Top 10 Bands to Survive the Death of Their Lead Singer

When it comes to a band, one of the most distinctive and memorable parts is the lead singer’s voice. While a lot of bands have unique and talented musicians on other instruments, singers are an indelible part of the band that is hard to replace. That is why it is so hard for bands to move on after losing that key member. Yet these 10 bands pushd forward and through changes in their line up continue to make music and tour.

10. The Germs

The Germs were a seminal punk band that was formed in Los Angeles in 1977 by Jan Paul Beahm and Georg Ruthenberg; better known as Darby Crash and Pat Smear respectively. Another notable sometime-member was Belinda Carlisle, who would go on to be part of the Go-Go’s and would later have her own successful solo career. The Germs released only one album and they were profiled in the punk documentary The Decline of Western Civilization. While they may not have been prolific, they were influential to many bands including the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane’s Addiction.

During their short tenure as a band, Beahm was plagued with heroin problems and the band didn’t play much. On December 3, 1980 the Germs played a reunion show and it was incredibly successful. Four days later, 22-year-old Beahm took the money he made from the show and bought $400 worth of heroin. After buying the drugs, Beahm and a female fan, Casey Cola, apparently made a suicide pact, but according to Cola, Beahm did most of the drugs himself because he wanted Cola to live on.

After losing their wild front man, the notorious punk band was pretty much dead. Guitarist Pat Smear would go on and play with both Nirvana and the Foo Fighters, but other than that, the band was over.

That was until 2005 when a movie about Beahm started to go into production and the actor chosen to play him, Shane West, performed with the three members of the Germs for a production party. After which, the three remaining band members decided to reform as the Germs with West taking the spot of Beahm. They played on two different Warped tours and are still active with West as their singer.

9. Queen


Formed in 1970, in London, England, Queen was fronted by the super talented and flamboyant Farrokh Bulsara, better known as Freddie Mercury. Together, with the three other band members, Queen created one of the most unique sounds in popular music. At times it ranged from hard rock to opera to folk and the amazing thing is that it all worked together. For over 21 years, they were one of the best selling artists of all time and have 10 singles that peaked on Billboard’s Top 10 charts.

Sadly, on November 24, 1991, the world lost one of its most talented and original singers/songwriters when Freddie Mercury died at the age of 45. He had contracted AIDS around Easter 1987. While the press had learned about Mercury contracting AIDS, he denied it for years. On November 23, 1991, he publicly admitted to having the virus and died from bronchopneumonia the next day.

Over the next couple of years, Queen would play at various benefits or tribute concerts for Mercury with various singers like Elton John, Annie Lennox and even opera star Luciano Pavarotti. In 1998, bassist John Deacon decided to retire, but the two remaining members, Brian May and Roger Taylor, continued on. In 2004, they toured with Paul Rogers, who was the lead singer of Free and Bad Company, but he left the band in 2009.

In 2009, for the band’s 40th Anniversary, Queen appeared on American Idol and performed We Are the Champions with the shows two finalists, Kris Allen and Adam Lambert. A result of the performance was that in 2011, Queen started touring with Adam Lambert. While Lambert is not an official member of Queen, the band is open to it and open to recording some new music with him as well.

8. Mayhem


Formed in 1984 in Norway, Mayhem is probably one of the most controversial bands to ever exist. One of the reasons for that is because of their singer Per “Dead” Ohlin. Ohlin had joined the band after they had been together for four years. The rest of the band had tried a number of singers, but Ohlin was their first official lead vocalist. Ohlin was totally committed to the performance and he did things like wear corpse paint and went as far to bury his clothes, only to dig them up again in order to make it look like he was a dead body that had climbed out of the grave.

The band released one EP and then moved to an isolated house near Oslo to record their debut album. However, the album would be delayed because 22-year-old Ohlin had committed suicide in the house on April 8, 1991. The story gets a bit strange when the band’s guitarist, Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth found Ohlin dead from a shotgun wound to the head and slashed wrists. So he went and bought a disposable camera and took pictures of his dead friend. The picture would later be used as a cover for a bootleg album.

After the suicide, the bassist left the band, but the two remaining members continued on trying to make the band work. They recorded their critically acclaimed debut album, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas in May 1994, using a session bassist and a new singer. Just after the release of the album, the bassist who played on the album, Varg Vikernes, murdered guitarist Øystein Aarseth in a fight over money.

Despite the violent death of two members of the band, Mayhem continued on over the years and still tour. They recorded their last album, Esoteric Warfare, in 2014.

7. INXS

Formed in 1977 and fronted by the charismatic Michael Hutchence, INXS first found success with their 1982 single “The One Thing.” Hutchence and INXS released 10 albums together over the span 17 years. A lot of them were hits and they sold 30 million records around the world.

