Musicians With Mysterious Deaths

Robert Johnson
The blues pioneer’s life and death is shrouded in myths, the most popular of which has Johnson selling his soul to the devil in return for musical talent. There are plenty of stories surrounding Johnson’s 1938 death at age 27, most of them involving a woman and her jealous boyfriend, who poisoned Johnson’s whiskey. In 2010, bluesman David “Honeyboy” Edwards repeated this account, claiming he was there, while blues historians maintain that Johnson probably died from an illness such as syphilis.

Sam Cooke
What is known about the soul legend’s death is that he died after being shot by Bertha Franklin, the manager of Los Angeles’ Hacienda Motel. Cooke allegedly burst into Franklin’s office wearing only a sport jacket and underwear then attacked her. The events leading up to the shooting are even murkier: Cooke was at the motel with Elisa Boyer, who claimed that the singer tried to rape her. She fled, taking some of Cooke’s clothes with her, leading to Cooke to chase her and run into Franklin’s office. Boyer was later arrested for prostitution, and Cooke’s thousands in cash were never recovered, lending credence to the theory that he was the victim of robbery. Either way, Franklin was exonerated in the shooting and Boyer was never charged.

Bobby Fuller
The “I Fought the Law” singer was found dead in his mother’s car in Los Angeles, facedown in the front seat next to an open container of gasoline. The death was ruled an accidental asphyxiation, but members of Fuller’s band claim he was covered in wounds and that the car showed up in the lot where it was found several hours after Fuller’s body went into rigor mortis. Some of the wild claims involve the 23-year-old rocker taking LSD the night before, leading to speculation of suicide, or that he was murdered because of a romance with a local mobster’s girlfriend. The true story remains unknown.

Brian Jones
The Rolling Stones guitarist was discovered unconscious in his pool in 1969 and died before doctors arrived at his home, Cotchford Farm. Though Jones’ death was ruled “death by misadventure,” others — including people who were there that night — claim that Frank Thorogood was responsible, either maliciously or by accident. Thorogood, who died in 1994, worked as a contractor on Jones’ home and was allegedly fired by the former Stone the day of the incident. After reviewing new evidence, including allegations that police altered witness statements, the police declined to reopen the case in 2010.

Jim Morrison
In 1971, the Doors singer was found dead in the bathtub of his Paris apartment and was buried without an autopsy. His longtime girlfriend, Pamela Courson, said that he died of a heroin overdose while in the tub, though she gave several contradictory statements. In 2007, a “friend” of Morrison’s said the singer actually overdosed in the bathroom of a nearby club and was carried back to the apartment by drug dealers to avoid police attention. And, of course, there are those who believe that Morrison is still alive.

Marvin Gaye
Struggling with his finances, depression and addiction, Marvin Gaye moved in with his parents in 1983 in an attempt to get healthy. He and his father, Marvin Gay Sr. (Marvin Jr. added the “e” to his last name), argued constantly, and on the day in question, things got physical after Marvin Sr. had a heated fight with his wife. After the confrontation between father and son, Marvin Sr. grabbed a gun and shot his son in the chest, then fired again, killing the Motown legend. Thanks to the bruises found on Marvin Sr. and the drugs found in his son’s system, the 70-year-old avoided a first-degree murder charge and pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter, though family members claimed it was a cold-blooded killing. When Marvin Sr. was asked if he loved his son, he reportedly said, “Let’s say that I didn’t dislike him.”

Kurt Cobain
Kurt Cobain’s death was ruled a suicide by self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, but that hasn’t stopped plenty of people from claiming it was a murder. The proponents of this theory — who often place blame on the grunge icon’s wife, Courtney Love — claim that Cobain’s suicide note was finished by someone else, that he had too much heroin in his system to commit the act, that Cobain was going to cut Love out of his will, and so on. The theory seems to have died in popularity in recent years but still persists, with Cobain’s grandfather even admitting he believes Kurt was murdered.

Richey James Edwards
British rocker Richey Edwards disappeared on Feb. 1, 1995, the day he was due to fly to the U.S. for a press tour. The Manic Street Preachers guitarist’s car was found abandoned a couple weeks later, and there were plenty of purported sightings during that period. To this day, Edwards has never been found, and many speculate he committed suicide after years of battling depression. Even though fans still claim to have seen him, Edwards was declared “presumed dead” in 2008.

Tupac Shakur | Notorious B.I.G. | Jam Master Jay
Three hip-hop legends, three unsolved murders. All three are interconnected, with Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G.’s deaths coming as the result of the much-hyped coastal hip-hop rivalry. Many conspiracy theories abound, with Marion “Suge” Knight and LAPD officers being named, with somewhat convincing evidence. In the case of Run-DMC’s Jam Master Jay, prosecutors named Ronald “Tenad” Washington as an accomplice of the shooter. Washington was previously associated with the 1995 murder of Randy “Stretch” Walker, a collaborator of Shakur’s.

Michael Hutchence
INXS singer Michael Hutchence’s body was discovered in a Sydney hotel by a maid in November 1997. The initial ruling was suicide, as he was found naked, hanging from a doorway in the room, which was reportedly filled with alcohol and prescription drugs. The 37-year-old had been involved in a custody battle over his daughter, Tiger Lily, with girlfriend Paula Yates, which led the coroner to determine that Hutchence was distraught at the time of his death. Yates, for her part, later claimed that Hutchence died while practicing autoerotic asphyxiation, the self-deprivation of oxygen to increase sexual pleasure. Yates died in 2000 of a heroin overdose.

Elliott Smith
On Oct. 21, 2003, singer-songwriter Elliott Smith died of two stab wounds to the chest inside his L.A. apartment. His girlfriend Jennifer Chiba claimed that, following an argument, Smith — who battled addiction and depression — stabbed himself in the chest, puncturing his heart, and left a note that read, “I’m so sorry-love, Elliot God forgive me.” Chiba claimed she was in the bathroom when she heard a scream, then found Smith with the knife in his chest. She admitted to removing the knife, and the autopsy notes a lack of hesitation wounds and the fact that the stabbing occurred through clothing, which are both “atypical” in suicides of this nature. The report also notes possible defensive wounds on Smith’s right arm and left hand, and that there was no alcohol or illegal drugs in his system. Chiba later sued Smith’s family for 15% of his estate, claiming to be his wife and manager, but eventually lost. 




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