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10 Rock And Roll Tours That Ended Tragically

by Robert Grimminck
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Touring can be one of the most exciting—and terrifying—times in a musician’s career. Those who enjoy traveling and the feeling of playing in front of crowds can’t wait to hit the road, but that road is full of dangers and temptations. As this list shows, there are plenty of ways a tour can go wrong.

10The Exploding Hearts

The Exploding Hearts - Shattered front
The Exploding Hearts were a four-piece power-pop punk band from Portland, Oregon. Their sound was reminiscent of early punk bands like The Clash and The Jam. They released their debut album, Guitar Romantic, on April 1, 2003. While not commercially successful, they enjoyed great critical success.

At about 6:00 AM on July 20, 2003, the band was heading home to Portland after a San Francisco show. The bassist, 20-year-old Matt Fitzgerald, was driving the van when it is believed that he fell asleep at the wheel. The van flipped twice, and Fitzgerald, 23-year-old lead singer/guitarist Adam Cox, and 21-year-old drummer Jeremy Gage were thrown from the wreckage. All three of them died, leaving guitarist Terry Six as the band’s only survivor. He started another power-pop band, The Nice Boys, whose debut album was released in 2006. The Exploding Hearts’ manager, 35-year-old Rachelle Ramos, also survived the crash.

9Mark Sandman


Photo credit: Grayson Lang

Mark Sandman started the band Morphine in 1989 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Morphine was known for their unique take on alternative rock. Sandman played a two-string bass with a slide he made himself. He also incorporated saxophone into the mix, infusing their rock sound with jazz and blues. While their sound was a little too unique for mainstream audiences, they were loved by the critics and had a cult following. Their songs were even featured on Beavis and Butthead and The Sopranos.

On July 3, 1999, Sandman was playing with Morphine at a music festival in Italy to promote their upcoming album, The Night. During the set, Sandman had a heart attack and collapsed on the stage. He died a short time later, after which the group quickly disbanded. Sandman was 46 years old.

8Casey Calvert


Photo credit: Russoc4

Hawthorne Heights first formed in 2001 as A Day in the Life before changing their name. Hailing from Dayton, Ohio, the five-piece post-rock band has two gold records to their name, and one of their albums reached No. 3 on Billboard’s Top 200.

In 2007, Hawthorne Heights set out on tour, beginning in Detroit on November 23. The next day, they left for Washington, D.C. At 9:30 that night, the body of 27-year-old Casey Calvert, the band’s rhythm guitarist and screamer, was found on the bus. His death was caused by a powerful cocktail of opiates (probably Vicodin), antidepressants, and a drug used to treat seizure disorders and panic attacks. Despite the coroner’s findings, both Calvert’s wife and the band insisted that Calvert did not use drugs.

Hawthorne Heights never replaced Calvert, carrying on as a four-piece ensemble. They released their latest album, Zero, in June 2013 and played at the 2013 Vans Warped Tour.

7Tiny Tim


Photo credit: Vistadeck

Born Herbert Khaury, Tiny Tim was a popular novelty act during the ’60s. He was 183 centimeters (6 ft) tall with a gigantic nose and long, unruly hair. If his appearance wasn’t odd enough, he also played the ukulele and sang in a high falsetto voice. His most popular song was his cover of “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.” He reached national prominence when he appeared on the hugely popular variety show Laugh-In. He even got married on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

However, after a few years, Tiny Tim fell from the limelight. During his years of success, he was often taken advantage of. As a result, he did not have much money left from that time, so he continued to play endlessly. While on stage at the Ukulele Festival in Montague, Massachusetts in September 1996, he suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized for several weeks. When he was released, doctors advised him against performing, but he ignored the warning. On November 30, 1996, while performing at a benefit gala for The Woman’s Club of Minneapolis, the 64-year-old suffered another heart attack and died a short time later in the hospital.

6Judge Dread

Born Alex Hughes, Judge Dread was a white reggae singer from Kent, England. He had one of the most interesting career paths in music history. The rotund Brit escaped a miserable life working as a debt collector when he was hired as a bodyguard for musicians, even working for The Rolling Stones for a short time.

He eventually decided to give music a try himself, dabbling in DJing before he decided to record a song. His song “Big Six” featured dirty nursery rhymes sung over a reggae beat and became a big hit in 1972. This was an impressive feat, considering that the song had been banned from the radio and many record stores due to its lyrical content.

