Music
29.3k voters

Rock Stars Whose Deaths Were The Most Untimely

Updated December 3, 2020 277.9k votes 29.3k voters 795.3k views193 items

List RulesVote and rerank based on how much great music they would have produced had they lived a longer life. People only - not bands.

Dead rock stars, ranked in order of how much potential great music was lost to this world by their untimely passing. The key criteria for this list is to guess "how much greatness they left behind" - in other words, it would be very difficult to justify, for example, Syd Barrett on this list, because although he is a dead rockstar, he died long after he had stopped making music at all. Similarly, although Elvis Presley died an untimely early death, if you were equally a fan of Kurt Cobain and Elvis Presley, you would only rank them equally if you thought Elvis's post-77 output would equal Cobain's post-'94 output (although you might still keep Elvis somewhere on your list - he was still playing live and could certainly have cleaned up and made a comeback). Recently-deceased musicians, such as Avicii, are eligible for inclusion as well as those who passed years ago.

To keep the spirit of this list, your ranking should reflect a combination of a) musical talent (as a performer, songwriter, and recording artist) and b) how much of that talent you think the world missed, based on how early in their career the artist was taken from us, and what you think their output would have been had they lived a full life. Please note that this list is focused on ROCK artists, so while you aren't going to be prohibited from adding Hank Williams or Billie Holiday, most would argue that country, jazz, and even blues greats aren't rock musicians (people have been including soul and hip-hop, however). Lastly, this list is about dead individual singer/songwriters and musicians, not bands – so Ronnie Van Zandt counts but Lynyrd Skynrd does not. Ranking this list requires some thinking - while most rock stars tend to have a finite time of peak talent (particularly with songwriting and recording), certainly there are examples today of artists who have had career resurgences and done some of their finest work into their 50s and 60s. This list includes solo artists as well as the lead singers to some of the best rock bands responsible for some of the best albums of all time - and many who had illustrious careers as both. 

This is a list where we hope to see lots of people making their own ranked lists, because ranked lists can be aggregated far more accurately than just votes. See this Forever 27 list for an eye opener about how many of these untimely rock deaths happened at age 27.

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  • 26
    1,662
    461
    Thomas Earl Petty (October 20, 1950 – October 2, 2017) was an American singer-songwriter,...  more
  • 27
    1,813
    1,034
    Died 1983, age 32
    Karen Anne Carpenter (March 2, 1950 – February 4, 1983) was an American singer and drummer who...  more
  • 28
    2,171
    1,327
    Died 1986, age 24
    Clifford Lee Burton (February 10, 1962 – September 27, 1986) was an American musician and...  more
  • 29
    2,752
    1,707
    Died 2011, age 27
    Amy Jade Winehouse (14 September 1983 – 23 July 2011) was an English singer and songwriter....  more
  • 30
    2,283
    1,569
    Died 1978, age 32
    Keith John Moon (23 August 1946 – 7 September 1978) was an English drummer for the rock band...  more
  • 31
    3,054
    1,831
    Died 2009, age 50
    Michael Joseph Jackson (August 29, 1958 – June 25, 2009) was an American singer, songwriter,...  more
  • 32
    1,439
    925
    Died 1997, age 53
    Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. (December 31, 1943 – October 12, 1997), known professionally as...  more
  • 33
    1,048
    473
    Roy Kelton Orbison (April 23, 1936 – December 6, 1988) was an American singer, songwriter, and...  more
  • 34
    1,973
    1,337
    Died 2002, age 34
    Layne Thomas Staley (born Layne Rutherford Staley, August 22, 1967 – April 5, 2002) was an...  more
  • 35
    1,320
    1,011
    Died 1969, age 27
    Lewis Brian Hopkins Jones (28 February 1942 – 3 July 1969) was an English musician, best known...  more
  • 36
    1,650
    1,297
    Died 1993, age 52
    Frank Vincent Zappa (December 21, 1940 – December 4, 1993) was an American...  more
  • 37
    Died 1938, age 27
    Robert Leroy Johnson (May 8, 1911 – August 16, 1938) was an American blues singer, songwriter...  more
  • 38
    Hiram King "Hank" Williams (September 17, 1923 – January 1, 1953) was an American...  more
  • 39
    Died 1959, age 28
    Jiles Perry "J. P." Richardson Jr. (October 24, 1930 – February 3, 1959), known as The Big...  more
  • 40
    1,768
    1,357
    Died 2004, age 38
    Darrell Lance Abbott (August 20, 1966 – December 8, 2004), best known by his stage name...  more
  • 41
    1,008
    834
    Died 1974, age 32
    Cass Elliot (born Ellen Naomi Cohen; September 19, 1941 – July 29, 1974), also known as Mama...  more
  • 42
    1,345
    1,196
    Died 1997, age 30
    Jeffrey Scott Buckley (November 17, 1966 – May 29, 1997), raised as Scott Moorhead, was an...  more
  • 43
    John Robert Cocker (20 May 1944 – 22 December 2014), better known as Joe Cocker, was an...  more
  • 44
    George Michael (born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou; 25 June 1963 – 25 December 2016) was an...  more
  • 45
    1,026
    919
    Died 1988, age 30
    Andrew Roy Gibb (5 March 1958 – 10 March 1988) was an English singer, songwriter, performer,...  more
  • 46
    Ronald James Padavona (July 10, 1942 – May 16, 2010) known professionally as Ronnie James Dio...  more
  • 47
    Ray Charles Robinson (September 23, 1930 – June 10, 2004), professionally known as simply Ray...  more
  • 48
    1,159
    1,086
    Died 1995, age 53
    Jerome John "Jerry" Garcia (August 1, 1942 – August 9, 1995) was an American singer-songwriter...  more
  • 49
    Former frontman of Stone Temple Pilots & Velvet Revolver died Dec 3, 2015 of an accidental overdose of cocaine and other substances.  He was 48.
    Scott Richard Weiland (; né Kline, October 27, 1967 – December 3, 2015) was an American...  more
  • 50
    1,121
    1,114
    Died 2001, age 49
    Jeffrey Ross Hyman (May 19, 1951 – April 15, 2001), known professionally as Joey Ramone, was...  more