It’s hard out there for a rock star. All those people out there venerating your image and hanging on your every word — you really have to choose your words carefully. Someone’s always going to remember them. To that end, Jeremy Simmonds, London-based rock writer and author of The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars: Heroin, Handguns and Ham Sandwiches, which just hit shelves this month, has put together a list of famous last words — and we mean very last words — from some of our favorite musicians. “Rock musicians – bless ’em,” Simmonds writes. “They spend their entire lives trying to create the perfect couplet, the lyric that will speak either to the faithful concert crowd, or perhaps just that one dedicated follower sitting alone in his bedsit, wishing he’d thought of it. And while some artists may kill themselves in achieving this, there are as many who might just die trying. However, when the final moment does arrive, even the most articulate can struggle to find the right words…” Read on to find out just what those words, right or wrong, might be.
George Harrison (2/25/43 – 11/29/01)
“Love one another.”
There was something in the way George moved us: he was certainly the quietest Beatle by nature, and perhaps the most peaceful in other ways, too. Of course, it makes complete sense that such a serene individual might find the simplest and most touching message with which to bid us farewell. Harrison had bravely battled cancer for some years, and chose these words with which to depart for that all-too-early date with inspiration. His parting utterance was, shall we say, not typical of all musicians, however…
Cozy Powell (12/29/47 – 4/5/98)
…by contrast, the peripatetic Cozy Powell summed up destiny in an altogether different and more succinct manner. The British drummer had built his not-inconsiderable reputation behind a number of hard-rock giants, including Black Sabbath, Rainbow and Whitesnake. Powell enjoyed a fast life away from the stage, too, becoming almost as well known for the gear stick as he was the drumstick: on 5 April 1998, the legendary percussionist finally bought it in Bristol, UK, crashing his Saab at a speed of almost 104mph, over the limit and without a seat belt. The oft-quoted final exclamation was confirmed by his girlfriend, to whom he was speaking on a hand-held phone.
Bob Marley (2/6/45 – 5/11/81)
“Money can’t buy life.”
His values and beliefs were such that Jamaica’s most famous son refused the toe-amputation that might well have saved his life following diagnosis with cancer in 1977 – instead, strict Rastafarian Bob Marley faced up to the inevitable with few complaints or regrets. When his time came, the reggae great summed up his philosophies in a heartfelt bedside message to his musician son Ziggy — who honoured the words by roundly failing to emulate his father’s sales figures.
Jane Dornacker (10/1/47 – 10/22/86)
“Hit the water! Hit the water! HIT THE WATER!”
Although not as widely recalled as some on this countdown, Jane Dornacker touched many lives in a career that took her from schlock-rockers The Tubes and Leila & The Snakes, via stand-up comedy to a stint as an ‘eye in the sky’ traffic reporter for New York’s WNBC radio station. It was in this capacity that Dornacker was involved in a near-fatal helicopter crash early in 1986: unfazed, the former singer climbed aboard once more – only to die after an almost identical accident that saw her craft plummet into the Hudson. It’s thought that several thousand listeners would have heard her final words, framed as they were by those of studio presenter Joey Reynolds who suggested that all ‘say a little prayer’.
Bing Crosby (5/3/03 – 10/14/77)
“That was a great game of golf, fellers!”
Bing Crosby, on the other hand, kept his feet firmly on the ground. A man of simple pleasures, Crosby spent his final moments on a Spanish green, he and his partner having trounced their opponents in eighteen holes – and this despite strict instruction from his doctor that the crooner cut to just nine a session. The advice proved telling. The man whose festive tunes warmed up many a Yuletide was felled by a massive coronary at the end of play, his sudden death pushing “White Christmas” back into the charts and coaxing a belated hit out of that slightly odd duet with David Bowie.
Marvin Gaye (4/2/39 – 4/1/84)
“Father hates me and I’m never coming back!”
