12 Artists Who Died During A Performance

The final performances from 12 greats...

“Dying onstage” is usually just a crass expression among entertainers meaning a rough gig. But for an unlucky few, the phrase prove tragically true. Some of music’s great ones have passed on while in the middle of performing for an audience. In a sense it’s a fitting way to go -doing what you love in front of an adoring crowd. But still, their loss fills music lovers with grief to this very day.

From rock pioneers like the late great Johnny Ace, to heavy metal Gods like Dimebag Darrell, and even unclassifiable one-offs like the ukulele-strumming Tiny Tim, the list of musicians who’ve passed on while in front of the spotlight is larger than you’d expect. Head up to the gallery above to pay tribute to twelve of our fallen musical heroes.

  • 1 Johnny Ace (1929-1954)
    Blues guitar pioneer John Marshall Alexander Jr. (A.K.A., Ace) was performing in Houston when he decided to play with his .22 revolver during a 5 minute break between sets. What happened next is disputed. Some say that he had a single bullet left in the chamber and was playing a game of Russian Roulette. Others claim that he had been drinking and mistakenly believed that the gun wasn’t loaded. To demonstrate this, brought the muzzle to his temple and pulled the trigger. [Photo: Getty Images]

  • 2 Les Harvey (1944-1972)
    The Scottish guitarist was onstage with Stone The Crows in Swansea, Wales, when he reached out to touch a microphone with wet hands during a soundcheck. The mic was not properly earth-grounded, and he was electrocuted. Amazingly, he had previously survived a tour-bus crash in 1965. [Photo: Getty Images]

  • 3 Lee Morgan (1938-1972)
    The jazz trumpeter was taking a break between sets at New York’s Slug’s Saloon club when he got into an argument with his common-law wife. In the ensuing disagreement, Morgan was shot in the head and bled to death before the ambulance was able to arrive. The venue closed its doors soon after. [Photo: Getty Images]

  • 4 Philippe Wynne (1941-1984)
    Wynne is best remembered as the co-lead singer of Detroit R&B combo The Spinners, as well as his later role in George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic. On July 13th, 1984, he suffered a heart attack while performing at a nightclub in Oakland, CA. He died the next morning. [Photo: Getty Images]

  • 5 Jackie Wilson (1934-1984)
    The dynamic Mr. Excitement was performing “Lonely Teardrops” at Dick Clark’s ’Good Ol’ Rock and Roll Revue’ in Cherry Hill, New Jersey on September 29th, 1975 when he suffered a massive heart attack. According to witnesses, he collapsed just after singing the lyric “My heart is cryin’.” Audience members initially thought it was just part of the act, but Dick Clark realized something was wrong and ordered the band to stop playing. Cornell Gunter of the Coasters, another band on the bill, performed CPR and was able to resuscitate him, but he slipped into a coma. He emerged for a short time several months later, but soon returned to a semi-comatose state. He died of complications from pneumonia eight years later, in 1984. [Photo: Getty Images]

  • 6 Onie Wheeler (1921-1984)
    The bluegrass musician was playing onstage at the Grand Ole Opry with Rev. Jimmie Snow when he collapsed and died of a heart attack. [Photo: Bear Records]

  • 7 Country Dick Montana (1955-1995)
    Country and punk aren’t usually two things that you imagine going together, but The Beat Farmers pulled it off like no other. Tragically, the band was silenced forever when singer/drummer Country Dick Montana (born Daniel McLain) suffered a heart attack three songs into their set at the Long Horn Club in Whistler, British Columbia on November 8, 1995. The surviving members dissolved the band out of respect to their fallen vocalist. [Photo: Getty Images]

  • 8 Tiny Tim (1932-1996)
    The one-of-a-kind ukulele icon suffered a heart attack in September 1996 just as he began singing at the Montague Grange Hall in Massachusetts. He was hospitalized for three weeks, and ordered to never perform again due to his weak heart and complications from a diabetic condition. Despite the warnings, he gave a small performance at The Woman’s Club of Minneapolis on November 30. That’s where he suffered his second heart attack, collapsing as he exited the stage. This episode proved fatal, and he died at a nearby hospital. [Photo: Getty Images]

  • 9 Johnny “Guitar” Watson (1935-1996)
    The bluesy axe-man was dubbed “The Godfather of Funk” by his appreciative fans and admirers. In addition to his music, he was just as noted for his flamboyant sense of style, frequently donning wide-brimmed hats, bell bottoms, and even gold teeth! He died onstage in Yokohama, Japan, on May 17th, 1996. He was in the middle of the guitar solo for his song “Ain’t That A Bitch,” which also happened to be his last words. [Photo: Getty Images]

  • 10 Judge Dread (1945-1998)
    Born Alexander Minto Hughes in England, Dread was a world-famous ska and reggae musician who became the first white artist to have a hit in Jamaica. He had just finished a concert at the Penny Theater in Canterbury on March 13th 1998 when he suffered a fatal heart attack while walking off the stage. [Photo: Getty Images]

  • 11 Mark Sandman (1952-1999)
    The lead singer and guitarist of the indie band Morphine was playing a concert in Italy when he suffered a heart attack and collapsed. He was pronounced dead at the scene, and the remaining members disbanded soon after. His death has been attributed to cigarettes, heavy stress and the high temperatures (over 100 degrees) on the night of the performance. [Photo: Getty Images]

  • 12 Dimebag Darrell (1966-2004)
    The former Pantera guitarist was performing with his new band Damangeplan in Columbus, Ohio, when a mentally disturbed Marine named Nathan Gale opened fire from the front row with a 9mm Beretta handgun. Three shots hit Darrell in the head, the third killing him instantly. Jeff “Mayhem” Thompson, the band’s head of security, was killed trying to tackle Gale, as was venue employee Erin Halk. [Photo: Getty Images]

  • 13 Honorable Mention: Curtis Mayfield (1942-1999)
    The Superfly singer was performing at an outdoor concert at Wingate Field in Brooklyn when a lighting rig fell, paralyzing him from the neck down. He was left unable to play guitar, but he was able to write and record vocals for his last album, line by line, while laying on his back. His health declined following his paralysis, and he died from complications caused by his diabetes in 1999. [Photo: Getty Images]