In 1997, INXS released their album Elegantly Wasted and planned for a world tour. On November 22, just days before the tour was supposed to start, Hutchence’s dead body was found in his hotel room in Sydney, Australia; he had hanged himself using his belt on the back of his hotel door. He was 37-years-old.

After his death, INXS carried on with the band, performing with a variety of singers, until 2004 when they were featured on the CBS television show Rock Star: INXS. The result of the competition landed INXS with singer J.D. Fortune, who played and toured with the band until 2011. Fortune and INXS released two albums together before the band stopped touring in 2012, after 35 years together.

6. Mother Love Bone/Pearl Jam

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In the late 1980s in Seattle, a music scene based off of punk and heavy metal was starting to emerge. One of the bands at the forefront of the scene was Mother Love Bone, fronted by Andrew Wood. The band, which was formed in 1988, was set to release their highly anticipated debut album in 1990, when just days before it was set to be released, on March 19, the 24-year-old vocalist was found dead from a heroin overdose. The album was instead released posthumously on July 19, 1990 and Mother Love Bone disbanded.

After Mother Love Bone broke up, two of the surviving members, Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament started playing with Mike McCready and were looking to start a new band. They were asked by Wood’s former roommate, Chris Cornell from Soundgarden, to form the band Temple of the Dog. Matt Cameron from Soundgarden filled in on drums and Eddie Vedder, who had just come in from California to try out for the band featuring Gossard, Ament and McCready, sang back up on a number of songs as well. They released one album as a tribute to Wood.

After Temple of the Dog, Gossard and Ament from Mother Love Bone, along with McCready and Vedder would go on to become Pearl Jam. One of the most definitive bands from the grunge era; they have released 10 albums over 12 years. They have sold 60 million copies worldwide along with winning five American Music Awards and one Grammy award (along with 14 more nominations).


5. Lynyrd Skynyrd

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Lynyrd Skynyrd wrote and performed some of the most famous Southern rock songs of all time, including “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird.” They formed in 1966 in Jacksonville, Florida and by 1977 they were in the prime of their career.

Three days after releasing their fifth album, on October 27, 1977, a number of band members were on a small plane travelling from Greenville, South Carolina, to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, when their plane ran out of fuel and they crashed in Gillsburg, Mississippi. There were six people who died, including Lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and backup singer Cassie Gaines.

The crash put the band into a hiatus until 1987, when they started a reunion tour with members who were in the band before the crash, along with survivors of the crash. They also had Johnny Van Zant, the brother of singer Ronnie Van Zant step in as vocalist.

While the band has never achieved the peaks that the band did before the crash, they have had an impressive career; they have released nine albums since 1991, all of them, except for one, appeared on the Billboard Charts Top 200.

4. Drowning Pool

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Coming together in 1996, in Dallas, Texas, Drowning Pool started off as an instrumental band before singer Dave Williams joined the band in 1999. In June 2001, Drowning Pool released their debut album, Sinner, which went Platinum, thanks to their WWE-friendly hit single “Bodies.”

On August 14, 2002, Williams, who was 30, was found dead on the band’s tour bus as they were heading from Manassas, Virginia to Bristow, Virginia for their next show on the Ozzfest tour. While it was rumored that it was related to drugs or alcohol, it turned out he died from heart problems.

Since his death, the three surviving band members carried on with Drowning Pool and they have released five albums, with three different singers. In 2014, to celebrate the “Unlucky 13th” anniversary of their only album with Williams, they toured performing many songs from that album.

3. Alice in Chains

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One of the most metal-orientated bands to emerge from the early 90s Seattle grunge scene was Alice in Chains. And one of their more defining features was the lead singer Layne Staley’s voice that had the ability to be both powerful and vulnerable at the same time.

Between 1990 and 1995, Alice in Chains released three studio albums and three EPs. During that time, Staley battled his heroin addiction, which led to the band having a hiatus in 1994. One of their last major shows was on April 10, 1996; they performed for the first time in three years, when they recorded an MTV Unplugged session. During the show, Staley looked like he was visibly weak because of the drugs.

After that, Staley became more reclusive and the band took an extended break. On April 19, 2002, Staley, who was 34, had died from a prescription drug overdose. His body wasn’t found until two weeks later. After his death, Alice in Chains broke up.

In 2005, they started doing reunion tours with a number of singers, including William DuVall, whose band, Comes with the Fall, played as the backing band for Alice in Chains’ guitarist Jerry Cantrell’s solo tour. In 2008, he was made the official lead singer. In September 2009, they released a new album, Black Gives Way to Blue. It was commercially and critically successful, garnering a Grammy nomination. Since then, Alice in Chains also lost their bassist Mike Starr, who died from a lethal a mixture of drugs he was taking in 2011. They continued on and released another album 2013, which was also nominated for a Grammy.

