It’s no secret that heavy metal music can be a bit morbid and macabre. Heavy metal artists have never been afraid to musically confront mortality, pain, suffering and other grim topics by creating music that is passionate, loud, and full of raw energy that can’t be harnessed by any other force on the planet. But what happens when the musicians- the human beings behind the music- meet the Grim Reaper in real life, under tragic and often untimely circumstances? The following list is not intended to lament over the deaths of our fallen metal heroes, but rather to explore why so many heavy metal musicians succumb to such early, tragic demises—as some bands on this list have more than one member who passed away. This is a glimpse into how metal heads mourn. May these head bangers Rest In Peace, but may their musical legacy live for eternity.
20. Quorthon (1966-2004)
Born Thomas Borje Forsberg, this Swedish musician was the founding member of black metal pioneers Bathory, a band that paved the way for countless extreme metal, Viking Metal and thrash metal bands to follow. Formed in 1983, under the stage name Quorthon, he wrote all the band’s music and lyrics, which were immersed in the occult, Satanism and later themes of Norse Mythology. Quorthon remained mostly elusive and mysterious and the band never toured, except for very early in their career but still live shows were rare. From 1984 to 2003 just before his death, he recorded 12 studio albums with Bathory, ranging from harsh and evil, to more experimental and haunting in the later years. Sadly, Quorthon was found dead in his apartment in Sweden in 2004, at the age of 38 from heart failure.
19. Mike Scaccia (1965-2012)
In 1983, guitarist Mike Scaccia formed the speed metal band Rigor Mortis in Texas with high school buddies Harden Harrison on drums and Casey Orr on bass. Within several years, the band’s unique approach to thrashy death metal got the attention of’ Al Jourgensen who personally asked Scaccia to join Ministry in 1989. Sack’s thrash and death metal roots helped usher in Ministry’s even heavier sound, and aggressive approach to industrial music. Scaccia also played with various side projects, like The Revolting Cocks and Lard among others. His guitar playing was featured Ministry’s albums Psalm 69, and Filth Pig then exited the band to reappear in 2006. But, as with many on this list, tragedy struck when Scaccia was performing with a reunited Rigor Mortis on December 22, 2012, in Fort Worth, Texas when he collapsed on stage, was taken away in an ambulance and was pronounced dead at a local hospital. According to medical reports, Scaccia suffered a sudden heart attack. He was 47 years old.
18. Nick Menza (1964-2016)
This American musician is best known for his role as the drummer in Megadeth from 1989 to 1998. He was the recorded drummer for the classic album Rust In Peace (1990), as well as Countdown to Extinction (1992) and Cryptic Writings (1997). After his exit from Megadeth he was always involved in various other rock bands, and worked as a producer, and session musician. Tragically he was playing with his instrumental rock jazz fusion band OHM in May, 2016, at the Baked Potato in Studio City, California when during performance he collapsed and was rushed to the hospital where he died from heart failure at age 51.
17. Bill Tolley(1975-2017)
When news outlets began reporting the death of a NYC firefighter in on April 20, 2017 due to horrific accident in Queens involving a roof collapse during a rescue operation, some of these outlets failed to mention that the 42 year-old NYC Firefighter, and family man was also the drummer of the longtime NYC death metal band Internal Bleeding. As a founding member of the NYC brutal death metal band, he managed his time between his career as a Firefighter and would record and tour when possible over the years. This hits hard for the extreme metal scene, as the band were about to embark on a tour across the States which they will, continue on in honor of their fallen brother. This is an instance where a metal head was a literal hero, who died trying to save the lives of others. The extreme metal community will mourn for this hero at every Internal Bleeding live performance of the upcoming summer tour. Mad Respect and horns up for Bill Tolley, drummer of Internal Bleeding and NYC Firefighter.
16. Wayne Static (1965-2014)
With his iconic, straight-up hair and long, bushy beard, Wayne Static formed his industrial metal band Static X in 1994. No one had ever heard of the term Evil Disco, but it was a term that at first fit with the band, who merged the sounds of Ministry and Fear Factory and KMFDM with a unique, nu-metal, sample heavy guttural sound. The band rose to fame in the days of the first few Ozzfests, around the time that bands like Slipknot and System of a Down were blowing up. The band worked tirelessly touring the world for years, but by 2009 with Just days before his six albums, the band’s inner turmoil caused a hiatus and eventual break up with a failed attempt to reunite original members, as Static had a new band formed. But by 2013 it was over, and Static X was no more. Just before his 49th birthday however, things ended tragically when Static died in his sleep from prescription drugs and alcohol use, at his home in Landers, California, with his wife, Tera Wray.
