaws, nudity, and a completely unapologetic approach to music that no other woman, save maybe Nina Hagen, has come close to. Despite her fearsome reputation, Williams was a passionate wildlife rehabilitator, and the pursuit of that passion was her calling after she retired from the public eye in 1988.
Williams first tried to commit suicide in 1993 by hammering a knife into her sternum, but changed her mind. She was found dead of a gunshot wound in the woods near her home in 1998.
4."Dimebag" Darrell Abbott, "Van Halen!"
Nathan Gale was a young man with serious mental problems who was obsessed with Pantera. In 2004, he shot former Pantera guitarist "Dimebag" Darrell Abbot onstage at the Alrosa Villa club in Columbus, Ohio, during a show by Abbott's band Damageplan. Gale also killed three others, including a man trying to resuscitate Dimebag.
Dimebag was a lifelong Van Halen fan, inspired by "Eruption" to begin a music career. "Van Halen" was a code word between Dimebag and his brother, drummer Vinnie Paul, to let it all hang out. They had just completed such an exchange and a high-five when Gale rushed the stage. Dimebag was buried with Eddie Van Halen's Bumblebee guitar, which was pictured on Van Halen II. It was buried with Dimebag in an official Kiss Kasket in Arlington.
3. Marvin Gaye, "Mother, I'm going to get my things and get out of this house. Father hates me and I'm never coming back."
Every death is somebody's tragedy, but little is more tragic than the death of someone at the hands of people who they love. While Gaye was resting and recovering from a drug-related illness at his parents' home in 1984, an argument between him, his mother and his father over some misplaced insurance papers escalated into Marvin Gaye Sr. shooting his son at point blank range with the gun Gaye had given him as a present.
The elder Gaye pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter, was sentenced to six years in prison and had the sentence suspended. Gaye's death brought to an end a stellar comeback that included a Grammy win for his most famous song, "Sexual Healing" and a stunning performance of the national anthem at the 1984 NBA All-Star Game.
2. Bob Marley, "Money can't buy life."
Research for this article has led Rocks Off to one hypothesis: If you're too good a person to die by drugs, fast living and the perils of rock and roll decadence, then evil spirits send cancer to do the job. There's just no other explanation for the untimely loss of people like Frank Zappa and Bob Marley, who accepted that there would be no recovery from his melanoma and went home to Jamaica to die in 1981.
He said the above sentence to his son, Ziggy, then quietly passed. Marley left behind a legacy not only of great music, but also of showing the world how a rock star can encourage political awareness without coming off like a pretentious tool.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
1. Edith Piaf, "Every damn fool thing you do in this life you pay for."
For her lifestyle, Piaf was denied a Catholic burial by the Archbishop of Paris. Regardless, over 100,000 attended her funeral, stopping traffic completely, and she has a planet named for her. Those who tread the stage in the name of music and art do pay a price, but the compensations can be the things all artists strive for: Relevance, immortality, and just maybe a little bit of impact on the souls of fans.
Sometimes you have to spit in a few faces to get there, but what would music be like without that kind of behavior?