Top Ten Artists Who Died in Plane Crashes

Plane Crash Deaths ~

buddy holly plane crash fatalities

February 3rd was the anniversary of one of the most tragic events in music history. Infamously known as “The Day the Music Died,” this date in 1959 was when three legendary young rock and roll musicians were killed in a plane crash. As tragic as this event was, it was not the only time that a musician was killed in a plane crash. Here is my top ten list of artists killed in plane crashes.

Top Ten Musicians Who Died In A Plane Crash

1. Buddy Holly {see above}

Holly was one of the three rock-and-rollers killed in the 1959 crash, and probably the biggest of the three. Holly already had three top ten hits, including a number one song with “That’ll Be the Day” in 1957. Several artists, including Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, and Eric Clapton count Holly among their biggest musical influences. Some say he may have been the single most important rock and roll artist of all time, although he had only been around for a couple of years before his untimely death. He was among the first artists to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Happy New Year from Patsy Cline plane crash fatalities

2. Patsy Cline

Perhaps the single most influential female artist of all time, Patsy Cline was killed in a plane crash just outside Camden, Tennessee on March the 5th, 1963. She had a slew of country music hits to her credit, and had successfully crossed over into pop music, the first artist of her genre to do so. Her hits include “Walkin’ After Midnight”, “I Fall to Pieces”, “She’s Got You”, and “Crazy.” She even scored Top 10 hits after her death in the country music field with “Sweet Dreams”, “Leavin’ On Your Mind”, and “Faded Love.” That is just a testament to her overall popularity.

ritchie valens plane crash fatalities

3. Ritchie Valens

The second most popular of those killed in the plane crash in 1959, Ritchie Valens was only 17 years old at the time of his death. He had already made his mark with three Top 40 hits, including “Donna”, which peaked at #2, “La Bamba”, and “C’Mon Let’s Go.” Valens pioneered what is known as Chicano rock, due to his Mexican-American heritage. Lou Diamond Phillips immortalized the young rocker in his 1987 portrayal of Valens in the film “La Bamba.”

ronnie van zant lynyrd skynyrd plane crash fatalities

4. Ronnie Van Zant (Lynyrd Skynyrd)

Perhaps the most infamous plane crash next to the 1959 one is the 1977 crash that killed three original members of the band Lynyrd Skynyrd, including original lead vocalist and founding member Ronnie Van Zant, backup singer Casey Gaines and guitarist Steve Gaines as well as the band’s road manager Dean Kilpatrick, the pilot and co-pilot. The band had pioneered the southern rock sound and  were virtual icons, especially in the south, with songs like the legendary “Sweet Home Alabama”, the rock anthem “Freebird”, “Workin’ For MCA”, “What’s Your Name?”, and “I Know a Little.” Their music inspired countless other artists, such as Marshall Tucker, Charlie Daniels, Elvin Bishop, as well as numerous modern day country and rock artists.

Ricky Nelson plane crash fatalities

5. Ricky Nelson

Long before Justin Bieber or even Ricky Martin, there was the original teen heartthrob. His name was Ricky Nelson. Nelson began his career as an actor in the long-running television series “The Adventures of Ozzy and Harriet” in which he played himself. After the show ended, he embarked on a musical career that would make most artists jealous. He scored huge hits with songs like “Dream Lover”, “Poor  Little Fool”, and the #1 single “Travelin’ Man.” Nelson was killed when his private plane crashed just two miles from the airport in De Kalb, Texas on December 31, 1985.

John Denver plane crash fatalities

6. John Denver

John Denver had one of the most recognizable voices in radio. He also enjoyed major success in both the adult contemporary and country/western genres. During his lifetime he recorded twelve gold records and four platinum records. He is best known for his songs “Take Me Home (Country Roads)”, “Rocky Mountain High”, “Sunshine On My Shoulders”, and “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.” Denver was piloting a single occupant plane when he crashed into the Pacific Ocean in 1997 at the age of 53.

Stevie Ray Vaughan plane crash fatalities

7. Stevie Ray Vaughan

Technically, Stevie Ray Vaughan was killed in a helicopter crash. But, it’s an aircraft, so gimme a break :P Stevie was killed in 1990 when the helicopter he was riding in crashed into a hillside in Wisconsin. He had helped to revive the modern blues movement with his band, Double Trouble, and scored huge hits in the blues genre, with songs like “Texas Flood”, “Pride and Joy”, “Rude Mood”, and a wonderful rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s “Vodoo Child (Slight Return).” Although he never cracked the Top 40 in his seven-year career, he was influential and inspirational to many artists, such as ZZ Top, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton and John Mayer.

