Slayer's Jeff Hanneman and 8 Other Metallers Dead Before Their Time
Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman died of cirrhosis on May 2, the same day as the Golden Gods Awards. It was devastating that on a day meant to celebrate the lives of the best musicians in metal, one of those artists was taken from the world of music.
It also came as a shock. In fact, by all accounts, Hanneman's health appeared to have been improving -- he reportedly even looking forward to working on a new record. In memory of Hanneman, here are eight other musicians who influenced metal in a big way and were taken from us way before their time was up.
Hanneman wrote perhaps Slayer's best-known song, "Angel of Death" (from the band's breakthrough 1986 album, Reign in Blood), based on the atrocious experimental surgeries that Nazi doctor Joseph Mengele performed in Auschwitz during World War II. Though some critics took it as the members being Nazis or racists, Hanneman argued that Slayer was simply interested in history and evil -- he was a gigantic World War II buff, and his father served in that war.
It was yet another example of metal musicians being targets for similar accusations. I doubt critics would've accused a country or hip-hop artist of being racist if they sang about the same subjects.
Hanneman grew up in Southern California listening to Judas Priest and Iron Maiden and was only a teenager when he formed Slayer in 1981 with guitarist Kerry King. The band, complete with bassist Tom Araya and drummer Dave Lombardo, went on to create some of the heaviest and darkest music in metal, rich with imagery and furious finger work.
It was presumed that Hanneman died because of the lingering effects of a spider bite that caused necrotizing fasciitis infection, which originally caused him to step away from being a full-time member of the band years back. I'll never forget when I saw him step on stage with Slayer at a Big 4 performance in Indio, California, in 2011. It was a magical moment for fans and all the band members who performed that night (Metallica, Anthrax and Megadeth), since Hanneman was rarely performing with Slayer at the time.
But in an official press release from the band on May 9, the spider-bite theory was shot down by a physician, and it was revealed that the talented guitarist passed away due to alcohol-related cirrhosis. Apparently, no one knew until his final days just how seriously his health had deteriorated.
1. Randy Rhoads
Randy Rhoads helped set the bar for metal soloing with his precision and hyperspeed on tracks like Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train," "Diary of a Madman," and "Mr. Crowley." Rhoads co-founded Quiet Riot as a teen, joined Ozzy's Blizzard of Ozz band in 1979, and according to reports never stopped taking guitar lessons, even while on tour. By the time he recorded his final album, Ozzy's Diary of a Madman, Rhoads was delving into classical music and jazz. He died in a plane crash in 1982 at age 25, but his influence reached musicians like Tom Morello, Zakk Wylde, and Nikki Sixx
Randy Rhoads on "Mr. Crowley":
2. Cliff Burton
Metallica inspired generations of metal bands and will continue to do so far into the future. Bassist Cliff Burton's catalog may be slim -- just Kill 'Em All, Ride the Lightning, and Master of Puppets -- but it was enough to secure his legacy. Burton died at 24 in 1986, when Metallica's tour bus flipped over in Sweden. Thrash metallers Megadeth paid Burton an amazing tribute with the song "In My Darkest Hour," written by vocalist Dave Mustaine, who sat down and wrote the song in one hour after hearing of Burton's death.
Cliff Burton solos:
3. Jimi Hendrix
Easily considered one of the greatest guitarists of all time, within seven years, Hendrix became legendary for the wah-wah pedal, his experimentation with stereophonic phasing effects in recordings, starting the trend of rock stars smashing guitars on stage, songs like "Purple Haze," "Foxy Lady," and the album Are You Experienced, and a headlining performance at Woodstock. He released three albums while alive, although there've been several posthumous releases since. He died of an overdose in 1970, at age 27.
