The Absolute Saddest Years in Music History

When Prince died on April 21, 2016, music fans were reminded once again just how rough the year was shaping up to be. Numerous other prominent and influential artists died in the first few months of 2016, as well. On the same day Prince's death was announced, it was revealed that Richard Lyons, a founding member of the avant-garde noise band Negativeland, had also passed away. Eagles member Glenn Frey, country legend Merle Haggard, and David Bowie, whose death from cancer came as a shock even to some of the artist's closest friends, also passed away in 2016.

But while these 2016 deaths may have had music fans reaching for the tissue box seemingly without end, there have been several other bad years in music history, including the day the music died in 1959. In fact, some of the worst years in music saw not only the deaths of prominent artists, but also other shocking events that permanently changed the landscape of the creative world. These are ten such important, though terrible years.

  • 1991

    Photo: nico7martin / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    Queen vocalist Freddie Mercury announced on November 22, 1991 that he was battling AIDS. The very next day, Mercury died from complications related to the illness, shocking family and friends. 

    On the same day, former KISS member Eric Carr also died, his death was due to complications related to heart cancer. On top of this, music fans also lost French singer Serge Gainsbourg, punk icon Johnny Thunders, and jazz musician Stan Getz the same year.
  • 1994

    While Kurt Cobain's suicide dominated headlines in 1994, he was not the only figure from the so-called "grunge" and larger punk scene to have died that year. Hole, the band lead by Cobain's wife, Courtney Love, lost their bassist Kristen Pfaff to a heroin overdose. Kim "Dimwit" Montgomery, who played with punk acts D.O.A. and Subhumans, also O.D.'d that year. Finally, Fred "Sonic" Smith of proto-punk band MC5 passed away from heart failure 1994.  

    As with other years on this list, 1994 only represented the apex of prominent deaths. Steffanie Sargent, guitarist for the Seattle band 7 Year Bitch, died of a heroin overdose in 1992. Following this, in 1993 The Gits lead vocalist Mia Zapata was found dead near the Comet Tavern in Seattle, a victim of sexual assault and murder.  

    Finally, a year later, Blind Melon singer Shannon Hoon died of a cocaine overdose, yet another artist claimed by way of addiction.

  • 1999

    The original 1969 Woodstock festival was largely seen as an actualization of '60s-era "hippie" spirt. In 1994, promoters were able to recapture that magic for Gen-Xers by putting together a "sequel" festival, featuring Nine Inch Nails, Green Day, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Salt N' Peppa, and a slew of other big name acts of the time. However, things didn't go so well the third time around with Woodstock '99, which was basically the Altamont of the '90s. It featured rampant destruction, numerous sexual assaults, and impromptu bonfires. There hasn't been a Woodstock festival since.  

    Woodstock aside, 1999 also saw the suicide death of Adrian Borland of The Sound, an influential post-punk band. Furthermore, the Columbine Massacre occurred that year, which had an immediate adverse effect on "dark music," in particular the work of Marilyn Manson, of whom Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were apparently huge fans.

  • 2001

    Dubbed the "Princess of R&B," young recording artist Aaliyah died in a plane crash in 2001, along with eight others, after wrapping a video shoot in the Bahamas. It was later discovered the pilot was unlicensed and had traces of cocaine in his system. Her parents sued the airline, and they eventually settled out of court.