Randy Rhoads plane crash fatalities

8. Randy Rhoads

Here is yet another example of a young, budding artist whose life ended way too early. Rhoads was a budding young guitarist who had co-founded the heavy metal band Quiet Riot before leaving them in 1979 to join former Black Sabbath lead vocalist Ozzy Osbourne on his first solo tour. Rhoads played guitar on  Osbourne’s first and second studio albums, “The Blizzard of Oz” and “Diary of a Madman”, respectively. His riffs can be heard on Ozzy’s legendary hit “Crazy Train.” Rhoads was killed in March of 1982 when the plane he was on crashed into a garage in Leesburg, Florida. Many modern day guitarists, especially in heavy metal, consider Randy Rhoads one of their biggest influences.

Jim Reeves plane crash fatalities

9. Jim Reeves

He was known as “Gentleman” Jim Reeves. His sultry singing voice helped pioneer country music’s “Nashville sound” and left a legacy that would live for years after his untimely death. He had several top hits, including four #1 singles with “Mexican Joe”, “Bimbo”, “Four Walls”, and “Billy Bayou” but may be best known for songs that he recorded just prior to his death, “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and “Make the World Go Away.”  He died in 1964 when the plane he was piloting crashed in Brentwood, Tennessee, just outside of Nashville. He was 41 years old.

Big Bopper plane crash fatalities

10. The Big Bopper

J.P. Richardson, a.k.a. The Big Bopper, is best known for his hit “Chantilly Lace” which was released in 1958. Until that time Richardson was a radio D.J. who enjoyed more success as a songwriter. He penned “Running Bear” for Johnny Preston, as well as George Jones’ first #1 single, “White Lightnin’. ” Richardson was the third of three rock stars killed in the 1959 plane crash infamously known as “The Day the Music Died.”

Aaliyah plane crash fatalities
An honorable mention goes to Aaliyah, who died in a plane crash in 2001. She had two #1 singles on the R&B/Hip Hop charts with “Back & Forth” and “If Your Girl Only Knew” and a #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Try Again.” She also starred in two major motion pictures, “Romeo Must Die” with Jet Li and “Queen of the Damned” opposite Stuart Townsend. Her plane crashed in the Bahamas attempting to return to the U.S.

Who Was Your Favorite Musician That Died In A Plane Crash?

So, if you feel I missed anyone, please let me know. Otherwise, feel free to comment on these tragic events.

Comments

  1. I like Buddy Clark who died in a plane crash in 1949.

  2. Just one little correction, The Allman Brothers inspired Lynyrd Skynyrd. Not the other way around. The Allman Brothers were a rock/blues band and still is to this day, not southern rock. Gregg Allman took over the band when his brother Duane was killed in a motorcycle wreck in 71. They still tour around the world and is widely known for their blues. Thanks =D

    • Dawn McAlexander says:

      According to Last.fm..

      “The Allman Brothers Band, formed in 1969 in Macon, Georgia blended strains of Southern Rock music – Blues, R&B, Country, Jazz, and Gospel – into a flexible, jam-oriented style of Rock and Roll that reflected the emergence of the “New South” and set the style for Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Marshall Tucker Band, and countless other Southern rockers.”

      To me, that does put them in the Southern Rock category {that really just depends on the listener’s definition of Southern Rock and can be very subjective, though} but you are definitely right about who came first. Thanks for the catch!

      Dawn

  3. Jim Croce also died in a plane crash.

    On Thursday, September 20, 1973, the day that his ABC single “I Got a Name” was released, Croce, Muehleisen, and four others were killed in the crash of a chartered Beechcraft E18S upon takeoff from the Natchitoches Regional Airport in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Croce had just completed a concert at Northwestern State University’s Prather Coliseum in Natchitoches and was flying to Sherman, Texas, for a concert at Austin College, when the plane crashed about an hour after the end of the concert.

    • Dawn McAlexander says:

      That was really sad. We have some of his records still, that we listen to on occasion.

      Thanks for adding him,
      Dawn

  4. Stevie Ray Vaughn is still my favorite guitarist…didn’t know about Patsy Kline!

    • Dawn McAlexander says:

      Patsy Cline was also in a really bad car accident that almost killed her before that, if I remember correctly. I think she even got some pretty noticeable scarring from it {in her eyebrow}, once again, if I am remembering right. I think I will do a little research about that later and come back to this comment thread. :)

      Dawn

  5. I have never been on a plane, all these people you see who die is just crazy! I know a ton of musicians and amazing actors have died on planes, very sad. I remember when Aaliyah pasted away.. very sad she was a great singer!

