Tombstone Blues

1,161 rock stars were fatally injured in the making of The Encyclopedia of Rock Obituaries

The book does have some questionable points, however. Frankly, I don't see how brain cancer victim Bert Convy could stamp "rocker" on his passport when his stint as the host of Tattletales clearly overshadows his brief singing career in The Cheers. Suitably peeved, I'm scratching at least one bleeding ulcer off the list on account of it belonging to Lorne Greene. Greene was a pioneer, all right, of the Ponderosa! I don't think Pa Cartwright deserves to be a rock obituary just because he had a 1964 hit song called "Ringo."

When you consider that these deaths have spanned the past 50 and 60 years, the figures don't seem that excessive. Except for that bit about falling down the stairs. Nobody should die from falling down a staircase. And three out of four of those deaths happened in England -- what kind of sinister stepwork do those freemasons get up to anyway? And why didn't Princess Di add "Safer Stairwells for Britain" among her champion charity causes?

One of the biggest surprises is that a rocker like Steve Peregrine-Took, percussionist and founding member of Tyrannosaurus Rex (the only group with all dead members), could ingest morphine all night without a problem but then get stumped on a fershloogin' cherry pit. Or that Mama Cass really didn't choke on that ham sandwich -- she died from losing too much weight too fast, ironically, the same cause of death as anorexic songbird Karen Carpenter. At the time of her demise, Cass was staying at the London flat of the late Harry Nilsson, the same flat Keith Moon would also die in four years later. Two important lessons to learn here. One, morphine and cherries don't mix. Two, if you are a rock star in London, do not accept an invitation to stay at Harry Nilsson's flat. At least Cass and Keith had the good sense not to get careless at the top of the stairs; it was in London, after all. I don't think rock could've survived six stair mishaps.

From aced Johnny Ace right on through to zapped Frank Zappa.
From aced Johnny Ace right on through to zapped Frank Zappa.

And here's another instance of the white man ripping off a brother. Shouldn't "Lou Gehrig's disease" have been named "Leadbelly's disease" since the African-American folk legend died of it first?

One of the worst phenomena surrounding such fatalities is the way people attempt to make undeserving heroes out of dead rock stars. Like those who try to paint Elvis as a musical martyr. His death couldn't have been more dorky -- falling face down off a toilet, unable to complete a bowel movement. But there have been performers who have given audiences every last ounce of rock 'n' roll in them, dying right there on the stage. These entertainers, this good-to-the-last-knee-drop brigade, deserve to be called heroes for bringing stage diving to its logical conclusion.

To determine just who are the greatest stage divers of all time, let us allot 5 points for actually dying onstage, 4 points for collapsing onstage, and 3 points for finishing the show and dying in a hospital.

Tiny Tim (4 points)

Shortly before his death, Tiny suffered a heart attack at an appreciably exciting ukulele festival. Tiny soldiered on the comeback trail, performing two months later at a Women's Club charity function. There he collapsed in the middle of "Tip Toe Through the Tulips" and would be pushing up daisies from there on out.

Papa Dee Allen (4 points)

Percussionist for War. Suffering an aneurysm, Allen collapsed onstage while performing the song "Gypsy." "Slipping Into Darkness" was next on his mortal set list.

Country Dick Montana (5 points)

The drummer and leader of the Beat Framers used to egg on club patrons to throw beer in his face, and he often used to jump on tables and kick back at surprised patrons. So when he suffered an aneurysm onstage, fell backward into his drum set and died within minutes, most assumed he was just exercising good showmanship.

Phillipe Wynne (5 points)

Lead singer of the Spinners from 1971 to 1977. During a 1984 solo performance, he jumped into the audience and suffered a fatal heart attack. The love of the crowd, the joy of singing "Rubberband Man" for the millionth time or the thrill of being in Oakland were probably all contributing factors.

Mark Sandman (5 points)

While performing onstage in Italy last year, the lead singer of Morphine suffered a fatal heart attack onstage. Exit the Sandman.

Les Harvey (4.5 points)

Lead guitarist for British group Stone the Crows. Harvey was electrocuted onstage by a poorly grounded microphone. We had to deduct half a point since he sizzled up at the very start of the show.

Kenny Pickett (5.1 points)

Lead singer of '60s British mod-psychedelic band the Creation. Pickett was "Making Time" at a pub gig in Mortlake, southwest of London, when he suddenly collapsed and died of unknown causes during an encore of "Johnny B. Goode." Pickett scores high points for completing the show and the encore before passing away.

Bob Hite (4 points)

The harmonica player for Canned Heat suffered a heroin-induced heart attack in 1981 while performing at the Palomino Club in Hollywood. Presumably, heaven needed a "harp" player. A severely overweight one.

Johnny "Guitar" Watson (3.5 points)

The famed blues guitarist collapsed and died of a heart attack after taking the stage at the Yokohama Blues Cafe in Japan. The Japanese organizers were naturally aghast; now the show was running an hour ahead of schedule.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Phoenix Concert Tickets

Concert Calendar

  • April
  • Sun
  • Mon
  • Tue
  • Wed
  • Thu
  • Fri
  • Sat