Music
28.9k voters

Rock Stars Whose Deaths Were The Most Untimely

Updated December 3, 2020 284.0k votes 28.9k voters 783.1k 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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  • Freddie Mercury1
    9,205
    2,212
    Died 1991, age 45
    Freddie Mercury (born Farrokh Bulsara; 5 September 1946 – 24 November 1991) was a British...  more
  • Jimi Hendrix2
    7,210
    2,753
    Died 1970, age 27
    James Marshall "Jimi" Hendrix (born Johnny Allen Hendrix; November 27, 1942 – September 18,...  more
  • Bob Marley3
    4,656
    1,751
    Died 1981, age 36
    Robert Nesta Marley, (6 February 1945 – 11 May 1981) was a Jamaican singer and songwriter....  more
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  • Kurt Cobain4
    6,854
    2,612
    Died 1994, age 27
    Kurt Donald Cobain (February 20, 1967 – April 5, 1994) was an American singer, songwriter, and...  more
  • John Lennon5
    6,812
    2,810
    Died 1980, age 40
    John Winston Ono Lennon (born John Winston Lennon, 9 October 1940 – 8 December 1980) was an...  more
  • Buddy Holly6
    4,668
    1,829
    Died 1959, age 22
    Charles Hardin Holley (September 7, 1936 – February 3, 1959), known professionally as Buddy...  more
  • Prince7
    2,953
    1,088
    Prince Rogers Nelson (June 7, 1958 – April 21, 2016) was an American singer, songwriter,...  more
  • Jim Morrison8
    5,336
    2,256
    Died 1971, age 27
    James Douglas Morrison (December 8, 1943 – July 3, 1971) was an American singer, songwriter...  more
  • Elvis Presley9
    4,210
    1,797
    Died 1977, age 42
    Elvis Aaron Presley (January 8, 1935 – August 16, 1977), also known mononymously as Elvis, was...  more
  • David Bowie10
    3,385
    1,148
    David Robert Jones (8 January 1947 – 10 January 2016), known professionally as David Bowie (,...  more
  • Stevie Ray Vaughan11
    Died 1990, age 35
    Stephen Ray Vaughan (October 3, 1954 – August 27, 1990) was an American musician, singer,...  more
  • Janis Joplin12
    4,069
    1,899
    Died 1970, age 27
    Janis Lyn Joplin (January 19, 1943 – October 4, 1970) was an American rock, soul, and blues...  more
  • George Harrison13
    3,315
    1,497
    Died 2001, age 58
    George Harrison (25 February 1943 – 29 November 2001) was an English musician,...  more
  • Ritchie Valens14
    2,563
    1,170
    Died 1959, age 17
    Richard Steven Valenzuela (May 13, 1941 – February 3, 1959), known professionally as Ritchie...  more
  • Otis Redding15
    2,620
    1,202
    Died 1967, age 26
    Otis Ray Redding Jr. (September 9, 1941 – December 10, 1967) was an American singer,...  more
  • Marvin Gaye16
    3,182
    1,498
    Died 1984, age 44
    Marvin Gaye (born Marvin Pentz Gay Jr.; April 2, 1939 – April 1, 1984) was an American singer,...  more
  • Johnny Cash17
    1,992
    792
    John R. "Johnny" Cash (February 26, 1932 – September 12, 2003) was an American...  more
  • Ronnie Van Zant18
    2,564
    1,234
    Died 1977, age 29
    Ronald Wayne Van Zant (January 15, 1948 – October 20, 1977) was an American musician, known as...  more
  • John Bonham19
    3,487
    1,700
    Died 1980, age 32
    John Henry Bonham (31 May 1948 – 25 September 1980) was an English musician and songwriter,...  more
  • Chris Cornell20
    2,699
    1,090

    Died 2017, age 52

    Christopher John Cornell (né Boyle; July 20, 1964 – May 18, 2017) was an American musician,...  more
  • Jim Croce21
    2,113
    1,025
    Died 1973, age 30
    James Joseph Croce (; January 10, 1943 – September 20, 1973) was an American folk and rock...  more
  • Randy Rhoads22
    2,887
    1,401
    Died 1982, age 25
    Randall William Rhoads (December 6, 1956 – March 19, 1982) was an American heavy metal...  more
  • Duane Allman23
    2,355
    1,358
    Died 1971, age 24
    Howard Duane Allman (November 20, 1946 – October 29, 1971) was an American guitarist, session...  more
  • Bon Scott24
    2,681
    1,387
    Died 1980, age 33
    Ronald Belford "Bon" Scott (9 July 1946 – 19 February 1980) was an Australian singer,...  more
  • Sam Cooke25
    1,786
    1,040
    Died 1964, age 33
    Samuel Cook (January 22, 1931 – December 11, 1964), known professionally as Sam Cooke, was an...  more