It’s sad but true: so many talented entertainers over the years have tragically perished in airplane crashes. Long tours combined with mostly small aircraft means that the odds of something bad happening go way up. Here are 10 music superstars who tragically died young in plane crashes.
August 25, 2001 marks the day R&B artist Aaliyah Haughton perished in the Bahamas along with eight others when their overloaded plane crashed on take-off. She had burst onto the world stage on the show “Star Search” at the age of 10 and went on to star in two movies, “Romeo Must Die” and “Queen of the Damned.” She had also filmed a part in “The Matrix Reloaded,” which was recast after her death. She was only 22.
Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson
It would forever be remembered as The Day The Music Died when the world lost Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson on February 3, 1959. They had chartered a plane when their tour bus broke down, but a combination of bad weather and a pilot unrated for flying on instruments led to the plane crashing just five miles from the airport. Holly was 22; Valens was 17; Richardson was 28.
Folk-rock powerhouse Jim Croce died when his plane clipped a tree on take-off due to low altitude and foggy conditions on September 20, 1973. Famous for “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” “Time in a Bottle,” and “Cats in the Cradle,” Croce released the title single from his album “I Got A Name” earlier that day. According to his wife, he had decided he was going to give up music and focus on writing when he passed away at the age of 30.
Soul singer Otis Redding and four members of his band lost their lives when their small plane crashed into a lake in Wisconsin on December 10, 1967. Best remembered for the song “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay,” which had been recorded only days before his death, he also wrote what would later become Aretha Franklin’s signature song, “Respect.” He was 26.
Pioneering country music star Patsy Cline (“Crazy,” “I Fall To Pieces,” and “Stand By Your Man”) along with two other musicians, Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas, were killed when their plane crashed into a forest in Tennessee on March 5, 1963. The pilot had landed earlier and gotten bad weather reports but elected to continue on anyway. Cline was 30 years old.
The biggest name in swing music, bandleader and trombonist Glenn Miller passed away on December 15, 1944 when his plane was lost in fog over the English Channel; the plane was never found. Miller had voluntarily enlisted in 1942 and was put in charge of a band to play for the troops around Europe during WWII. He had more No. 1 songs in his short career than either Elvis or The Beatles in their long ones. He was 40 years old.
Former teen heartthrob and rock ‘n’ roll star Ricky Nelson died when his plane caught on fire and crashed en route to a New Year’s Eve concert in Dallas, Texas in 1985 at the age of 45. One of the most popular singers of the ’50s, Nelson’s teen rockabilly songs “Poor Little Fool” and “Hello Mary Lou” are classics, as is his one hit from the ’70s, “Garden Party.” Nelson was also famous for his acting roles, including starring in “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” on TV and opposite John Wayne in the classic western film “Rio Bravo.”
Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, Cassie Gaines
Three key members of Southern rock group Lynyrd Skynyrd (“Sweet Home Alabama,” “Freebird”), Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, and Cassie Gaines were killed when their plane crashed after running out of fuel in Mississippi on October 20, 1977. The tragedy took place only three days after the band had released their latest album, “Street Survivors.” Van Zant and Cassie Gaines were both 29; Steve Gaines was 28. Lynyrd Skynyrd later re-formed the band in the ’80s under Ronnie’s brother Johnny Van Zant.
Country and folk icon John Denver perished at the age of 53 while piloting an experimental light aircraft when he ran out of fuel and crashed into the sea off the California coast on October 12, 1997. Known for four decades of hit music, including the iconic “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and “Rocky Mountain High,” Denver also contributed much to conservation and charitable works. He is the only musician on this list who was his own pilot.
The biggest female artist in Mexican banda music, Jenni Rivera died when her Learjet crashed in Monterrey, Mexico on December 9, 2012. Born in the U.S., Rivera became one of Mexico’s biggest stars and winner of dozens of Latin Grammys, selling millions of records worldwide. She also supported traditional ranchera (aka mariachi) groups and was known for charity work in her community. She was 43.