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Musicians/Writers/Artists That Died Too Young

Musicians/Writers/Artists that died too young: (at or before age 40)*

Current Events that Shape our Culture

*very arbitrary, but has to be set somewhere and by most current standards, forty is considered young, covering only about a 25 year creative span at best.

“Very few people do anything creative after the age of thirty-five. The reason is that very few people do anything creative before the age of thirty-five.” – Joel Hildebrand (1881-1983)

“All creative people should be required to leave California for three months every year.” – Gloria Swanson (1899-1983)

Bobby Darin, Hank Williams, Sr., Janis Joplin, Jim Croce, Buddy Holly, Patsy Cline, Jim Hendrix, George Gershwin, Wolfgang Mozart, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Otis Redding, Bob Marley, Jim Morrison, Amy Winehouse, Sam Cooke, Selena, Robert Johnson, Cass Elliott, Charlie Parker, Richie Valens, Gram Parsons, Harry Chapin, Andy Gibb, Fats Waller, Dinah Washington, Johnny Horton, Karen Carpenter, Kurt Cobain

And Actors/Actresses

James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, John Belushi, Chris Farley, Jean Harlow, Jayne Mansfield, River Phoenix – to list only a handful

All the above died tragically either due to careless/irresponsible lifestyle choices, accidents or disease.

While listening to the music and watching the roles played by each at time/age of death – one can’t help but wonder how much more great music and interesting performance have we been denied?

When I think specifically of some of my favorites, Hank Williams, Sr., Jim Croce, Buddy Holly, Bobby Darin, George Gershwin, Fats Waller, Charlie Parker and James Dean, I feel a sense of loss and deprivation. What other hits could each of them have produced had they not died so young. Can you imagine the rich diversity of music and performances we could have enjoyed had they continued to write, create and perform into their later years? What a loss!

Can you imagine how many more colorful characters and interesting workplace images Jim Croce might have been able to evoke?   — in addition to Jim as in “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim”, “Bad, Bad LeRoy Brown” and “Rapid Roy That Stock Car Boy” – or “ Working at the Car Wash Blues”? Could future ballads top “Time In A Bottle” and “ I’ll have to say I love You In A Song”?

Hank Williams dead at 29 and largely uneducated, wrote some of the most beautiful and poetic lines and lyrics in modern music, as in:

“I’ve never seen a night so long 

When time goes crawling by 

The moon just went behind a cloud

to hide its face and cry”


“The silence of a falling star 

lights up a purple sky,                                                                                                                              

As I wonder where you are

I’m so lonesome I could cry.”

From “I Can’t Help It If I’m Still In Love With You”, in my opinion, one of the most poignantly painful lyrics in country music:

“Today I passed you on the street

and my heart fell at your feet 

I can’t help it if I’m still in love with you, 

Someone else stood by your side 

and he looked so satisfied, 

I can’t help it if I’m still in love with you.”

These words from a virtually uneducated man from rural Alabama before 1952. What other beautiful lyrics might he have been capable of?

Dead at only 24, after making only three movies, East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause and Giant; consider the impact James Dean has had on the movies and male acting performances over the past sixty plus years. Essentially still a boy, what performances could he have given as he matured into full manhood and later in life?

So why…………………?

Was their creativity so brilliant and beautiful, it was only sufficient for a brief time, like a meteor shower or the northern lights? Should we be thankful for the brief and dazzling gifts, rather than be envious of and desirous for more. Does creativity go hand in hand with reckless behavior or does a heedless life without restraint contribute to unbounded creativity?

Of course, this begs the question, would they have kept up the same level of creativity as they aged. How long does the creative muse last? Is it different in different creative venues? Does creativity have an expiration date? Perhaps those listed above were at their creative zenith and everything after would be a pale imitation of previous works. Are Picasso, Pablo Casals, Georgia O’Keefe and Tony Bennett rare exceptions?

Research suggests otherwise. If we remain open to new things, ideas, techniques and procedures and are willing to adapt, adjust and try them, creativity can last into old age.

Thomas Dormandy explored the powerful inner shifts in old age that propelled many artists to new heights, whether it’s Monet painting his “Water Lilies” when he was almost blind after cataract surgery, or Matisse inventing his paper cutouts in his last years when confined to his bed and a wheelchair. Art News

“As the long creative lives of artists like Michelangelo (1475-1564), Goethe (1749-1832), and Elliott Carter (1908-2012) attest, age and creativity are far from the contradictory terms assumed by our gerontophobic popular culture (see Gullette; Delbanco).” — from AgeCultureHumanities

For more on the subject:


You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. Psalms 32:7


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