Judge Dread would go on to have 11 charting singles over the next six years, beating out titans of the genre like Bob Marley for the title of the artist with most reggae singles to enter the charts. He also holds the record for the most songs banned from the BBC, which was also 11. Dread was also the first white reggae singer to have a hit in Jamaica.

The Judge’s audience dwindled after 1978, but he continued to release albums and tour for another 20 years. His last show took place on March 13, 1998 at The Penny Theater in Canterbury. At the end of the show, after shouting out “Let’s hear it for the band!” he collapsed on the stage. Shortly thereafter, he succumbed to heart failure at the age of 53.

5Shannon Hoon

Blind Melon formed in 1989 in Los Angeles, though the band members were from all different parts of the country. Blind Melon set themselves apart from the seemingly endless stream of alternative bands that came out in the early ’90s with their folk-orientated sound. Led by the smash single “No Rain,” their debut album sold over two million copies and shot them to rock star status in 1992.

With popularity came problems for front man Shannon Hoon. He eventually developed a strong drug habit and was forced to check into rehab once they completed their second album, Soup. After the album became a moderate success, the band was looking forward to touring again, but Hoon’s doctors warned that he wasn’t ready for a tour yet. The band’s solution was to hire a full-time counselor to accompany Hoon on tour, but the counselor was soon fired when his presence proved too uncomfortable. A few days later, on October 21, 1995, Hoon was found dead on the tour bus. He died of a cocaine overdose at the age of 28.

After his death, the surviving members of Blind Melon released Nico, an album of songs for which Hoon had recorded vocals prior to his death. The album’s proceeds went to charity and Hoon’s daughter, after whom the album was named. She was just 13 weeks old when her father died.

The band tried to carry on after losing Hoon, but when they couldn’t find a suitable replacement, they went on hiatus until 2006. That’s when the band reformed with singer Travis Warren. They released a new album called For For My Friends in 2008. Currently, they only perform sporadically.

4Richard Manuel


Photo credit: Heinrich Klaffs

The Band’s unoriginal name belies their importance in music history. From Stratford, Ontario, The Band originally played as the backing band for Ronnie Hawkins. After splitting off from him, they were asked to play with Bob Dylan. They decided that since they were always “the band” to different singers, that’s what they would call themselves.

The Band would go on to release 10 albums together, including their masterpiece, Music From Big Pink. They continued to collaborate with Dylan and other artists throughout their career. The band’s original members stopped touring together in 1976, playing one final show with all of their musician friends, including such legends as Dylan, Neil Young, Van Morrison, and Eric Clapton. The concert was immortalized in what is regarded as one of the greatest concert movies of all time, Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz. In 1983, four of the five members decided to start touring again, minus guitarist Robbie Robertson, who had launched a successful solo career.

While he played many different instruments, Richard Manuel mostly served as the band’s pianist. Since achieving success, Manuel suffered from cocaine addiction and alcoholism. His main poison was Grand Marnier, of which he drank eight bottles a day at the peak of his addiction.

On March 4, 1986, after playing a show outside Orlando, Manuel was in bandmate Levon Helm’s room talking about books and movies. At around 2:30 AM, he said he needed to get something from his room and left. Once in his room, he finished a bottle of Grand Marnier, did some cocaine, and then hanged himself. Manuel’s wife found the 42-year-old musician dead the next morning.

The three remaining members of The Band continued to tour until 1999, when bassist Rick Danko died of heart failure. Band leader and drummer Levon Helm died of throat cancer in December 2012.

3Michael Hutchence


Photo credit: Andwhatsnext

INXS formed in 1977 in Sydney, Australia. Largely by the power of singer Michael Hutchence’s raw charisma, the band was successful in their home country with their first two albums and achieved international recognition with their third, Shabooh Shoobah. They achieved superstardom with their 1987 album Kick, which featured hits like “New Sensation” and “Never Tear Us Apart.”

In April 1997, INXS went on a world tour to promote their latest album, Elegantly Wasted. They were wrapping up the tour in November of that year when they started back home to Australia. While there, Hutchence sat by the phone in his hotel room, waiting to hear from his girlfriend, Paula Yates. Hutchence was having issues with Yates’s ex-husband, Bob Geldof, to whom Yates was still married when Hutchence began dating her. Needless to say, there was no love lost between Hutchence and Geldof.

