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The Greatest Musicians Who Died Before 40

Updated February 21, 2020 70.7k votes 7.7k voters 221.6k views152 items

List RulesGreat musicians who died before their 40th birthdays

 

Some of the best musicians in history only lived for a few short decades. This list ranks those musicians whose lives were taken before they turned 40, whether intentionally or accidentally, including everyone from Bob Marley to Mozart. They may all come from different genres and backgrounds, but the loss of each of these musicians left a major emptiness in the world of music. Singers and rock stars like Amy Winehouse, Buddy Holly, and Jimi Hendrix didn’t live to 40, but they did live long enough to secure a lasting legacy in music history.

Many people think of rock stars like Kurt Cobain (of the 27 Club) when they consider musicians who died young, but the world of rap music can be just as deadly. Who can forget the feud between Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G.? While no one has ever conclusively proven who killed the two stars or even that the two deaths were linked, there is no doubt that both musicians were killed far too early. These musicians were murdered in their prime, and hip hop fans still mourn them.

Other deaths have rocked the music world as well. Can any fan of hip hop or R&B every truly recover from Aaliyah’s death in 2001? She was only 22 years old when her plane crashed in the Bahamas, killing not only her but also eight others. This gifted musician died before reaching the age of 40, and the world of R&B is not the same for her loss.

On this list you’ll find musicians who died before they turned 40. The gifted performers on this list come from all genres. Many of the musicians here died in unfortunate and horrific circumstances, while others passed away more peacefully, some from natural causes. Whatever the case, they have all earned their spots on this list of the greatest musicians who died before 40.

 

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  • Duane Allman26
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    Duane Allman

    Blues-rock, Rock music

    AlbumsDuane Allman: An Anthology, Skydog: The Duane Allman Retrospective, Ton-Ton Macoute!, Duane & Greg Allman, Duane Allman: An Anthology

    Died at 24 (1946-1971)
    Howard Duane Allman (November 20, 1946 – October 29, 1971) was an American guitarist, session...  more
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  • Robert Johnson27
    440
    353

    Robert Johnson

    Rock music, Blues

    AlbumsFrom Four Till Late, Hellhound on My Trail, Sweet Home Chicago, Kind Hearted Woman Blues

    Died at 27 (1911-1938)
    Robert Leroy Johnson (May 8, 1911 – August 16, 1938) was an American blues singer, songwriter...  more
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  • Karen Carpenter28
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    Karen Carpenter

    Pop music, Soft rock

    AlbumsOffering, Close to You, Made in America, Voice of the Heart, Carpenters

    Died at 32 (1950-1983)
    Karen Anne Carpenter (March 2, 1950 – February 4, 1983) was an American singer and drummer who...  more
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  • Lil Peep29
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    Lil Peep

    Emo rap, alternative R&B
    Gustav Åhr, known by his stage name Lil Peep, is an American rapper and singer. He was cited...  more
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    #72 of 191 The Best New School Rappers#8 of 65 The Best Rappers Who Started On SoundCloud

  • Jeff Buckley30
    337
    270

    Jeff Buckley

    Rock music, Folk music

    AlbumsGrace, Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk, Songs to No One 1991-1992, Live at Sin-é, So Real: Songs from Jeff Buckley

    Died at 30 (1966-1997)
    Jeffrey Scott Buckley (November 17, 1966 – May 29, 1997), raised as Scott Moorhead, was an...  more
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  • Keith Moon31
    450
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    Keith Moon

    Skiffle, Pop music

    AlbumsTwo Sides of the Moon

    Keith John Moon (23 August 1946 – 7 September 1978) was an English drummer for the rock band...  more
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  • Layne Staley32
    477
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    Layne Staley

    Doom metal, Glam metal
    Died at 34 (1967-2002)
    Layne Thomas Staley (born Layne Rutherford Staley, August 22, 1967 – April 5, 2002) was an...  more
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  • Cliff Burton33
    333
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    Cliff Burton

    Thrash metal, Progressive metal
    Died at 24 (1962-1986)
    Clifford Lee Burton (February 10, 1962 – September 27, 1986) was an American musician and...  more
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    #5 of 186 The All-Time Best Rock Bassists#295 of 403 Famous Role Models We'd Like to Meet In Person

  • Cass Elliot34
    325
    275

    Cass Elliot

    Pop music, Folk rock

    AlbumsDream a Little Dream, The Road Is No Place for a Lady, Cass Elliot, Dave Mason & Cass Elliot, Bubblegum

    Died at 32 (1941-1974)
    Cass Elliot (born Ellen Naomi Cohen; September 19, 1941 – July 29, 1974), also known as Mama...  more
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    #5 of 17 The Most Infamous Rock and Roll Urban Legends#38 of 158 The Best Female Rock Singers

  • George Gershwin35
    350
    336

    George Gershwin

    Opera, Musical theatre

    AlbumsGeorge Gerswhin plays RHAPSODY IN BLUE and his other favorite compositions

    Died at 38 (1898-1937)
    George Gershwin (; born Jacob Bruskin Gershowitz, September 26, 1898 – July 11, 1937) was an...  more
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    #71 of 164 The Greatest Jazz Pianists of All Time#55 of 143 The Greatest Pianists of All Time

  • Dimebag Darrell36
    366
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    Dimebag Darrell

    Glam metal, Thrash metal
    Died at 38 (1966-2004)
    Darrell Lance Abbott (August 20, 1966 – December 8, 2004), best known by his stage name...  more
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    #77 of 542 The Greatest Guitarists Of All Time#1122 of 1,728 The Best Rock Bands of All Time

  • Minnie Riperton37
    227
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    Minnie Riperton