15. Jani Lane (1964-2011)
As the lead singer, songwriter and lyricist for the LA glam metal band Warrant, Lane was with the band for its biggest success, the hit song “Cherry Pie.” After recording eight albums with the band, selling millions of records, and touring the world with the likes of KISS, Bon Jovi, and Guns ’N Roses, eventually the hedonism, and turbulent lifestyle caught up with Lane, especially after the ’80s were over proved to be difficult for the musician. He suffered many open battles with alcoholism and depression. Unfortunately, he lost his battle, in 2011, when he was found dead from acute alcohol poisoning in a hotel room in Woodland Hills, California.
14. Paul Gray(1972-2010)
As a founding member of the platinum Iowa-based metal band Slipknot, Paul Gray was born in LA but moved to Iowa at a young age. It was here he met up with original drummer Joey Jordisson and eventually the other eight masked madmen who formed Slipknot. As the band’s bass player, Gray was one of the band’s key song writers. he was with the band from the beginning of their humble underground origins in Des Monies, to being one of the biggest metal bands on the planet, selling out stadiums, millions of albums, and playing festivals all over the world and being recognized by the Grammys. But, sadly “#2”, as he was known among the band, was found dead in a hotel room outside of Des Moines, from a drug overdose.
13. Mayhem Dead (1969-1991)
This grim vocalist, born with the name Per Yngve Ohlin, was part of the first incarnation of one of the first and most notorious bands from the first wave of Norwegian black metal. It was said that there was a deeper connotation than just music to him, he literally wanted to be dead, and the ghastly music his perfect creative outlet to express those feelings. But as a band, the tales of church burnings, Satanism, and even murder are all very real, as the book Lords of Chaos depicted. Dead ended up fulfilling his wish and committing suicide, using a shotgun to blow his head off in 1991. The band went on, and suffered another loss, this time with a case of homicide, when in 1993, bassist Varg Vikernes stabbed guitarist and band leader Oystein Aarseth, aka Euronymous (1968-1993 )to death, eventually going to prison for the murder and church burnings. But, even after the bloodshed and tragedies, to this day they still live up to their collective reputation with original members Hellhammer and Necrobutcher, speaking darkness through music, as the band celebrates now over three decades of evil music.
12.Mitch Lucker (1984-2012)
Suicide Silence were an underground metalcore band that rose to fame in the era of MySpace. They were firmed in the IE/OC area of Southern California and built up a reputation for insane and intense live performances all around the music scene in the region. Formed in 2002, by 2006 the band was signed to Century Media records and began to earn their place in the scene with hard work and dedication to almost non stop tours and festivals with everyone from Behemoth to Megadeth and everyone in between. Their tours were successful and they had success in actually selling albums in a time of digital music. Fans truly connected to Lucker’s personal lyrics and explosive energy on stage. After some successful tours and the release of the band’s third album, The Black Crown, the future looked bright for Suicide Silence: more tours, more records and more fans. Then, a horrific tragedy struck when the young vocalist, Lucker was killed after being involved in a motorcycle accident in his hometown of Huntington Beach on Halloween night in 2012. He left behind his wife Jolie and young daughter Kennedy. Suicide Silence has since decided to continue in Lucker’s honor, with former All Shall Perish vocalist and friend of the band, Eddie Hermida.
11.Bianca ‘Butthole’ Halstead (1965-2001)
Bianca Butthole took the punk attitude and sound with the crass and offensive lyrical material, and earned a name for herself with Butt Trumpet, the LA-based punk band, from 1990 to roughly 1998. When that group disbanded, she came back with Betty Blowtorch, a critically acclaimed rock band that showcased her beauty and talent as a rockstar, musician and frontwoman. But, tragically, just before the band was about to blow up on the national rock scene and embark on a national tour, her life was cut short when she was killed in a car crash in New Orleans in December, 2001 at age 36, thus ending Betty Blowtorch forever. She is buried in Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
10.Chi Cheng (1975-2013)
As part of the Sacramento-based alternative/nu metal band Deftones, Chi Cheng was the group’s bass player, and a dedicated poet, lyricist and Buddhist. Things changed drastically for the band when in 2008, Cheng was in a car accident in Santa Clara, California which left him severely injured and in a coma, where he remained in a semi-comatose state until 2013, where he succumbed to cardiac arrest. Though longtime Deftones friend Sergio Vega took on the duties of the band’s bassist, the time that Cheng spent with the Deftones playing bass should not be forgotten or overlooked.
