…and now I’ve had my 15 minutes
I’m just another memory
An embarrassing part of your youth
Don’t leave me dying here
Don’t leave me dying here…
Altered Images, Dead Popstars
This entry is dedicated to Thomas Erdelyi (aka Tommy Ramone), the newest member to the list…
Death is a funny thing; the way we approach it says much of us as individuals. If this list seems irreverent, or pointless, or smug, or just plain offensive, well, keep in mind that your days are numbered and your fate is as certain as anyone mentioned. As are mine. You may not die from shooting up heroin in some maggot-strewn dive in Cleveland after a lackluster and under attended gig, but we can all certainly strive for such a glorious demise.
When I started entry I did so as a lark; with the recent passing of Bob Casale (Devo) I got to thinking of my own mortality… and then visions of other New Wave artists who had passed began dancing in my head. The sadness I felt of the early passing of Patty Donahue (Waitresses) so many years ago was the first to come to mind, but the list quickly grew…
If I knew at the beginning of this list’s creation what I know now, I probably would have never started the project. I thought it would be a quick hour-long research yielding maybe a dozen artists. Some ten hours later my mind is reeling with thoughts of cancer, heroin, and suicide. It took me to a dark place.
This list is long, but undoubtedly there are many minor musicians that saw fleeting fame decades ago that have passed, their demise having gone unnoticed by all but their friends and family. Researching the fate, be it dire or happy, of members of a group like say Girls At Our Best would be a difficult undertaking… and certainly beyond the time I could commit to such research. Suffice to say, if you see someone who’s missing from the list please feel free to let me know!
So, who made the list? Well, the most important attribute for inclusion is that the person be dead. Given that, the artist (or producer, collaborator, what have you) needs to have been working within the genre of ‘new wave.’ Which begs the question- “Just what is New Wave, anyway?” That’s a complex query with no easy answer. For the purposes of this list ‘new wave’ is what is commonly seen by Joe Sixpack as ‘New Wave’ (Devo, Blondie, Go-Go’s) in addition to first gen punk, some ska, some indie, some alternative. The concept of ‘new wave’ (no caps) is more of a spirit than a time-locked and narrow style. An idea that permeates to this day, like ripples in the surface of a pond from a stone cast into the murky depths of the late 70s.
I’ve included not only musicians such as singers and drummers, but also those that have had a notable impact on the genre. Producers, venue owners, critics, and (in one case) groupies. The range of deaths runs from the pathetic (suicide) to the noble (crushed in an effort to save others while the World Trade Center collapsed around them), from the mundane (dying in sleep) to the tragically improbable (being hit by a speeding boat.) In almost every case their creative lives were snuffed out too soon…
By the numbers:
Date range covered: 1972-present
Average age at death: 44.8 years
Youngest: 18 (John Spence, older brother of Gwen Stefani)
Oldest: 88 (Esther Wong, owner of the seminal west coast venue ‘Madame Wong’s’)
Most fatal year to be a punk/new waver: 2004 (10 deaths)
Deadliest occupation as a punk/new waver: punk (62 deaths)
Manner of death*:
35– cancer (8 specifically lung and 5 specifically liver)
21– overdose (15/21 or 71% over overdoses were heroin-related)
19– heart attack or other fatal heart issue
17– miscellaneous (lesser diseases, house fires, bicycling accidents)
8– brain aneurisms and clots
8– car related fatalities
3– died in sleep
3– natural causes
* If death is due to multiple reasons (such as suicide by overdose) both are listed
A majority of the data for this chart was gleaned from this site. Its listings are exhaustive, with the amount of errors you might expect from a pet-project database of its magnitude. So vast in fact that merely wading through what seemed like millions of dead rock stars and picking out the relevant individuals took not an inconsiderable amount of time.