    • Dawn McAlexander says:

      I have only been in a helicopter once, and never on a plane. I know they say that traveling by plane *statistically* is the safest way to travel, but honestly, people wreck in cars all the time and walk away. That doesn’t seem to happen quite as often in a plane crash.

      Dawn

  6. Thanks for sharing these. I never realized that half of these people dies in plane crashes!

  7. I remember when Aaliyah’s plane crashed that was so sad. There are so many of them, I didn’t realize that.

    • Dawn McAlexander says:

      Yeah, and Lisa *Left Eye* Lopez {Lopes?} was about the same time, too, wasn’t it? She was in a car accident though. Sad. Both were so young.

      Dawn

  8. Interesting list.

    Mine is Aaliyah.

    Have a fun weekend!

  9. I didn’t realize some of these musicians died in plane crashes. Patsy Cline, for example. Interesting!

  10. Buddy Holly. Always Buddy Holly.

  11. Hmmm interesting post. I pretty much knew all of those, and the demise of Aaliyah still stings.

  12. awwww i miss aaliyah!!

  13. Wow..so many with so much talent! I don’t know if any is bigger than any of the others.

  14. Otis Redding died in a plane crash. He sung Sitting on the Dock of the Bay. The song actually was released after his death and went to number one on Billboard. There was a band on the plane also named the Bar-Kays and one member of the band survived the crash. He was the only person to survive. They even have a photo of them pulling his body out the water.

    • Dawn McAlexander says:

      Oh my gosh. That is awful. And I did not know that. That must have been horrifying for the person that survived.

      Love that song.

      Dawn

  15. Wow, that’s so many of them that died in crashes!

  16. WOW – that is a lot of plane crashes. I can’t believe hoe many were affected by it

  17. I honestly didn’t know anything about Patsy Cline until this summer when I saw a musical A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline put on by a very small town Theater Company. It was amazing and her songs were incredible.

  18. Jenna M Wood says:

    It’s amazing how many artists we’ve lost to plane crashes. The Day The Music Died will be infamous forever!

  19. John Denver? No kidding. I had no idea that he was dead…never mind the fact that he was killed in a plane crash.

    Thanks for teaching me something today!

    • Dawn McAlexander says:

      Oh no. I hate when I find out that someone has been dead for years that I either never knew, or forgot, that they were dead.

      Dawn

  20. Interesting. I never knew all of this. Buddy Holly obviously but a lot- I was not sure of

  21. Sweet Dreams is a movie about the life and death of Patsy Cline. She was abused by her husband and still sang those beautiful songs…I have often wondered how the music landscape would have been changed if Buddy Holly had not died…

  22. I like to sit and ponder how different music would be today if these people would have lived and not died. So sad. I must have totally forgot that John Denver died in a plane crash. I had no idea, or maybe I just forgot?

  23. Thank you for the list. I wasn’t expecting to know of everyone on the list but I did. I hadn’t realized they all had died in plane crashes. My mom loved Patsy Cline so that one wasn’t a shocker neither was Buddy or John Denver. Aliyah possibly was or I just didn’t remember.

  24. I admit, I had no idea that Patsy Cline and Ricky Nelson died in plane crashes! Shocker! I do remember when Aaliyah died… so sad :(

  25. The Buddy Holly musical will make you cry when the plane accident happens. It’s amazing how many people don’t know about it considering how popular the song about it is.

    A big Latin artist just died recently in a plan crash. It’s rumored she was shot down by drug kingpins because she spoke out against them.

    • Dawn McAlexander says:

      Oh my gosh! Are you serious? I knew that a Latin artist had died but I had no idea about the rumors. That is horrible.

      Dawn

  26. Totally agree about the Buddy Holly musical, its a must see. It’s quite shocking when you realise just how many have died from plane crashes.

  27. I was sad when John Denver died. I really loved his music and saw him in concert.

  28. Ronnie Van Zant is my all time favorite – not his death but his music. I grew up listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd and loved his passion.

  29. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched Coal Miner’s daughter (about Loretta Lynn) and heard about Pasty Cline’s plane crash (and the car wreck). I think I would have been a huge fan of her back then. My mom loved her and LL.

    • Dawn McAlexander says:

      Coal Miner’s Daughter is such a good movie. I also read “Still Woman Enough” by Loretta Lynn. Now there is a woman who had a tough life. Wow. Love her!