9.Peter Steele (1962-2010)
With his bands, first Carnivore and later Type O Negative, Peter Steele was obviously a tortured soul. Despite his open life long problems with alcohol and other substances, mental problems, Steele was iconic in terms of male vampiric vocalists, grief fueled, dark, gothic, thrash-infused doom metal. With Type O Negative he created a sound and imagery with the band that lasted from its inception in 1989 to 2010.
8.Chuck Schuldiner (1967-2001)
In December of 2001, at the age of 34, a man many refer to as the Father of Death metal passed away from brain cancer. Chuck Schuldiner was the founding member of the seminal band, Death, a band credited to creating and innovating the subgenre of extreme metal. Schuldiner’s guitar playing and ability as a song writer grew immensely since the band formed in the early 1980s in Florida. His stamina and precision in guitar playing was impeccable. But by the late ’80s/early ’90s the primitive, zombie, blood and gore obsessed death metal had evolved to a more progressive style with lyrics delving into the dark side of human nature and suffering. Every one of Death’s albums has a distinct sound, and there were many line up changes over the years. Death’s legacy is heard in many extreme metal bands, and the impact his guitar playing had on the scene and music cannot be overstated. Death is a band that influenced all extreme metal genres, from thrash, and black metal to grind core and prog/djent. Schuldiner is often included in lists of the best metal guitarists for his innovative and passionate approach to playing death metal music.
7. Lemmy (1945-2015)
As the decades passed, everyone knew Lemmy from Motorhead wouldn’t really live forever. It was inevitable that the legendary rocker’s hedonistic lifestyle would catch up with him. It seemed more and more imminent as his health problem affected the touring schedule of the band especially in the last few years of his life. However, we had all hoped he would at least outlive Keith Richards. Though many might argue it was sad to see the mighty Lemmy in such a frail state towards the end of his life, the contrary can also be said. How amazing was it that a man in his late 60s lived to his last months literally partying, meeting women all over the world, gambling and playing rock music to tons of fans? Lemmy lived his life as his own, to his last days, and never regretted a thing. He was lucky in the sense that most people would have dropped dead 20 years before him with the amount of meth cigarettes and Jack Daniels he consumed. But the point was that Lemmy was a bad motherfucker till the end. He was one of rock’s most respected party animals and talented bass players. Motorhead will without a doubt continue to inspire generations of rockers to come, ensuring that Lemmy’s musical legacy will never die.
6.Ronnie James Dio (1942-2010)
Ronnie James Dio’s career in the music industry spans six decades, with his career as a singer, songwriter and musician. Of course he is most known as vocalist for the rock bands Elf, then Rainbow, and his own eponymous metal band, which rivaled Ozzy as one of metal’s greatest vocal talents. After Ozzy was ousted from Black Sabbath, it was Dio who took over and created a new era of Sabbath music. Between 2006 and 2009, Dio reunited with his Sabbath band mates, including drummer Vinny Appice, bassist Geezer Butler guitarist Tony Iommi, to release the compilation album, Black Sabbath: The Dio Years, and a subsequent Heaven and Hell World Tour. But, as the next few years passed Dio’s health declined and in 2009 it was confirmed he has stomach cancer. In May, 2010, the legendary vocalist passed away at age 67, surrounded by his wife and family. It was a sad blow to lose such an influential part of rock and metal music. Today, Dio’s spirit lives on with his music, and the annual Ride for Ronnie Stand Up and Shout Cancer fund is held in his honor where his fans family friends and bikers come to celebrate his life and raise money for cancer research.
5. Jeff Hanneman (1964-2013)
Jeff Hanneman was a founding member of the LA based thrash metal titans Slayer. The speed and aggression came from Hanneman’s love for hardcore punk such as Minor Threat, TSOL, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag the Germs and more. This influence had an impact on Slayer’s primitive sound which was the blueprint for all thrash metal bands to follow. Hanneman played and wrote music on every single Slayer album and is responsible for so many classic hits like “Die by the Sword,” “Angel of Death,” “Raining Blood,” “War Ensemble,” “Dead Skin Mask,” “Postmortem,” and so many more. Even though he was at the heart of the band’s creative force musically and lyrically he shed away from the public eye mostly and usually avoided interviews, leaving the talking to Kerry King of Tom Araya. In 2011, it is said that Hanneman suffered a spider bite on his arm that he ignored which eventually led to necrotizing fasciitis, a serious flesh eating infection needing surgery. The band decided to go on without him to keep commitments to prior scheduled tours, thinking it would only be temporary. Gary Holt from Exodus was eventually chosen to fill in for Hanneman, which lasted for two years. By 2013, Hanneman’s failing health due to his condition and excessive drinking led to him being hospitalized in Southern California in May, 2013. He died from alcohol related liver failure due to cirrhosis, at the age of 49, but at least he got one last chance to perform with his Slayer bandmates on April 23, 2011, where he played the last two songs, “South of Heaven,” and “Angel of Death.”
