10 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Musicians Who Died In Plane Crashes

Written by Dan Farrant

The often risky lifestyle that accompanies a thriving career in the music industry is famous for causing untimely deaths. Musical history is rich with overdoses, suicides, assassinations, and even transportation tragedies.

Here, we’ll talk about the latter. Though the industry is well-known for the first two, there have been artists who passed due to road accidents and plane crashes.

Our list looks into 10 of the most famous musicians who died in plane crashes. Read on to learn about them.

1. Glenn Miller

Nicknamed the King of Swing, Glenn Miller was an iconic composer, conductor, and trombone player whose big-band music served as a beacon of hope for Americans during WWII.

In 1942, he enlisted in the army, going on to lead the Army Air Force Band. At age 40, Miller was on a military flight over the English Channel when the plane he was on disappeared.

To the shock of many fans, it was announced that he was presumed dead after investigations could not locate the plane or any traces of it. Following this, many wild theories exist about his “true” fate.

2. Buddy Holly

Charles Hardin Holley—or Buddy Holly—was a singer and songwriter from Texas whose short but impactful two-year run in the limelight heavily influenced American rock music.

Best known for his 1950s smash hits “That’ll Be the Day” and “Peggy Sue,” Buddy Holly would eventually win recognition as one of rock and roll’s founding fathers.

In February of 1959, Holly and his group were to do the Winter Dance Party tour. They were initially to travel by bus, but due to the weather and cold, he decided to chart a plane to their destination.

Sadly, due to pilot error, Holly died with everyone else on board when the plane crashed shortly after take-off. He was only 22.

3. Ronnie Van Zant, Stevie Gaines, and Cassie Gaines

Number three on our list includes Ronnie Van Zant, Stevie Gaines, and Cassie Gaines from the legendary American rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Van Zant was the lead vocalist, Stevie Gaines was the guitarist, and Cassie Gaines sang backup vocals. In October of 1977, they, along with the rest of the band, were on their way to play in Louisiana.

En route, the plane they were on ran out of fuel, and the pilot attempted an emergency landing. Sadly, they crashed in a wooded area. Van Zant, Stevie, Cassie, and the pilots died on impact, while the others suffered injuries.

Frontman Van Zant famously predicted his death by repeatedly telling others he would not live past 30. He was 29 when the crash killed him.

4. Otis Redding

The King of Soul, Otis Redding, drew inspiration from his gospel roots. He was known for his mastery and influence of the soul genre and classic songs like “These Arms of Mine.”

Tragically, in 1967, when Redding and his bandmates were on their way to Wisconsin for a gig, their plane crashed into Lake Monona. The reason for the crash was cited to be poor weather.

The soul legend was only 26 years old when he passed. Redding posthumously received a Lifetime Achievement Award and was inducted into the Rock and Roll and Songwriters Halls of Fame.

5. Patsy Cline

Honored in the Country Music Hall of Fame, Patsy Cline pioneered country music’s inroad to mainstream culture during the 1950s. She had several number-one hits and became a pillar of the country genre.

Coming from a difficult background, she eventually performed at Carnegie Hall, toured with “The Johnny Cash Show,” and worked alongside other country music icons like Willie Nelson and June Carter.

While traveling home from a concert in Dyersburg, Tennessee, the small private plane Cline was on encountered bad weather en route to Nashville. It crashed some 90 miles from its destination, killing everyone on board, including Cline.

Patsy shared several omens of dying young with others before that tragic day. She also is said to have told another singer, “I’ve had two bad accidents. The third one will either be a charm, or it’ll kill me.”

6. Randy Rhoads

Best known as the guitarist behind the world-famous heavy metal riff in Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train,” Randy Rhoads was a musician and songwriter who made an incredible impact during his short career.

His artistry heavily influenced 1980s metal. His classical training translated into inventing guitar-playing techniques that defined the genre, landing him in several greatest guitarist lists.

In 1982, Rhoads died on tour after an unauthorized pilot took him and the band’s makeup artist on a joyride gone wrong, resulting in a fatal crash that left all passengers burned beyond recognition.

7. Aaliyah

Singer and actress Aaliyah bears the nickname Princess of R&B after making her name in the 1990s by selling millions of records showcasing her raw vocal talent and inspiringly confident persona.

She won multiple Grammy nominations and other accolades as she continued to build her success and venture into more artistic avenues, like film acting. 

Aaliyah was 22 and at the peak of her emblematic career when she and seven crew members died in a plane crash leaving the Bahamas after their tour ended early. To this day, the R&B and hip-hop communities revere Aaliyah as a cultural symbol.

8. John Denver

Henry John Deutschendorf Jr.—known as John Denver to almost all—was a singer and songwriter who performed acoustic folk music celebrating a simple lifestyle in the ’70s. His musical love letters to nature reflected his passion for environmentalism.

Denver is behind two official state songs: “Rocky Mountain High” for Colorado and “Take Me Home, Country Roads” for West Virginia. He sold over 30 million records and won critical acclaim throughout his career.

Despite having several thousand flight hours’ experience, John Denver died piloting his recently homemade aircraft. Inadequate fuel and poor pre-flight preps were among cited to be the cause. The singer was only 53.

9. Jim Croce

Another 1970s folk star, Jim Croce, performed several number-one hits after releasing You Don’t Mess Around with Jim, his third studio album, including “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.”

One night in September 1973, after his concert in Natchitoches, Louisiana, Croce boarded a chartered plane. Shortly after takeoff, the plane crashed into a tree, killing everyone on board.

Croce’s hard-earned musical career brought him fame but not personal fulfillment. After his premature death, a letter to his wife was found detailing his plans to leave the music business and focus on their family because he was homesick.

10. Jim Reeves

Lastly, we have Nashville Sound legend Jim Reeves, also known as Gentleman Jim. He was a critically acclaimed country singer and songwriter who found fame in the 1950s.

Reeve’s vocal performance evolved over the years from standard Texan belting into more of a ballad style that resonated with global listeners. He wowed fans with songs like “He’ll Have to Go” and “Billy Bayou.”

On an afternoon in July 1964, Reeves and his manager were en route to Nashville from Arkansas; the singer was piloting. During the flight, the two were caught in a violent storm. Their plane crashed after it stalled over Brentwood, Tennessee, killing them instantly.

Summing Up Our List of Musicians And Singers Who Died In Plane Crashes

All the artists on this list had their lives cut tragically short when they died in plane crashes.

They made significant cultural contributions, and undoubtedly, they would’ve continued to do so had they been given the chance.

Despite the short time they had, their songs and albums live on, and their legacy continues in the songs we listen to today.

Without these people, music would not be the same had it not been for their contribution.

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Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.