Q: What do you do if you are a floundering rock star and you want to be immortalized into an icon?
Elvis Presley had shot to fame in the late fifties with hit songs like “Hound Dog” and “All Shook Up,” which sent teenage girls howling at the pelvis-shaking wonder and made him the third-bestselling recording artist of all time. But twenty years later his star was fading — as fast as his dependency on painkillers, uppers, and depressants was rising. And then, in 1977, his fiancée Ginger Alden found the 44-year-old King of Rock ‘n’ Roll lying in a pool of his own vomit on the bathroom floor of his Memphis mansion, Graceland. He died of heart failure, thought to be related to drug use.
A former member of his backup band recalled how bad off the King had become shortly before his death: “He walked onstage [at a concert] and held on to the mike for the first thirty minutes like it was a post. Everybody was scared.”
It’s conceivable that Elvis could have made a comeback, but his shocking sudden death — followed by conspiracy theories and Elvis “sightings” that continue to this day — helped to secure his position as one of rock’s immortal icons.
Having the Hell’s Angels handle your security is like having Michael Jackson watch your kids – you just know it’ll end badly. In support of their prophetically named 1969 album Let It Bleed, the Rolling Stones snorted and screwed their way across Woodstock era-America before deciding to play a free concert in California. Little did they know the show would climax with the death of a young fan.
Without a venue, the band settled on Altamont, an abandoned speedway, and 400,000 fans showed in just two days. The Angels, allegedly hired for $500 worth of beer, punched Jefferson Airplane lead singer Marty Balin in the face, lobbed beer cans at people’s heads (concussion time!), and used lead-filled pool cues to shove and prod the crowd. But this abuse wasn’t the worst of it.
By happenstance, the tumultuous scene was captured by filmmakers the Maysles Brothers, who were shooting a concert documentary (Gimme Shelter). In the chilling footage (initially savaged by critics as a glorified snuff film), Jagger implores the Angels to treat the audience with more respect, then distractedly mumbles through “Under My Thumb” as the Angels murder Meredith Hunter, an 18-year-old man who had brandished a gun. Goodbye peace and love.
Girl, you know it’s sad but true. Milli Vanilli were stripped of their Best New Artist Grammy in 1990 after producer Frank Farian revealed in a press conference that neither Fabrice Morvan nor Rob Pilatus actually performed on their multiplatinum debut, Girl You Know It’s True.
Though rumors had followed them for months (dancing to a skipping record on stage will get you those), it wasn’t until the duo demanded to sing on their next album that Farian admitted the hoax. Farian had hired the two aspiring models after deciding the actual singers didn’t have the same visual appeal as two dreadlocked dancers from Munich rocking shoulder pads and knee socks. B-b-b-b-baby!
Farian and his studio accomplices recorded a follow-up album as The Real Milli Vanilli, which — surprise! — really bombed. Rob and Fab, performing as Rob and Fab, also failed to regain even a fraction of their fan base. The duo eventually re-teamed with Farian with plans to make a new album, but Pilatus, who had recently gone through stints in jail and rehab, overdosed on pills and alcohol in 1998, only months after the group’s infamous “Behind The Music” episode aired.
Many rockers shed their earthly vessels too soon. When the body of Rolling Stone founder Brian Jones was discovered in the bottom of a swimming pool in 1969, it kicked off a disturbing trend, with many prominent stars checking out for the great gig in the sky at the age of 27.
Following Jones’s mysterious death, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and The Doors’ Jim Morrison all died within two years of each other, all aged 27. Many wondered if the curse hadn’t been started by Robert Johnson, a legendary bluesman from the 1920s who had been poisoned when he was 27. Ironically, Johnson’s eerie records had inspired Jones to start the Rolling Stones.
In the 1990, rock stars began dropping again. Kurt Cobain was the most notable casualty, killing himself with a shotgun at age 27. Kristen Pfaff, the bassist in Cobain’s wife band Hole, overdosed on heroin at the same age. — Charles Bottomley
Orlando music mogul Lou Pearlman made his money the old fashioned way: He got little old ladies to sink their life savings into nonexistent companies, then pocketed the money. As if that weren’t bad enough, Pearlman then used some of those millions to help manufacture boy-band juggernauts Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC. The world would never be the same.
Pearlman, who was a first cousin to Art Garfunkel, set out to run airlines and travel agencies, although most of these companies existed only on paper. When New Kids on the Block chartered one of his planes, he launched his own personal star search that resulted in Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, LFO and Aaron Carter, all of whom later sued Pearlman for back earnings. In a Vanity Fair article, several anonymous band-members alleged his hands-on management style included naked hotel bed romps with his charges.
