When we think of musicians who died at an early age, we don’t usually think of them dying in a car accident. Some great names in rock n’ roll, folk, country, and rockabilly were taken from us too soon. Here is a memorial to these great men and women who died before their prime. If you know of any others, please feel free to post them here for everyone else to see.
Eddie Cochran (Died 1960)
This pioneer of rock n’ roll was taken way too early. He is probably best remembered for his songs, Summertime Blues (1958) and C’mon Everybody (1958). Even though his career was very short (1956-1960), he is considered an influence to such groups as Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, Rush, and The Rolling Stones among many others. He died in London in a taxi crash. It was a solitary accident – no other vehicle was involved – and Cochran flew through the windshield when the taxi hit a lamp post. In the car with Cochran were musician, Gene Vincent (Be-Bop-A-Lula) and songwriter, Sharon Sheeley (Poor Little Fool). Both survived the accident. The driver was sentenced for reckless operation and given six months in prison. Vincent’s injuries cut short his career. Cochran was inducted into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. His pioneering contribution to the genre of rockabilly has also been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
Dottie West (Died 1991)
This American Country-Western singer and songwriter is probably best known for her song Here Comes My Baby Back Again (1965). On August 30, 1991, West was scheduled to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. Shortly after leaving her apartment at Nashville’s Wessex Towers, West’s car, a Chrysler New Yorker that Kenny Rogers had given her following the loss of her possessions at the IRS auction, stalled in front of the old Belle Meade theater on Harding Road. West’s 81-year-old neighbor spotted her on the side of the road and offered to drive her to the Opry for her scheduled appearance. He lost control of his vehicle while exiting at the Opryland exit on Briley Parkway at a speed of 55 miles per hour. The car left the ramp, vaulted in the air and hit the central division. West did not believe she was injured as badly as her neighbor had been and, reportedly didn’t seem harmed by officers who responded to the scene. Unfortunately, she had received massive internal injuries and died while in her third surgery.
Hanz Holzl aka Falco (Died 1998)
Falco was an Austrian pop and rock musician and rapper. He had several international hits: “Der Kommissar“, “Rock Me Amadeus“, and “Vienna Calling“. He is the first and only artist to date whose principal language was German to score a number-one hit in the U.S. Falco died of severe injuries received from a collision with a bus in the Dominican Republic just two weeks before his 41st birthday. It was initially reported that the autopsy showed high blood levels of alcohol and cocaine, however this was later dismissed. At the time of his death, he was planning a comeback.
Johnny Horton (Died 1960)
This American country singer is one of my favorites. He had a series of historically-based folk songs that came out in the late 1950s. These included: The Battle of New Orleans (1959), North To Alaska (1960), Jim Bridger (1960) and Sink the Bismark (1960). While only performing from 1950-1960, Johnny Horton was looking to be a big star, singing the title song for John Wayne’s North to Alaska. Horton had a huge interest in spirituality and the writings of Edgar Cayce. He was certain that he had premonitions of his own death at the hands of a drunk driver. He stopped going to events towards the end of his life to avoid being in an auto accident. Unfortunately, he was struck by a drunk driver on a bridge in Texas while crossing a narrow bridge. He was still breathing when he was pulled out of his car but died on the way to hospital.
Harry Chapin (Died 1981)
This American folk singer is probably best known for his song, The Cat’s In The Cradle (1974) and Taxi (1972). Chapin was also a dedicated humanitarian who fought to end world hunger; his work was a key player in the creation of the Presidential Commission on World Hunger in 1977. He was killed in New York on his way to give a free concert. It is believed that he may have had engine trouble or suffered a heart attack, but for whatever reason, he swerved into oncoming traffic and was struck by a tractor-trailer. The fuel tank ruptured and his car burst into flames. The driver of the truck and a passerby were able to get Chapin out of the burning car through the window and by cutting the seat belts before the car was completely engulfed in flames. He was taken by police helicopter to a hospital, where ten doctors tried for 30 minutes to revive him. He was 38 years old and had a very unhealthy lifestyle. While it is impossible to discover the reason he drove his car over the divider, it was the likely reason for his death.