When it comes to pop stars, perhaps the only thing sadder than a life taken too soon due to mishap or misadventure is one whose legacy is thus forever haunted by the demise. We've seen it just now with the death of Whitney Houston; pundits will always extol her talents, but her story will always bear the tragic postscript that she died in a bathtub after several serious bouts with drugs. The same could be said of Kurt Cobain. His work with Nirvana continues to resonate nearly two decades later, but the fact that he committed suicide may be the thing people remember most, at least when they go beyond the music.
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In truth, Kurt Donald Cobain (February 20, 1967 - April 5, 1994) ought to be considered one of the most influential musicians of the past 20 years. After all, he helped fuse the remnants of punk with a frayed rock 'n' roll sensibility and establish grunge, a new genre born from the belly of Seattle.
While Pearl Jam may have given that music a populist appeal and cultish kind of devotion, Nirvana didn't bow to any of those niceties; instead, it made defiance and intimidation part of its method. Still, the song "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was touted -- and rightfully so -- as one of modern rock's most enduring anthems, with the album Nevermind considered nothing less than one of the most important recordings of all time. As for Cobain himself, he was an electric personality, troubled, tempestuous but possessing a charisma that all but assured his immortality.
But still, there seemed to be a self-loathing that gnawed at Cobain's insides, making him feel distanced from even his most fervent fans. Even before he took his own life, there were signs that his demise was imminent. For starters, he was a serious drug user. A month prior to his suicide, he nearly overdosed on a cocktail of champagne and Rohypnol. His wife, Courtney Love, claimed that was his first attempt at suicide. Two weeks later, Cobain locked himself in a room with a gun, and when police arrived, he denied the fact that he had any intention of turning it on himself, claiming instead he was trying to escape his wife.
Eventually, he went missing, causing Love to hire a private investigator to track him down. But it was an electrician who had come to his Lake Washington home to install a security system who discovered Cobain's body, the victim of an apparent self-afflicted shotgun blast. Suicide was confirmed when a note was found addressed to his imaginary childhood friend "Boddah," stating that he had lost enthusiasm for making music. A substantial dose of heroin and Diazepam were found in his system, although there were many who implicated Love in his death as part of some sort of conspiracy.
The father of modern blues, the writer of "Crossroads" and other songs covered by numerous contemporary rockers, Johnson died on August 19, 1938, the victim of a suspected poisoning by a jilted lover.
A founder of the Rolling Stones, Jones had a troubled personality and penchant for drug dependence that eventually led to his unceremonious firing from the band. A month later, on July 3, 1969, he drowned in his swimming pool, the victim of what the coroner described as "death by misadventure" but what is now widely believed to have been a murder.
As the leader and vocalist of the band Canned Heat, Wilson had an oversized persona and a voice that made the band one of the more distinctive acts that performed at the legendary 1969 Woodstock festival. However, his fondness for drugs, heroin specifically, led to his demise. He died September 3, 1970, from an overdose of barbiturates, a probable suicide.
Perhaps the greatest guitarist of his generation, Hendrix was also given to the popular excesses of the '60s, specifically drugs, groupies, and all other manner of self-indulgence. On September 18, 1970, he was found dead in his bed, the apparent victim of asphyxiation when he choked on his own vomit.
A brilliant singer, Joplin overcame the scorn she faced growing up in Port Arthur, Texas, to become one of the leading voices of the San Francisco scene. Her performances at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and, later, Woodstock made her akin to a legend. Sadly, she was given to excess in an attempt to mask her pain and loneliness. She was found dead of an apparent heroin overdose on October 4, 1970.
Another extraordinarily brilliant artist, he attracted a cult-like devotion at the helm of the Doors. Unfortunately, his larger-than-life personality and fondness for booze and drugs also led him down a gradual downward spiral. It culminated in his death in a bathtub in his Paris flat, due to what was believed to be have been heart failure.
The brilliant guitarist for the British blues-rock band Stone the Crows, Harvey was accidentally electrocuted onstage in front of his bandmates on May 3, 1972, when he grabbed a charged microphone stand.
The original singer of the Grateful Dead, Pigpen was one of the band's more colorful characters. He died of gastrointestinal failure on March 8, 1973, a condition reportedly aggravated by alcohol.
The original bassist for the Stooges, Alexander died of pulmonary failure on February 10, 1975.
The cofounder of the band Badfinger, the most successful act on the Beatles' Apple label -- besides the Fab Foursome themselves -- Ham took his own life on April 24, 1975. This was due to his despondency over the band's plunging financial fortunes. Several years later, fellow band member Tom Evans would do the same.
Thain, the original bassist for the British heavy blues-rock band Uriah Heep, succumbed to a drug overdose on December 8, 1975.
A cofounder of the legendary Memphis band Big Star alongside the late Alex Chilton, Bell helped define the band's retro pop sound, which influenced an entire generation of artists that followed. He died in a car accident on December 27, 1978.
As lead vocalist for the band Inner Circle, Miller helped shape the sound of modern reggae. He also died in a car accident, on March 23, 1980.
The latest victim of the "curse of 27," Winehouse's fondness for drugs and other excess cast her as a doomed figure from the beginning. One of the greatest voices of the past two decades, she passed away on July 23, 2011, from what's now believed to have been an accidental poisoning.