It seems to me that self-destruction is a fairly common phenomenon in modern music. Forget the fact that drink and drugs have led to many a musician's downhill spiral. Listing all those who have succumbed to those vices would be an endless task. On the other hand, here's my list of artists whose personal demons simply got the best of them.
Keith Moon: Moon lived a life of ongoing excess, mixing bravado with wacky stunts that no rational human would ever attempt. When the Who played the Smothers Brothers Show in 1967, he stuck some dynamite in his drum kit, causing an explosion that resulted in a lifelong hearing impairment for guitarist Pete Townshend.
Likewise, when he celebrated his 21st birthday party at a Flint, Michigan, Holiday Inn, he stuck a stick of dynamite down a toilet, and when it failed to flush, he leapt out of the bathroom at the last moment to avoid being injured by the shattered pieces of porcelain. According to legend, he then jumped into an automobile and drove it into the hotel's swimming pool, breaking his two front teeth in the process.
His self-destructive behavior continued unabated after that, reaching its peak when he took a combination of brandy and tranquilizers and promptly passed out onstage in San Francisco. Townshend then asked if anyone in the audience could take his place behind the drum kit.
Dressing like a nun or a Nazi may have added to his wacky reputation -- he was given the nickname "Moon the Loon" as a result -- but when he panicked after a mob swarmed his Bentley and grabbed the wheel, he ran down his driver and bodyguard Neil Boland, showing his reckless behavior could result in a loss of life. Ringo once warned Moon that he was going to kill himself someday, and Moon himself could only agree.
Keith Richards: OK, a lot of Keith's irrational behavior can be connected to his past reputation as an obsessive drug abuser. Driving through Arkansas in the mid-'70s with a car full of contraband and getting caught with his stash in Canadian customs was dumb enough. But there were other stupid stunts that defied rationalization as well, incidents that apparently had nothing to do with drugs. For example, in April 2006, while vacationing in Fiji, he attempted to climb a palm tree and then fell out, suffering a cranial injury as a result. Surgery was successful, but that little stunt also delayed the Stones' 2006 tour for some six weeks.
And who can forget the claim he made a year later when he boasted about snorting his father's ashes. "I couldn't resist grinding him up with a little bit of blow," Keef said at the time. "My dad wouldn't have cared... It went down pretty well, and I'm still alive." Although his handlers backpedaled and claimed he was only kidding, it still added credence to the public perception that he's a real knucklehead.
Jim Morrison: Morrison's wild rants onstage and drunken behavior were the side effects of the singer's steady deterioration and caused more than one Doors concert to degenerate into complete chaos.
While Morrison may or may not have actually exposed himself on stage at that infamous concert at Miami's Dinner Key Auditorium on March 1, 1969, he still aroused the audience enough to cause the cops to issue a warrant for his arrest. By that time, his behavior had become increasingly erratic, and he would show up in the studio perpetually intoxicated and in a slovenly state.
He gained weight, started dressing sloppily, and generally showed little concern for either his attitude or his fellow band mates. His penchant for groupies continued unabated, and he bedded both fans and several women rockers, among them Nico, Grace Slick, and Janis Joplin. Naturally, none of this went down well with his wife, Pamela. At the time of his death, there were allegedly 20 paternity suits lined up against him.
David Crosby: Drugs were a frequent impetus for Crosby's destructive behavior, and even an intervention by his friends failed to stop him from nearly doing himself in. At one point, he lost everything and became destitute, which led to a public and pathetic plea for help from fans.
In 1982, he was put in prison after being found guilty of drugs and weapons charges, and three years later, he was taken into custody when cops found a .45 caliber gun and cocaine in his car after he was pulled over for a hit and run. Not a good move on Cos' part, especially since he was on probation for drunk driving at the time. When asked why he had a gun, he famously answered, "John Lennon, man."
Crosby seemed to stem his excesses after that, but on March 7, 2004, he was leaving his New York hotel room when he suddenly ordered his tour bus to turn around because he remembered he had left his gun behind. The authorities were waiting for him, and Crosby was charged with criminal possession of a weapon, illegal possession of a hunting knife, illegal possession of ammunition, and possession of an ounce of marijuana. Crosby was fined, but no jail time was handed out on the condition Crosby promised to stay out of trouble. It would best be wise not to bet the farm on that one.
Whitney Houston: Although Houston came from a church background and initially maintained a squeaky-clean image, her behavior degenerated as her career went on. By the late '90s, she started showing up late for interviews and was perpetually tardy for photo shoots and rehearsals. She'd often cancel concerts, and when she did go onstage, often her performances were erratic.
Part of the blame was laid on husband Bobby Brown, with whom she apparently did enormous amounts of drugs. On January 11, 2000, airport security found marijuana in both Houston's and her husband's luggage at a Hawaii airport, but the two escaped by boarding their plane and leaving before authorities actually arrived. A 2002 legal dispute with her management further undermined her mental state, as did her tumultuous relationship with Brown, which spawned rumors that the two had physical altercations. They were divorced in 2007, but by that time, Houston's mental state was severely fractured, and sadly, she never fully mended.
Sid Vicious: Never mind the fact he could barely play bass. Sid's role in the Sex Pistols helped inspire their renegade image and made him a prototype for all the punk posers who followed. He'd continually bait his audiences, causing concerts to degenerate into fisticuffs and oftentimes riots as well.
Born John Simon Ritchie -- he was given his nickname after being bitten by John Lydon's hamster Sid and then remarking something to the effect of "That Sid is vicious!" -- Vicious had a special knack for self-abuse, frequently cutting himself with razors, spitting at the audience, and hurling a flood of insults.
Unfortunately, his habits got the best of him when he was charged with murdering his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen. "I stabbed her, but I didn't mean to kill her," he insisted. "I loved her, but she treated me like shit." Ten days after Spungen's death, Sid attempted suicide by slashing his wrists and was subsequently sent to Bellevue. After his release, he assaulted Patti Smith's brother Todd at a Skafish concert and was then shipped off to Rikers Island. He died of an overdose, but it was widely rumored that he had actually committed suicide.
Courtney Love: Love's bizarre behavior was clearly drug-induced -- she admitted that she continued her substance abuse during her first trimester of pregnancy with daughter Francis Bean -- but it was never more evident than when she was interviewed on Late Night With David Letterman and proceeded to climb on the host's desk and display her breasts. Later that same evening, she was arrested for possession of controlled substances.
A year and a half after that, she again made a spectacle of herself when she participated in a comedy roast for Pamela Anderson and exhibited such wildly erratic behavior that many in the audience were convinced she was inebriated despite her protests to the contrary. After six months of rehab, she declared herself clean, although her legal struggles continued to dominate the headlines. They began when she punched a fellow musician in the face during a Lollapalooza concert in 1995 and continued through countless cases regarding her claim to husband Kurt Cobain's share of Nirvana's royalties. As recently as March 2011, she was forced to settle a court case brought against her by fashion designer Dawn Simorangkir, whom she allegedly posted defamatory remarks about on Twitter.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Kurt Cobain: Let's try to be delicate here. Cobain was a heroin addict, he was married to Courtney Love, and he blew his own head off with a shotgun. If that's not a prime example of self-destructive behavior, then I, for one, have no example of what is.