4.Oderus Urungus of GWAR (1963-2014)
It’s hard to believe a band like GWAR is on this list, considering it was made up of a group of intergalactic mutants, but sadly two of these inner dimensional heavy metal maniacs marauder from have left this Earth. First, in 2011, Flatimus Maximus (then personified by human Cory Smoot) passed away from pre-existing coronary artery disease. Frontman humanoid Oderus Urungus later retired Maximus out of respect to Smoot. But, as the band vowed on, and toured, tragedy struck three Earth years later when in 2014, the human that played Oderus Urungus, Dave Brockie was found dead from an apparent heroin overdose. This untimely death left GWAR with none of its original members. In his lifespan on this planet, Oderus was the icon, spokesman and epitome of GWAR both on record, on stage and even in other media appearances in the band’s quarter of a century with him singing. His death was shocking and unforeseen, and many of metal and rock’s biggest names paid tribute to the alien overload known as Oderus Urungus. Yet, the band vows on with other musicians filling in with the GWAR live show experience, keeping the legacy of blood and shock rock alive and well. The annual GwarBBQ in Richmond, Virginia has become a festival worth witnessing if you get a chance. However, we all know that Oderus will never be replaced or forgotten, as he was not only one of the founding members, he was the life and soul of the band’s image, message and sound. He’s probably laughing at us all now from the after life, where he’s laughing hysterically while smoking crack and torturing Hitler and Bin Laden.
3.Randy Rhoads (1956-1982)
After Black Sabbath departed ways with its vocalist and front man Ozzy Osbourne in 1979, Ozzy formed a new band in Los Angeles. Among his newly formed group was the young and talented guitar virtuoso, Randy Rhoads, formerly of the band Quiet Riot. His signature style of speed playing melodies and classical influenced guitar left many musicians in awe, and impressed Ozzy so much he was hired on the spot before an audition after playing just a few riffs in a small amplifier for the singer. His guitar playing is one of a kind and the level of talent and passion can still be felt in the albums he performed on with both Ozzy and Quiet Riot. But, at the age of 25, while on tour with Ozzy in Florida, Rhoads died in a plane crash. Ozzy was devastated at the loss, as was the metal music world at the time. Ozzy was quoted as saying of his deceased friend and guitarist, ““Had he lived, I truly believe he’d have been one of the greatest guitar players that ever walked the earth.”
2. Cliff Burton (1962-1986)
Burton was the second bass player in Metallica, and joined in 1982. He performed on the band’s first three albums, and was at the time a driving force of the band. At the height of the band’s popularity among thrash metal fans, Burton’s life was cut short by a tragic bus accident while on tour in Europe with to support Master of Puppets, in 1986 during the winter. Having passed away at age 24, Metallica grieved but decided to march on in honor of Burton, recruiting Jason Newsted to play bass with the band until 2001, when several years later current bassist Robert Trujillo took over. But, no one can deny the talent and spark of energy that Burton left with Metallica and his inspiration and influence to bass players is still strong. His iconic style of speed picking the bass and convulsion like head movements are the essence and model of head banging. Though Metallica have gone on to become arguably the biggest band in heavy metal, the era of Cliff Burton cannot and should not be forgotten, the spirit, speed and musicianship be brought to the band can’t be matched, no offense to Newsted or Trujillo.
1. “Dimebag” Darrel Abbot(1966-2004) No one deserves to die the way that Dimebag died. It all occurred on that fateful night in Columbus, Ohio at the Alrosa Villa club on December 8, 2004. Darrell was onstage playing with his band at the time, Damageplan, when a murderous, psychopathic ex Marine jumped on stage and the gunfire erupted. The motive for the rampage was resentment over the breakup of the great, Pantera. Darrel was shot close range and killed, but there were other victims that night, including 23-year-old fan Nathan Bray, Damageplan crew member Jeff “Mayhem” Thompson, 40, and club employee Erin A. Halk, 29. Dimebag’s brother, and Damageplan drummer Vinnie Paul was also shot and injured in the horrific events. The terrifying ordeal ended when SWAT team officers stormed the club, and killed the shooter after a standoff. This brutal, and very graphic scene can be seen on VH1’s series Behind The Music. Of course, the shooter’s death failed to bring any solace to Dimebag’s family friends and legions of fans.Many mourn his loss to this day, including so many other of his peers and colleagues in heavy metal and hard rock. This was such a senseless death, and December 8, 2004 was truly one of the darkest days in metal’s history.