12 Musicians Who Died in Aviation Crashes

Unless you’re Keith Richards or Ozzy Osbourne, chances are that musicians typically meet the Grim Reaper long before their time. Whether it’s from drugs, alcohol, suicide or chocking on a ham sandwich, musicians seem to die young and tragically. However, there’s one way that musicians meet their demise more interestingly than any other way. Aviation crashes. Here’s twelve tragic crashes that took the lives of some of the industry’s most talented and legendary musicians.

12. Jim Reeves


Gentleman Jim is perhaps best remembered for bringing the Nashville sound (a mixture of older country-style music with elements of popular music) to the forefront of music. His success climbed throughout the 1950’s and went worldwide by the 1960s. Unfortunately, Reeves passed away on July 31, 1964, when the single-engine aircraft that he was flying got caught in a thunderstorm while flying over Brentwood, Tennessee. It’s believed that Reeves was flying the airplane upside down and assumed he was increasing altitude to clear the storm due to spatial disorientation.

11. Glenn Miller


In the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, Glenn Miller and his orchestra dominated America’s airwaves. When the U.S. entered WWII in 1941, Miller quickly enlisted. He was promoted to captain and set up his band to cheer up troops. On December 15, 1944, he boarded a single-engined Noorduyn Norseman aircraft heading from Paris to England for a Christmas concert. The plane never made it from Paris. After Miller’s disappearance, there were numerous theories ranging from being imprisoned and tortured to death by the Nazis to dying in the arms of a prostitute in Paris. However, it’s believed that his aircraft was accidentally destroyed by British bombers returning from an aborted mission in Germany.

10. Jim Croce


From 1966 and 1973, Croce released six studio albums and 11 singles. The singles “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” and “Time in a Bottle” were both number one hits on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. After completing a show at Northwestern State University’s Prather Coliseum in Natchitoches, Louisiana on September 20, 1973, Croce was heading to Austin, TX. The commercial plane did not gain enough altitude to clear during takeoff, and the pilot did not maneuver to avoid a pecan tree at the end of the runway resulting in the crash. Some investigators believe that the pilot had suffered a heart attack, while others, blame the pilot for his downwind takeoff into a “black hole”

9. Ricky Nelson


Nelson’s career began in 1949, by playing himself on the radio sitcom series The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. In 1952, he appeared in his first feature film, Here Come the Nelsons. Between 1957 and 1973 he had fifty-three songs on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. On December 31, 1985, Nelson’s private plane, a 1944 DC-3, crashed in De Kalb, Texas while en route to Dallas for a show. After a year long investigation it was determined that the crash was caused by mechanical problems.

8. Patsy Cline


Patsy Cline found success as another artist that was part of the “Nashville sound” during the early 1960s. During the height of her fame, her private plane crashed on March 5, 1963, near Camden, Tennessee after flying in severe weather. People close to Cline believed that she had sense of impending doom and did not expect to live much longer in the months leading up to her death. Oddly enough, Cline’s pilot on this fatal crash, Randy Hughes, and Jim Reeves were both trained by the same instructor.

7. John Denver


John Denver was one of the most popular acoustic artists in the 1970s, which earned him 12 gold and 4 platinum albums. He eventually ventured into acting and became an environmental activist. He was a pilot with over 2,700 hours of experience, but his unfamiliarity with a recently purchased  Experimental Rutan Long-EZ plane is the most likely cause for his crash on October 12, 1997 in the Pacific Ocean.

6. Aaliyah


Aaliyah was signed to a record contract when she was only 12, but, it was her her second studio album, One in a Million, that catapulted her to fame. She also moved onto to acting with the films Romeo Must Die and Queen of the Damned. Unfortunately, her promising career was cut short on August 25, 2001. After filming the music video for “Rock The Boat” in the Bahamas, Aaliyah was flying to Florida, but the plane was 700 pounds overweight and crashed shortly after takeoff. Besides being overloaded, the pilot, Luis Morales III, was unlicensed  and had traces of cocaine and alcohol in his system.

5. Otis Redding


For me, Otis Redding’s picture should be placed next to the definition of soul. On December 10, 1967, the “King of Soul” passed away after his plane crashed near Madison, Wisconsin due to bad weather. “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” was released in January of 1968 and became Redding’s only number-one single on the Billboard Hot 100, and the first posthumous number one single in U.S. chart history. Redding’s signature track was also recorded just three days before the crash.

4. Randy Rhoads


Randy Rhoads was one of the greatest guitarists, playing for Quiet Riot and Ozzy Osbourne. On March 19, 1982, Rhoads and the band stopped by Jerry Calhoun’s home, owner of “Florida Coach,” in Leesburg, Florida, before a gig in Orlando. After a successful first flight with other members of the band, bus driver Andrew Aycock took Rhoads and hairdresser/seamstress Rachel Youngblood on another flight. During the flight, there were two successful attempts in “buzzing” the tour bus where the other band members were sleeping. On the third attempt, the left wing clipped the back side of the tour bus, tore the fiberglass roof then sent the plane spiraling. The plane then severed the top of a pine tree and crashed into the garage of a nearby mansion, bursting into flames. In an autopsy, it was discovered that Aycock had traces of cocaine in his system.

3. Stevie Ray Vaughan


SRV was an electric blues guitarist and singer who gained breakout success in the early 1980s by appearing on David Bowie’s Let’s Dance album and releasing his debut Texas Flood. During his career Vaughn shared the stage with some of the greatest guitarists ever, including Jeff Beck and Joe Satriani. On August 27, 1990, after playing a show at Alpine Valley Music Theatre, as a special guest with Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray and his brother Jimmie Vaughan, SRV got into a helicopter heading from East Troy, Wisconsin to Chicago. The helicopter soon crashed into the side of a 300-foot–high hill. The pilot, Jeff Brown, was blamed for being unqualified and flying in dense fog.

2. Ronnie van Zant, Steve Gaines, Cassie Gaines (Lynryd Skynryd)


On October 20, 1977, a Convair CV-300 carrying Lynryd Skynryd crashed outside of Gillsburg, Mississippi. The band was heading from Greenville, South Carolina to Baton Rogue, Louisiana for a show. Front-man Ronnie van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, and backup singer Cassie Gaines were killed, while the remaining members of the band were all seriously injured. Before the crash the passengers were informed about problems and told to brace for impact

1. Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, The Big Bopper


The plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa on February 3, 1959 that took the lives of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson has been called the first and greatest tragedy rock and roll has ever suffered. “The Day the Music Died” is so engrained in American pop culture that it hardly needs mentioning. It’s been included in numerous films and songs, like Don McLean’s classic “American Pie”.

Leave a Comment

  1. Ann says:

    Rick Nelson was also credited with co-founding “country-rock” music for which he was inducted into the Rock’n’roll Hall of Fame. Such an incredibly talented & innovative musician.

  2. Taylor says:

    The picture of Patsy Cline .. is NOT Patsy Cline