After *NSYNC sang “Bye Bye Bye” to Pearlman, feds took control of his one remaining company in 2007. The man the Orlando Weekly dubbed a “corpulent pusbag” fled to Bali, where he adopted the alias “A. Incognito Johnson.” In May 2008, the 53-year-old was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison, but his debts to cheated investors, which total some $300 million, remain unpaid . — Charles Bottomley
Everyone is familiar with the expression, but Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes brought new meaning to the concept of a woman scorned. After discovering that boyfriend and Atlanta Falcons star Andre Rison was cheating on her, the TLC frontwoman tried to burn up his sneakers on June 9, 1994. Instead, she burned down his $1.3 million dollar house.
“There was drinking involved …” she later explained. “He stormed off and I decided to barbecue his tennis shoes. I threw them in the bathtub because I thought the fire would contain itself that way …”
The 24-year-old singer was sentenced to five years probation, fined $10,000, and entered an alcohol rehab program five months before TLC released CrazySexyCool, which became the best-selling album by a girl group in America. The home torching hadn’t been the tempestuous twosome’s first domestic dispute (he was allegedly abusive), but they remarkably stayed together for several years, with Andre announcing their engagement in 2001 before later calling it off.
Any chance for reconciliation was destroyed in 2002, when the 30-year-old was killed in a car accident in Honduras.
During his brief 26-year lifespan, Gram Parsons transformed himself from the heir to a citrus fortune to L.A.’s country rock outlaw. He played with the Byrds, saw his song “Honky Tonk Women” allegedly stolen by Keith Richards, and banged Emmylou Harris before the rest of Nashville did. Parsons had long been obsessed by California’s Joshua Tree monument, which he often visited to search for UFOs while tripping on acid. In Sept. 19, 1973, the cosmic cowboy accidentally mixed his interest in close encounters with his addiction to booze and morphine, and OD’d at the The Joshua Tree Inn.
Parsons’s millionaire stepfather wanted the body brought back to Louisiana. Instead, manager Phil Kaufman and an unidentified friend hijacked the body from a loading dock at LAX, and, in a borrowed hearse, sped to Joshua Tree, believing that was where Parsons would have wanted to have been cremated. Kaufman’s clumsy attempts at cremating the corpse instead produced a giant fireball that alerted park rangers. A police chase ensued, ending with Kaufman and his pal in custody. Parsons’s charred body was eventually interred in New Orleans. — Charles Bottomley
Your song “Great Balls Of Fire” has just hit no. 1 on the charts, and will go on to become the biggest selling single in Sun Records history, topping hits from Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. What are you gonna do now? If you’re Jerry Lee Lewis, you’d go out and marry your 13-year-old second cousin? Despite telling reporters that wife Myra Gail Brown was a ripe 15-years-old, her true age — and the fact that he’d yet to divorce his previous wife — soon leaked, quickly putting the kibosh on the singer’s fledgling career.
Although the man known as “The Killer” (a nickname from childhood) would eventually score a series of country comeback hits, his flair for drama, romantic and otherwise, would follow him throughout his life. Cousin Myra divorced the singer in 1970, claiming abuse, and two later wives died from drowning and a drug overdose, respectively. Add a history of tax evasion, and you can see why a stomach ulcer almost killed him in 1981.
R. Kelly likes ‘em young. The dude married his late protégé, Aaliyah, in 1994, when the singer had barely put away her My Little Pony dolls; he also penned a little ditty for her called “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number.” However, the Pied Piper of R&B was shocked to discover someone who looked very much like him pissing on a girl who looked very much like a 14-year-old girl in a sex video that surfaced in 2002.
The tape went viral online after it was anonymously mailed to the Chicago Sun-Times and street vendors did a steady business selling bootleg DVDs of the felonious tryst. Kelly was eventually indicted for 21 counts of sex with a minor, but after much legal haggling, the charges were reduced to 14 kiddie-porn-related offenses. The platinum-selling artist went from believing to he could fly to confessing that “Bin Laden is the only one who knows exactly what I’m going through.”
Despite a seemingly slam-dunk case against him, Kelly, in 2008, was acquitted of all charges. — Charles Bottomley
Sex Pistols member Sid Vicious was only 20 when he met Nancy Spungen in 1977. British punk god and veteran American groupie bonded instantly over their mutual passion for extreme drug use. Less than two years later, both were dead.
The story goes that the couple holed up in Manhattan’s Chelsea Hotel after the Pistols broke up to binge on smack while planning Sid’s solo career. On October 12, 1978, Nancy was found in the couple’s bathroom, dead from a knife wound in her abdomen. Ten days later Sid slit his own wrist. He survived, but only to be charged with Nancy’s murder (the knife was traced back to him) before overdosing on February 2, 1979, at the home of his new girlfriend.
Speculation still swirls about both deaths. Some say that Sid’s overprotective mom injected him with a lethal dose of heroin to spare him from prison. Others maintain that it was drug dealers that stabbed Nancy. In his book Vicious: Too Fast to Live, Alan Parker argues that both were murdered by Rockets Redglare, an East Village actor and alleged drug dealer. Tragic? Yes. Totally sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll? Yeah, baby.