Somebody famous once said, if one thing is certain in life, its we’re all going to die. Which is true. And it got me thinking about some untimely deaths in music.
In 1985, Scottish keyboard player Ian Stewart died of a heart attack in his doctor’s Harley Street waiting room in London. The co-founder of The Rolling Stones (Stewart was the first to respond to Brian Jones’s advertisement in Jazz News of 2 May 1962 seeking musicians to form a rhythm and blues group). Stewart was dismissed from the lineup by the band’s manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, in May 1963 but remained as road manager and piano player. He played on all The Rolling Stones albums between 1964 and 1983, except for Beggar’s Banquet. Also played piano on Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” and “Boogie With Stu” from Physical Graffiti.
Well, he picked the right place to die… if there is a right place to die. Poor Ian, he played with some of the biggest and best names in music, but never received the fame or credit he deserved.
This got me thinking about other strange rock and roll deaths. And sadly, there have been a few.
In 2008, Ola Brunkert, the former drummer with the Swedish group ABBA, was found dead with his throat cut at his home in Majorca, Spain. Brunkert had died after he hit his head against a glass door in the dining room at his home. He was found dead in his garden after trying to seek help. The 62-year-old musician had played on every ABBA album and had toured with the group. This is horrific! It’s like something out of a Stephen King horror film.
Brunkert was obviously a great musician and had played on all those million-selling ABBA tracks and had enjoyed all the pop star benefits of touring and appearing on TV shows, but you wouldn’t know him from Adam. Which I always think must be great. You can go to your local supermarket and never be recognized, even though you have the #1 record in the charts.
Guns are dangerous, as well all know. Guns and pop stars are very dangerous.
Take ’50s star Johnny Ace, who shot himself dead backstage at the City Auditorium in Houston, Texas between sets on Christmas Eve, 1954. The R&B singer was playing with a revolver during the break when someone in the room said, “Be careful with that thing…” and he said, “It’s okay, the gun’s not loaded…see?” and pointed it at himself with a smile on his face.
Members of his band said he did this often (playing with his revolver), sometimes shooting at roadside signs from their car. The R&B singer had had a good year, playing sold out dates and having more hits. On the day of his death the singer had gone out and bought himself a brand new 1955 Oldsmobile.
Just over 20 years later, Terry Kath, guitarist with Chicago, accidentally shot himself dead while cleaning what he believed was an unloaded gun. Kath’s last words were “Don’t worry, it’s not loaded,” as he put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger. The guitarist and singer was killed instantly.
Kath had attended a party at Don Johnson’s home (who was a roadie with Chicago) in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California. The guitarist had taken an unloaded .38 revolver and put it to his head, pulling the trigger several times on the empty chambers. Johnson had warned Kath several times to be careful. Kath then picked up a semi-automatic 9 mm pistol and, leaning back in a chair, said to Johnson, “Don’t worry, it’s not loaded.” After showing the empty magazine to Johnson, Kath replaced the magazine in the gun, put the gun to his temple, and pulled the trigger. There was a bullet in the chamber, and he died instantly. It was the week before his 32nd birthday.
Tommy Tucker of “Hi-Heel Sneakers” fame died in 1982, aged 48, after being overcome by poisonous fumes while he was renovating the floors of his New York home.
Soul singer Sam Cooke died at the age of 33 at the Hacienda Motel in Los Angeles, California. Bertha Franklin, manager of the motel, told police that she shot and killed Cooke in self-defense because he had attacked her. Police found Cooke’s body in Franklin’s apartment office, clad only in a sports jacket and shoes, but no shirt, pants or underwear.
On April 1, 1984, Marvin Gaye’s father fatally shot his son when the singer intervened in an argument between his parents over misplaced business documents. Ironically, the gun had been given to his father by Marvin Jr. four months previously.
Enough already. Music history is littered with untimely deaths, from murder, to drugs, from car and plane crashes, to freak accidents. So many in fact, I feel we should come back and revisit these at another time.