It’s time for a Top 20 list worthy of Halloween!
Becoming a star and shifting millions of units aren’t just the results of pulling into the intersection of Luck and Talent Streets. A future star also had to have an overwhelming desire to be heard and share that gestating brilliance rolling around inside their head. Then, once the genie is found in the bottle and the world beats a path to the debut album or breakthrough single, the glare of attention can be blinding. Even for the more gregarious, maintaining that shaky ground of popular acceptance and fame is usually an unstable and ongoing process.
For those who can’t cope with the unnatural world of non-stop adulation and find themselves traveling in darker streets, how long is the HIGHWAY TO HELL? There are regular exits off that terminal road and, thankfully, many find them, but between first success and a dark end the express lane is littered with rock and roll victims. Here’s twenty beloved who would’ve made the world of music so much better if they’d just stuck around.
#20 JOHN ENTWISTLE - The bassist of the Who died in 2002 at the age of 57 while in Las Vegas on the eve of the band’s next tour.Amassing an incredible and legendary resume as one of rock’s premier bassists, ‘The Ox,’ as he was nicknamed, died from a dose of cocaine mixed with high blood pressure and a heart with three blocked arteries. That he was with a groupie and stripper at the time means at least he died with a smile on his face. Since his first hit was the U.K. single “I Can’t Explain, Entwistle’s Highway to Hell lasted 37 years and 5 months.
#19 BRAD DELP - The lead singer of Boston and RTZ’s immense multi-octave voice matched by the impact of his humble character. Delp was one who always had time to stop and talk with a fan when hailed. Loved by both sides of the Tom Scholz-1976 Boston band schism, Delp managed to maintain his neutrality and perform with all parties concerned. With Boston’s first album hitting the scene in August 1976 and Brad Delp’s tragic suicide in 2007, the singer’s Highway rolled on for 30 years and 7 months.
#18 JERRY GARCIA -Legendary guitarist, singer, and songwriter from the Grateful Dead grew to become the cornerstone of the band and upon his death in 1995 the other members, as incredibly talented and visionary as they all were, felt the necessity of retiring the band’s name.Garcia lived and breathed music, but his taste for the psychedelics of the Summer of Love scene morphed into the harder and negative stuff, heroin in particular. The legend’s health spiraled into a death plunge in a rehab home in California. There were many years of creativity after the Dead’s debut album in 1967, though, and Garcia’s Highway ran a long 28 years and 5 months.
#17 DEE DEE RAMONE - A founding member of New York City’s Ramones, Dee Dee (AKA: Doug Glenn Colvin) played bass and wrote songs for the seminal American punk rock outfit. On hearing the band’s minimalist approach on its 1976 debut album, once would have never thought that international success was in the cards. The musician had a dangerous taste for heroin and died from an overdose in 2002 at the age of 50. Length on the Highway to Hell from first album to checking out? 26 years, 2 months.
#16 CHRIS CORNELL - Christopher John Boyle, born in July 20, 1964, rose through the Seattle music scene to become one of the most respected rock singers and writers of all time. Through Soundgarden, Audioslave, Temple of the Dog and solo works, Cornell was clearly on a path of greatness, plus as tragedies in the grunge scene eliminated so many of the scene’s brilliant talents, he plowed on through as a dependable and stable force of nature. But it was not true; while the musical achievements were profound, Cornell was unraveling inside and died by his own hand in May 2017. His time on the Highway after Soundgarden’s first hit album Badmotorfinger was 25 years, 7 months.
#15 TAYLOR HAWKINS - You think that after so many generations of unfortunate musician deaths by misadventure that we’d learn something, but no; Taylor Hawkins of Foo Fighters died from the same cause as a host of ones before him – drug overdose. More than a drummer, Hawkins enjoyed solo moments on the microphone at the front of stage at every Foos show and died on the road at his hotel before a show in Bogota, Columbia in March 2022. Personal fave with Hawkins on lead vocals – “Cold Day in the Sun” from In Your Honor. The drummer joined the band in May 1997, so his time on the Highway lasted 24 years and 11 months.
#14 CHESTER BENNINGTON - The singer of Linkin Park died of suicide by hanging just two months after Chris Cornell died of the same cause. Early physical abuse and drugs lead the singer on a destructive course, but his brilliance as a singer and songwriter in Linkin Park plus a two-year stint in Stone Temple Pilots is his lasting legacy. From Linkin Park’s debut to Bennington’s death in 2017 marks 16 years and 9 months traveling down the Highway.
#13 ALLEN COLLINS - Part of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s three-guitar attack, the blonde and waif-like figure was an impressive force, capable of unbelievable licks alongside the other principal guitarist Gary Rossington. It was Collins mostly responsible for the music of Skynyrd’s most memorable effort “Free Bird.” Collins survived the 1977 plane crash but hit just as hard with his excessive drug and alcohol intake plus destructive behavior. Paralyzed from a 1986 car crash that killed his girlfriend and committed him to a wheelchair, he died an unhappy man four-years later. Time on the highway after the first Skynyrd album – 16 years and 5 months.
#12 KEITH MOON - It seems as if the madcap drummer of the Who had a much shorter time in this mortal coil to spread his numerous hijinks, but no, there was a tough interior that sustained the musician through an extended romp with any and every drug or bottle within reach. Eventually Moon gained some serious weight in the later 70’s, becoming an easy target for the Grim Reaper.He died in September 1978 of an overdose of a drug to prevent alcoholism after eating what was described as a ‘handful’ of the pills, plus a steak. Time on the Highway to Hell was 13 years and 9 months (although he was in the passing lane most of the time!).