    Pop music, Rock music

    AlbumsAdventures in Paradise, Come to My Garden, Her Chess Years (feat. The Gems & Rotary Connection), Stay in Love, Minnie

    "Lovin' You"
     Died at 31 (1947-1979)
    Minnie Julia Riperton-Rudolph (November 8, 1947 – July 12, 1979), was an American...  more
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    #34 of 104 The Best One-Hit Wonders of the 1970s#38 of 172 The Female Singer You Most Wish You Could Sound Like

  • Franz Schubert38
    284
    326

    Franz Schubert

    Opera, Romantic music

    AlbumsClassical Anthology, Eternal Classics, Symphonien 8 "Unfinished" / 9 "The Great", Winterreise (feat. baritone: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, piano: Gerald Moore)

    Died at 31 (1797-1828)
    Franz Peter Schubert (German: [ˈfʁant͡s ˈpeːtɐ ˈʃuːbɐt]; 31 January 1797 – 19 November 1828)...  more
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    #110 of 159 The Best Pianists in the World#146 of 152 The Greatest Classical Pianists of All Time

  • Avicii39
    671
    254

    Avicii

    House, Techno

    AlbumsBom, Collide, Avicii et al: Swedish House Collection - Taken from Superstar, Avicii Presents Strictly Miami, True

    Tim Bergling (8 September 1989 – 20 April 2018) known professionally as Avicii, was a Swedish...  more
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  • Brian Jones40
    284
    306

    Brian Jones

    Blues-rock, Pop music

    AlbumsBrian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Joujouka

    Died at 27 (1942-1969)
    Lewis Brian Hopkins Jones (28 February 1942 – 3 July 1969) was an English musician, best known...  more
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  • Aaliyah41
    697
    352

    Aaliyah

    Hip hop music, Pop music

    AlbumsAge Ain't Nothing but a Number, One in a Million, Aaliyah

    Died at 22 (1979-2001)
    Aaliyah Dana Haughton (; January 16, 1979 – August 25, 2001) was an American singer, actress,...  more
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  • Andy Gibb42
    261
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    Andy Gibb

    Disco, Pop music

    AlbumsFlowing Rivers, After Dark, Shadow Dancing, Andy Gibb's Greatest Hits, 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection: The Best of Andy Gibb

    Died at 30 (1958-1988)
    Andrew Roy Gibb (5 March 1958 – 10 March 1988) was an English singer, songwriter, performer,...  more
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  • Bobby Darin43
    213
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    Bobby Darin

    Rock music, Swing music

    AlbumsBeyond the Sea: The Very Best of Bobby Darin, You're the Reason I'm Living / I Wanna Be Around, Bobby Darin Sings Doctor Doolitle / Born Walden Robert Cassotto, Great Gentlemen of Song: Spotlight On..., Oh! Look at Me Now

    Died at 37 (1936-1973)
    Bobby Darin (born Walden Robert Cassotto; May 14, 1936 – December 20, 1973) was an American...  more
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    #471 of 739 The Best Singers of All Time#59 of 193 Rock Stars Whose Deaths Were The Most Untimely

  • The Big Bopper44
    232
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    The Big Bopper

    Rock music, Rockabilly

    AlbumsChantilly Lace, Hellooo Baby! The Best of the Big Bopper, 1954-1959, Purple People Eater Meets Witch Doctor / Chantilly Lace, Chantilly Lace Starring the Big Bopper

    Died at 28 (1930-1959)
    Jiles Perry "J. P." Richardson Jr. (October 24, 1930 – February 3, 1959), known as The Big...  more
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  • Sid Vicious45
    270
    316

    Sid Vicious

    Rock music, Punk rock

    AlbumsThe Vicious White Kids feat. Sid Vicious, Live at the Electric Ballroom, Too Fast to Live..., Sid Dead Live, Sid Sings

    Died at 21 (1957-1979)
    Sid Vicious (born John Simon Ritchie, 10 May 1957 – 2 February 1979) was an English bassist...  more
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  • Gram Parsons46
    254
    290

    Gram Parsons

    Rock music, Country rock

    AlbumsGP, Grievous Angel, The Gilded Palace of Sin, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, Safe at Home

    Died at 26 (1946-1973)
    Ingram Cecil Connor III (November 5, 1946 – September 19, 1973), known professionally as Gram...  more
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  • Ritchie Valens47
    506
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    Ritchie Valens

    Chicano rock, Rock music

    AlbumsThe Complete Ritchie Valens, The Very Best Of Richie Valens, Greatest Hits, The Very Best of Ritchie Valens, La Bamba

    Died at 17 (1941-1959)
    Richard Steven Valenzuela (May 13, 1941 – February 3, 1959), known professionally as Ritchie...  more
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  • Ian Curtis48
    158
    181

    Ian Curtis

    New Wave, Gothic rock
    Ian Kevin Curtis (15 July 1956 – 18 May 1980) was an English singer-songwriter and musician....  more
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  • Dennis Wilson49
    207
    245

    Dennis Wilson

    Pop music, Rock music

    AlbumsPacific Ocean Blue, Pacific Ocean Blue (Legacy Edition) (disc 1), Dreamer

    Died at 39 (1944-1983)
    Dennis Carl Wilson (December 4, 1944 – December 28, 1983) was an American musician, singer,...  more
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  • Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy50
    184
    270

    Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy

    Opera, Romantic music

    AlbumsClassical Anthology, The Complete Symphonies, Great Violin Concertos, Great Romantic Symphonies, Bernstein Century: Violin Concerto / Symphony no. 4 "Italian" / "The Hebrides" Overture

    Died at 38 (1809-1847)
    Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (3 February 1809 – 4 November 1847), born and widely...  more
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