Early in the morning on November 22, 1997, Hutchence called Geldof twice, begging him to allow Yates’s children with Geldof to accompany them on tour. He couldn’t bear to be without his family—which included his own daughter with Yates, named Tiger Lily—any longer. He made two additional phone calls, one to his agent and another to an ex-girlfriend, his voice sounding increasingly despondent.

Sometime that morning, Hutchence affixed his belt to the hotel room door, tied it around his neck, and dropped to his knees. Traces of alcohol, cocaine, Prozac, and other prescription drugs were found in his blood. It is often thought that Hutchence’s death was caused by autoerotic asphyxiation, mostly because Yates didn’t deny the possibility, but his behavior just prior to his death points fairly conclusively to suicide. He was 37 years old.

INXS took a year off from playing after Hutchence’s death, after which they played a few shows with guest singers until they were featured in the singing competition reality show Rock Star. In the show, they found singer J.D. Fortune and played with him until 2011. The band officially called it quits in 2012.

2Cliff Burton


Photo credit: Fruggo

Metallica is the definitive heavy metal band. They have sold over 110 million albums worldwide, making them one of the most successful musical acts of all time. They also have nine Grammys, among other awards. The band was started in 1981 by vocalist and guitarist James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich, who were just 18 years old at the time. Before recording their first album, 1983’s Kill ’Em All, the two had recruited guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Cliff Burton, cementing the original lineup of the band. They recorded three wildly successful albums together, all of which are hailed as classics of the genre. The last of these, Master of Puppets, catapulted them to metal glory and is considered their landmark album.

On September 27, 1986, the band was on the Scandinavian leg of their “Damage, Inc.” tour, driving through the night from Stockholm to their next show in Copenhagen. Because the bus’s bunk beds were so uncomfortable, the band played a card game to decide who would have their first pick of the beds. Burton won, drawing the ace of spades.

At around 7:00 in the morning, the bus apparently hit a skid and rolled onto the grass. Burton was thrown from the bus and became trapped underneath it. The other passengers tried to lift the bus off of him, but it was no use. The 24-year-old died of the injuries he sustained.

The surviving members are haunted by the knowledge that Burton’s fate was sealed by the luck of the draw. Still, they thought that Cliff would want them to continue without him and even received the blessing of Burton’s family to carry on. Shortly after his death, Burton was replaced by Jason Newsted, who served as their bassist until 2001. As of 2014, Metallica is still making new albums and touring with their current bassist, Robert Trujillo.

1John Entwistle

The Who is arguably one of the greatest rock bands ever. The most famous lineup of the band was singer Roger Daltrey, guitarist Pete Townshend, drummer Keith Moon, and bassist John Entwistle, which formed in 1964. Having sold over 100 million records, they are members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and three of their records have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. These are just some of the awards and recognition The Who have received over their illustrious career.

The Who, who were known for their outrageous and destructive behavior, suffered two major losses. The first was Keith Moon, who died on September 7, 1978. The Who had just recorded their iconic album, Who Are You, but didn’t tour because the band was not performing well live, mostly because Moon was so out of shape. On September 6, he went to a party hosted by Paul McCartney. After returning home, he got into an argument with his girlfriend, to whom he had planned to propose that night. When she left, he took an entire handful of Heminevrin, which is a sedative to help with alcohol withdrawal. He was found dead later in the afternoon.

The Who hired a new drummer, Kenney Jones, a month after Moon died, and by May 1979, they were touring again. However, three years later, The Who broke up after the last show of their farewell tour on December 7, 1982 in Toronto. They occasionally reunited for various charity shows and tours throughout the ’80s and ’90s and began touring again regularly in 1999, doing smaller tours and various benefits from 1999–2002. In early 2002, they played some shows in the UK and were planning a US tour that was set to kick off in June 2002 in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, 57-year-old Enwistle was found dead in his Las Vegas hotel room the day before the first show. He suffered a heart attack caused by his cocaine abuse.

After Entwistle’s son gave them his blessing, The Who started the tour on July 5. The two remaining members of The Who, Townshend and Daltrey, recorded an album in 2006 and continue to tour to this day.

Robert Grimminck is a Canadian crime-fiction writer. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

fact checked by Jamie Frater