Jimi Hendrix performing "Hey Joe"
4. Keith Moon
Even 35 years after his death, Keith Moon's wild-man drum style is influential. First off, it was part of The Who's DNA; they haven't sounded the same since he died in 1978. Moon was known for his "all over the place" drumming, and he instinctively put drum rolls in places other people would never have thought to put them. He wasn't a fan of drum solos, finding them boring, and worked with lots of other musicians, including the Yardbirds' Jeff Beck and future Led Zeppelin members -- it's even rumored that he helped inspire the name "Led Zeppelin."
He was at his best in the band's early days, like on 1967's "So Sad About Us," before his super-erratic behavior became a focal point of his presence in the band.
The Who live at Kilborn, also Moon's last concert:
5. The Rev
Avenged Sevenfold drummer Jimmy "The Rev" Sullivan was one of the standouts from the Orange County metal scene, intertwining aggression and flair with precision and syncopated groove.
He performed on four of Avenged Sevenfold's studio albums, and was co-writing the album Nightmare at the time of his death in 2009 from an overdose of alcohol and prescription pills. He was not only a drummer; he also performed piano and vocals and wrote lyrics, and gave the band a taste of tongue-in-cheek sensibility. One of my favorite Avenged songs, "A Little Piece of Heaven," a cheeky goth epic about mass murder with an animated video, was written by him.
One of Avenged Sevenfold's last concerts with The Rev:
6. John Bonham
Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham was known for his power, fast right foot, distinctive sound, and feel for the groove. After the 32-year-old asphyxiated in his sleep in 1980 (according to reports, he drank at least 40 shots of vodka the prior night, passed out, and began vomiting), Zeppelin issued a brief statement declaring they would not continue as a band without their departed drummer.
Apart from a handful of charity shows, they have kept their word. The most recent of these events, a full-length 2007 concert at London's O2 arena, was released in November 2012 as Celebration Day; his son Jason Bonham played with the band.
In life, Bonham influenced rock drummers like Dave Grohl, Tommy Lee, Peter Criss, and Dave Lombardo.
John Bonham on "Moby Dick":
7. Freddie Mercury
Queen's vocalist Freddie Mercury may not be what people immediately assume to be "metal," but with such tracks as "Bohemian Rhapsody," "Killer Queen," "We Are the Champions" and "Somebody to Love," the British rocker certainly influenced the future of metal as an entertainer, lyricist and public figure.
Guns 'N Roses quoted his lyrics from "We Are The Champions" in their 2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction speech, and his death provoked tributes from artists ranging from Metallica to Def Leppard. Mercury died of bronchopneumonia brought on by AIDS in 1991, only one day after publicly acknowledging he had the disease.
Freddie Mercury on "Bohemian Rhapsody":
8. Darrell "Dimebag" Abbott
Dimebag is by far my personal favorite on this list -- I'm a huge Pantera fan -- but he was also one of modern metal's key figures when it came to groove metal and influential styling.
Dimebag Darrell founded Pantera with his brother, drummer Vinnie Paul Abbott, along with vocalist Phil Anselmo and bassist Rex Brown. These guys forged a style that combined brutally precise, punk-honed grooves with splattering melodic runs. Dimebag was shot by a deranged fan during a show with his band Damageplan in 2004, and was called "one of the greatest musicians to grace our world" by Black Sabbath's Geezer Butler.
Hundreds of bands have paid tribute to Dime, including Black Label Society, Machine Head, Krisiun, Ace Frehley and Crowbar. Some of his stand-out tracks include "Cowboys From Hell," "Medicine Man," "Clash With Reality" and "Cemetary Gates."
Dimebag's Top Solos
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.
More Music News
- Cave Creek's Legendary Buffalo Chip Saloon Destroyed by "Suspicious" Fire
Fri., Dec. 4, 7:30pm
Fri., Dec. 4, 8:00pm
Sat., Dec. 5, 8:00pm
Sun., Dec. 6, 3:00pm
- 16 Places to Drink on Thanksgiving in Phoenix
- Heritage Hump Day: Otto D - "Why Should I Care"