      Dawn

      • I would love to read that book. I haven’t ever heard of it. I feel like my mom could have been Loretta Lynn without the singing voice. She had a rough life, too, and probably why she liked the movie so much. :-/

        • Dawn McAlexander says:

          I don’t know if you can food or not, but I do, and that is A LOT of work. She was talking about how one day she canned all day…if I remember correctly it was like 100 jars or something. And Mooney {her husband} came in mad about something {I am pretty sure it was something trivial like dinner being late due to the canning} and busted EVERY SINGLE JAR – then left her to clean it up, naturally. Jerk.

          I have no idea how she put up with him all those years. And then she cared for him in his death, too, if I remember that correctly. You should definitely read that book.

          Dawn

  30. I didn’t know this many musicians died in plane crashes!
    My favorite would be Aaliyah. :)

  31. I loved the movie about Richie Valens with Lou Diamond Philips. I grew up listening to Buddy Holly and actually saw the Crickets play live a few years ago (without him obviously). Such huge music influences taken too soon.

    • Dawn McAlexander says:

      I did, too! I actually saw it for the first this year – on “The Day The Music Died.” So sad. I bet that was really cool to go to that concert! I would have loved to have seen it!

      Dawn

  32. Wow, I had no idea so many musicians died in plane crashes! I knew about the Big Bopper and Richie Valenz, but not the others.

  33. I had no idea there were so many! I really like Patsy Cline.

  34. Luckily air travel has continued to get safer over the years and we don’t loose as many lives now a days as in years prior. It is a tragedy to loose any of the artists above and they are greatly missed.

  35. C roberson says:

    I can’t believe you would leave out Otis Redding!

  36. Jo-Ann Brightman says:

    I had forgotten that so many famous musicians and singers had dies in plane crashes. Although flying is becoming safer I wonder if some of them would not have died if they had used regular flights rather than private planes.

    • Dawn McAlexander says:

      That’s interesting. I hadn’t thought of that, but you might have a good point there. So sad.

  37. On July 28, 1982, Keith Green, his three-year-old son Josiah, and his two year old daughter, Bethany were killed in a plane crash. His wife, Melody was home with their one year old, Rebekah. Melody was also six weeks pregnant with their fourth child, Rachel. Keith was only 28 years old.
    Keith Green is missed.

  38. I was going to say Jim Croce but someone mentioned it already. The only one I can think of and it happened recently was Jenni Rivera, the Mexican American singer.

  39. Sandy Cain says:

    I hadn’t realized we lost so many to air crashes! What’s worse, though, is all those we’ve lost due to alcohol and drug abuse.

  40. amanda whitley says:

    i had no idea about any of these except for lisa lopex.

  41. The first one to come to mind was Buddy Holly. Almost all of the other ones I have heard about, but I dont recall Rick Nelson dying in a plane crash – thanks for the interesting info

    • John Lawrence says:

      I’m pretty sure that the plane that Rick Nelson was in a old DC 3 that had a heater that ran on some sort of fuel, like gas or propane yeah real old technology and a fire broke out on the plane. So unnecessary

  42. So sad that so many great musicians died in plane crashes. whats even sadder are the ones who died from overdoses on drugs or alcohol. something that could have been prevented. Janis, Jimi, and my favorite, Jani Lane.

  43. Sherry Compton says:

    We all ride in planes often. We worry about what could happen but seeing it in one list hits home. I like several of the artists, especially Ricky Nelson. Thanks for compiling this information.

  44. Yes I remember alot of these happening. Tho some I do not mostly because I wasnt really interested in them as a musician or in my music time frame . thanks for the info

  45. Sylvia Ortiz says:

    Richie Valens showed everyone that no matter what life gives you, if you set your goals and push forward to meet your dreams, you can accomplish anything. Too bad his life was cut way too short as he was headed somewhere BIG!

  46. Dan Mattfield says:

    Croce should’ve been in there. But then, so should Glenn Miller, crashing over the English Channel December 1944. More weeks at #1 than everyone on that list put together.

    • Dawn McAlexander says:

      Thanks for the additions. There are so many great artists that we have lost in this manner. There is simply no list long enough to include them all. So sad.

  47. Dan Mattfield says:

    Just recalled another plane crash that occurred 40 years ago near Jackson, Minnesota that took the lives of musicians from Chase [Get It On]. So it seems like the 70s were the peak of plane crashes that involved musicians.

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