#11 SCOTT WEILAND - The singer of Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver was jockeying for a swift exit nearly the entire time we knew him.Cocaine and heroin proved irresistible despite several stints in jail and rehab during which STP had to halt its rapid rise to platinum status to allow their lead singer recovery time. After his groups moved on, Weiland went solo and died on his tour bus in 2015 from multiple drug intake. That bus was the last stop on the singer’s Highway, a road that began with STP’s Core and ended 13 years, 3 months later.
#10 JOHN BONHAM - The architect of Led Zeppelin’s massive beat had a massive bear-like frame which could absorb more alcohol than ten others put together. Well, that may not be true, but it’s no doubt that the legendary player who topped best drummer polls for his entire life could imbibe with the best of them. It took 40 shots of vodka to do him in.Time from first Zeppelin album to 1980 at Jimmy Page’s house – 11 years, 7 months.
#9 Layne Staley -Another in the Seattle grunge scene’s extensive casualty list, it was never a question of if the Alice in Chains singer would die of his drug intake, but when. Staley’s distinctive minor-key harmonies with guitarist Jerry Cantrell instantly identified Alice to even the casual listener and their songwriting led to millions in album sales. After a speedball OD, the singer’s body was undiscovered for two weeks. Staley spent 11 years and two months on the Highway after Alice Chains first hit “Man in the Box in January 1991.
#8 Steve Clark - The Def Leppard guitarist crafted many of the band’s distinctive riffs and melodies on the first five albums including the two 10-million sellers Pyromania and Hysteria. That kind of fame can get to you and Clark’s source of refuge was alcohol. However, the nights in the pub soon turned demon on him and the guitarist died in 1991 from alcohol poisoning; he was only 30. Time from Leppard’s first album to checking out – 10 years and 10 months.
#7 Phil Lynott -Thin Lizzy’s guiding light was lead singer and bass player in the band. He had a knack for poetic lyrics and managed to successfully set them against aggressive pub-rock, blasting the group from obscurity in Ireland to international success by 1976. A growing appetite for drinking and heroin use did him in, the musician eventually succumbing from blood poisoning, pneumonia and heart failure. Thin Lizzy’s first international hit came in September 1975 so Lynott’s limited time on the Highway came down to 10 years and 4 months.
#6 Bon Scott - The singer who recognized his own path by writing the lyrics to “Highway to Hell” only spent 5 years on that road before his sad end. As singer for Australian powerhouse AC/DC, he went through the years of building the band from obscurity to its first international platinum success, only to allow the fruits of his labor to pass onto another, arguably very skilled, lead singer. Scott’s demon was alcohol and he drank enough of it to die comatose in a parked car in 1980.
#5 Jim Morrison - A card carrying member of the 27 Club, Morrison flamed out after the truly great Doors album L.A. Woman in 1971. However, the writing was on the wall for nearly his entire career with that band as he weaved and bobbed from drunken binge to binge – most of which were very public displays from Sunset Boulevard to the concert halls of America. Time from the first Doors hit “Light My Fire” to July 3rd, 1971, his checkout time - 4 years, 3 months.
#4 Jimi Hendrix -Another 27 Club gold card bearer, the greatest guitarist who ever lived fell deeply into the whole 60’s vibe of open and frequent drug-taking. A big problem was that Hendrix liked to try all of them, often at once. No doubt the combinations sometimes fueled erratic performances, but his willingness to travel nightly into uncharted instrumental realms made him an undisputed icon – and his prodigious songwriting and singing hasn’t even been mentioned yet. From first Experience hit single “Hey Joe” to Hendrix’s last night in London – 3 years and 8 months. That’s all!
#3 James Honeyman-Scott - The skilled Pretenders guitarist died two years short of the 27 Club, succumbing to “cocaine intolerance,” but it was a sustained love for drugs during his whole professional career that took him on the physical downslide. His aggressive style is evident on “Precious,” the first song on the Pretenders debut album (the track not heard much anymore because of singer Chrissie Hynde’s beautifully audible F-bomb). The Pretenders first hit came in January 1979 and Honeyman-Scott was already gone 3 years and 5 months later.
#2 Janis Joplin - The queen of the rock and roll blues shouters migrated as an unknown from Texas to the mecca of San Francisco, joining the band Big Brother and the Holding Company and beginning an instant rise to fame.It wouldn’t last long; fond of Southern Comfort, she developed a deeper fondness for heroin and went in and out of rehab during her brief moments in the spotlight. She would have enough hits to enter the history books, but not enough time to amass much of a catalogue. She died in 1970 after a relapse only 3 years and 2 months after her first album with Big Brother.
#1 Kurt Cobain - The man that kicked open the door to punk and grunge in 1991, obliterating pop metal in mere weeks with his band Nirvana, wasn’t destined to rock for long. A masterful songwriter, Cobain might have been an enthusiastic proponent of aggressive alt-rock, but he was also a brilliant incorporator of radio-friendly melodies and hooks – even if he didn’t try. Attempting to be real while an industry pulled him in the opposite direction was too much and he joined the 27 Club in 1994. Cobain’s time on the Highway to Hell was the quickest – only 2 years and 5 months from first charting hit (“Smells Like Teen Spirit”) in 1991 to his tragic suicide. Bet you didn’t think it was that quick.