2. Joy Division/New Order

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Joy Division was an English rock band that formed in 1976 and released two albums, one in 1979 and another in 1980. Their sound, which was much different from the punk sound at the time, had a slower, darker and more melancholic sound. Where the Sex Pistols were pissed off and loud, Joy Division was dour and gloomy.

Two months before they were set to release their second album, Closer, Joy Division was also preparing for their first tour in America. Lead singer Ian Curtis, who had a history of depression and was suffering from epilepsy, was terrified of flying and wasn’t looking forward to the tour. Along with his depression and anxiety about his music career, Curtis was also having marital problems. Sadly, on May 18, 1980, Curtis hanged himself in his kitchen.

After his death, the three remaining members of Joy Division formed New Order. Bernard Sumner, Joy Division’s guitarist took over vocal duties and they added two more members. New Order was signed to Joy Division’s former label, Factory Records, and the label was so pessimistic about the band carrying on without Curtis, that they allowed the band to issue their first single using a sleeve that would actually lose the record company money.

Then in 1983 they released their 5th single, which wasn’t labeled with the band’s name or the song title, had a four-minute long instrumental intro. Factory Records didn’t think it would be a big deal if they were going to lose money every time one was sold, because there was a good chance they wouldn’t sell many. However, that single was “Blue Monday”, which went on to be the best selling 12” single of all time (after the first printing they used a cheaper sleeve). After the initial success of Blue Monday, New Order went on to be one of the most popular bands of the 80s.

1. AC/DC

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Formed by Malcolm and Angus Young in Sydney, Australia, AC/DC is one of the most well known hard rock bands, famous for their infectious songs like “Back in Black”, “Thunderstruck”, “T.N.T.”, “Highway to Hell” and “You Shook Me All Night Long”, just to name a few of their dozen hit singles. They are also one of the best selling artists of all time, selling over 200 million albums internationally.

On February 19, 1980, original lead singer of the band, Bon Scott, was out doing some heavy drinking in London and was being driven home by a friend. Scott fell asleep in the car and wouldn’t wake up. So his friend left him in the car to sleep it off. But the next morning, Scott still hadn’t woken up. He was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead from acute alcohol poisoning.

After his death, the band considered breaking up. However, Scott’s family didn’t feel that was what he would have wanted and encouraged them to continue with the band. They auditioned singers before settling on Brian Johnson, who sang for a band called Geordie.

With their new singer, they set to work writing and recording the album they were working on when Scott died. That album, released five months after Scott’s death, was called Back in Black. The album would prove to be their biggest album, selling over 40 million copies worldwide, making it the fifth bestselling album of all time. AC/DC continues to record and tour as one of the biggest rock bands in history, although founding member Malcolm Young took a break from the band in April 2014, because he was suffering from dementia.

Robert Grimminck is a Canadian crime-fiction writer. You can follow him on Facebook, on Twitter, or visit his website.

7 Responses

  1. clive sinclair
    clive sinclair at |

    New orders first single.was in 1981 not 1983 and it assent blue.Monday also Curtis hanged.himself in his own house not his parents

    Reply
    1. Shell Harris
      Shell Harris at |

      I think we confused the writing on this. I have reformatted the text. The single we referred to was Blue Monday which did come out in 1983. You are correct about 1981 which was when their first single came out. That was the song, Ceremony.

      We corrected the location details of his tragic suicide.

      Reply
  2. Robert Grimminck
    Robert Grimminck at |

    Yes! Thank you. That was my mistake. Which is really bad because Joy Division is one of my favourite bands of all time. Thanks for pointing it out Clive and thanks for correcting it Shell!

    Reply
  3. Aoife McNeill
    Aoife McNeill at |

    Grunge started in the early-mid 80’s, not late 80’s. The Melvins were formed in 1993, Soundgarden in 1984, Green River in 1984 (some went on to be in Mudhoney), and many more, and Kurt Cobain was in a band before Nirvana (1989), called Fecal Matter.

    Reply
    1. Robert Grimminck
      Robert Grimminck at |

      That is 100% correct Aoife, except that I think you meant the Melvins formed in 1983 (honest typo, it happens to us all). However, I said that it was starting to emerge. I meant that the genre was starting to gain traction and was the cusp of becoming bigger. It also is meant to explain where Mother Love bone existed within the confines of the grunge scene – they weren’t the originators, but were one of the early bands.

      So I apologize for any confusion on my part, but thank you for reading it!

      Reply
  4. Dylan
    Dylan at |

    How did Pink Floyd not make this?

    Reply
    1. Robert Grimminck
      Robert Grimminck at |

      I’m not a huge Pink Floyd fan, but if I’m not mistaken, you are referring to Syd Barrett? He left the band because of mental illness after their first album and then died in 2006. Dave Gilmour took over and he’s still alive. So the band carried on without their original lead singer, who was still alive, which is known to happen.

      However, like I said, I don’t know a ton about Pink Floyd, so if I missed something, please let me know because I’m interested to know!

      Reply

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