The smoothest man in soul had anything but a smooth domestic life. Marvin Gaye had overcome various issues with drugs, alcohol, and women to make an inspired comeback with his Midnight Love album (1982) – however, by 1984 he was back with problems, most stemming from his having moved back to the parental home in Los Angeles. After a heated family argument regarding misplaced insurance papers, Gaye delivered the above retort to his mother: Marvin Gay Sr responded by delivering a round from his .38 into the singer’s body. The family was clearly big on gifts: the shooting took place just one day ahead of the Motown legend’s 45th birthday – with the unlicensed Smith & Wesson he’d given his father the previous Christmas…
‘Dimebag’ Darrell Abbott (8/20/66 – 12/8/04)
The split of a favorite band might understandably upset a few followers, but Pantera-devotee Nathan Gale took rock fan-worship to a whole new level in December 2004. He’d waited some time to catch former guitarist ‘Dimebag’ Darrell Abbott’s new act, Damageplan, in Columbus, Ohio – but rather than moshing along with all the other metalheads, Gale chose this as opportunity to make his own name. As Dimebag yelled “Van Halen!” – a cue for the band to crank it up to the max – the incensed fan rushed the stage and pulled a gun on the man he felt responsible for Pantera’s demise. Abbott and four others died in the ensuing massacre – including Gale himself, the assailant taken out by a sharp-shooting cop who surely saved further lives in doing so.
Tupac Shakur (6/16/71 – 9/13/96)
“Me? You’re the one shot in the motherfuckin’ head!”
Gangland gun-totin’ has been all-too-prominent a part of the rap scene for some decades, but the bloody feuds of the nineties were something else entirely. With his lean looks and convincing cultural referencing, Tupac seemed a cut above the rest, and by 1996, sales suggested that the world was cottoning on fast. But the rapper never surmounted the bitter inter-gang rivalry that saw him and boss Suge Knight involved in an altercation after attending a Tyson fight in Vegas that fall. Quitting the joint, the pair was gunned down while driving to a nearby club — allegedly by affiliates of the gang-member they’d beaten up. Although he survived for a week, Tupac’s last words to Knight (who survived) suggested that he hadn’t taken the attack entirely seriously.
Adam Faith (6/23/40 – 3/8/03)
“Channel Five is all shit, isn’t it? Christ, the crap they put on there!”
Happy-go-lucky Terry Nelhams lived a varied life: as Buddy Holly-influenced teen-idol Adam Faith, the Londoner topped the UK hit parade twice in 1959-60 on the way to an unbroken chart tenancy that lasted four years (in that era, a lifetime). Faith then drifted into television acting during the seventies before becoming a financial journalist in the latter part of his life – a career move that also employed his natural ability before a camera. With sobering irony, however, Faith’s investment into satellite broadcaster The Money Channel proved unsuccessful – and, judging by the famous last words above, it appears his relationship with television was at an all-time-low by the time of his 2003 death from a heart attack.
Terry Kath (1/31/46 – 1/23/78)
“Don’t worry – it’s not loaded, see?”
After all the gun-murders, a needless self-inflicted death. Virtuoso guitarist Terry Kath had already been praised by none other than Jimi Hendrix by the time he joined Chicago Transit Authority in 1968, who – under their shortened moniker of Chicago – went on to multi-platinum success culminating with the transatlantic chart-topper “If You Leave Me Now” (1976). By the eighties, however, they’d have to do it without the help of their foremost musician: just one week ahead of his 32nd birthday, Kath was indulging in a bit of “harmless” gun horseplay at a crew member’s party. His judgement impaired by alcohol, firearms-fan Kath placed the .38 to his temple and uttered the immortal last words above before pulling the trigger…
Jimi Hendrix: “I need help bad, man!” (1970 – on his manager’s answerphone) John Denver: “Do you have it now?” (1997 – via radio to a flight controller) Layne Staley: “Don’t leave me like this!” (2003 – to Alice In Chains bandmate Mike Starr, who died several years later, also from an overdose) Barry White: “Leave me alone, I’m fine.” (2003 – to his nurse) James Brown: “I’m going away tonight!” (2006) Bo Diddley: “I’m goin’ to heaven! I’m comin’ home!” (2007)