Just last year a fantastic film called Loving Vincent was released, detailing the death of the legendary painter Vincent van Gogh. The experimental film raised doubts as to whether his death was actually a suicide as widely reported. This got us thinking: How many other artists have died under suspicious circumstances? The answer is quite surprising. Here are 10 artists and entertainers who died under suspicious circumstances.
10. Vincent van Gogh
While van Gogh has come to be known as the ultimate tortured artist, taking his own life to escape the world, his death may not have been at his own hands. It is true that van Gogh was troubled, notably cutting off his own ear after a confrontation with his friend, Gauguin. He suffered from depression and spent time in psychiatric hospitals before settling in Auvers-sur-Oise near Paris, where he came under the care of doctor Paul Gachet.
Many have suggested that Van Gogh took his own life because of his brother’s suggestion that he may not able to support him financially as he did in the past. During his life, van Gogh only sold one painting and was being funded solely because of his brother’s belief and affinity for his work. However, what most don’t take into account is the manner in which van Gogh died. He supposedly shot himself in the stomach – an odd thing, for someone trying to end their own life. Van Gogh then walked nearly two miles back to his room, and died 30 hours later. Forensics expert Dr. Vincent Di Mateo has stated, on record, that it’d highly unlikely that van Gogh shot himself.
He was interviewed by biographers Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, who in their book argue that the artist had been most likely shot by accident by a couple of boys. On his deathbed, van Gogh stated that only he should be blamed for his death, and no one else, leading the authors to believe he had decided to protect them by accepting the blame. If true, his decision to take responsibility and free the young boys of a lifetime of imprisonment is even more profound than a tortured artist who can’t live in this world.
9. Kurt Cobain
Arguably one of the biggest (or at least one of the most influential) rock stars of all time, Kurt Cobain also met with a suspicious end. Like many artists, Cobain was a kind and caring individual but had his difficulties with drugs and other demons. Before he was found dead in his Seattle home, Cobain had checked himself out of a drug rehabilitation clinic and was reported as suicidal by his wife Courtney Love.
On April 4, 1994, Police found Cobain dead and forensic analysis determined that he had killed himself. A shotgun lay across his body, and a head wound along with a suicide note was found. Many believed that his was a clear cut case of suicide but private investigator Tom Grant found otherwise. Despite being hired by Cobain’s widow, Grant would put forward a conspiracy of foul play that implicated Love. Grant believed that the suicide note left by Cobain did not suggest suicide but his intention of leaving Love and the music industry. He believed the last section of the note was the only implication of suicide, and was likely forged. Additionally, Grant argues that the amount of heroin in Cobain’s system makes it nearly impossible for him to have had the capacity to kill himself.
As Grant’s theories gained more attention, journalists and filmmakers began to study Cobain’s death. In his own investigation, filmmaker Nick Broomfield interviewed The Mentors’ bandleader Eldon “El Duce” Hoke, who claimed that Love had offered him $50,000 to kill Cobain. He would go on to say he didn’t do it, but knew the man who did. Coincidentally, it was the last interview Hoke would ever give. He died days later when he was struck by a train in the middle of the night.
8. Biggie and Tupac
There’s been so much written about the deaths of these two music icons that it’s hard to cover new ground. What can’t be overstated is the tremendous loss they were to the hip-hop community and music in general. The killers of Biggie and Tupac were never arrested or charged but new revelations by LAPD officer Greg Kading seem to put the story to rest.
According to Kading, as a result of the growing tensions between the two factions (East Coast vs. West Coast, essentially), Sean “Puffy” Combs offered a bounty on Tupac and Suge Knight. The jumping/altercation in the Vegas hotel lobby was enough to prompt gang members Orlando Anderson and Keffe D to try and collect on the reward. Keffe D would later admit to being in the car while the shootings took place, identifying his nephew Orlando Anderson as the shooter. Anderson would die just two weeks later in a gang shooting. The death of Biggie Smalls was retaliation for the murder of Tupac. According to Kading, circumstantial evidence including money transfers, the shooter’s car, and statements by those working at Death Row Records points to Wardell Fouse (aka Poochie) as the killer of Biggie Smalls. The only silver lining in this tragic tale is that Suge Knight is currently in jail, serving time for murder in a hit and run case.
7. Jim Morrison
Probably one of the most eyebrow-raising cases on our list is the death of The Doors frontman Jim Morrison. What’s so startling about his demise is how little is known. It happened almost in a flash. Like Cobain, Morrison was in a dark place before his death. His voice was going as a result of all his drinking, and he was struggling to write lyrics. Morrison decided to go to Paris to escape it all with his girlfriend, Pamela Courson. To this day, the exact timetable leading to his death is unknown. The commonly held notion is that Morrison and Courson went to a theater and then returned home to watch Super 8 films. Courson claims to have gone to bed, leaving Morrison to stay up and listen to old records. After awhile, Morrison complained of being sick, and Courson suggested they call a doctor. Instead, he drew a bath. The last thing Courson remembers hearing are his calls: “Are you there, Pam? Pam, are you there?”
At 6 a.m., she woke up and found him in the tub, submerged in water. He was dead. For some reason, Courson told the coroners that he had no immediate family. A lie. She also purchased the cheapest casket available, equivalent to $75, and within 72 hours a doctor visited and a death certificate was signed. An autopsy wasn’t performed. The questions that we all should have was put perfectly by Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek, who asked, “How do you even know Jim was in the coffin? How do you know it wasn’t 150 pounds of f***** sand?”
6. Johnny Thunders
Like too many of the great artists on our list, Johnny Thunders had a drug problem. The guitarist for the legendary hard rock band the New York Dolls, along with The Heartbreakers, Johnny Thunders checked into the St. Peter’s Guest House in New Orleans looking like a ghost. According to the desk clerk on the the night of April 22, 1991, Thunders was sweating and looked like a Geisha girl when he entered the hotel. The next day Thunders was found dead and methadone and cocaine were uncovered in the room.
However, according to Thunders’s manager, the autopsy showed no traces of methadone in his system. In addition, the manager also claimed that the room appeared “wrecked” as if a violent altercation had taken place. There are numerous theories on Thunders’s death. Some believe that drug dealers had killed Thunders, after he had scored some LSD from them at a neighboring club. Others believe that it was actually an overdose on another substance. Thunders’s sister dispelled some of these theories, claiming that his autopsy showed that he was in an advanced stage of leukemia. Was that what killed him? We’ll never know.
5. Paul Williams
A member of the iconic group The Temptations, Paul Williams sang lead on several of their hits including, “Your Wonderful Love.” In addition to having drinking problems, Williams had sickle cell anemia which only exacerbated his health issues. Much of his health issues can be traced to when he began his affair with Winnie Brown, the hair stylist for the Supremes. He was still devoted to his family, and was torn apart by his inability to find peace in his life. A man whose strongest drink used to consist of milk, he took to drinking and the group struggled to help him fight his alcoholism. Eventually, they were forced to employ a stand-in just in case he was unable to perform.
Although he had significant health issues, Williams’s death was not health related. He was found in an alley, sitting in a car after getting into an argument with another girlfriend. Police found a gun near his body, and ruled the death a suicide. However, Williams’s wound was on his left temple, and the gunpowder remnants were found on his right hand. To further raise suspicions, two bullets were fired from the weapon, and only one found its mark.
4. Bobby Fuller
At the height of the counterculture movement, Bobby Fuller knew he had a hit. He recorded “I Fought the Law” and just months after the song became a hit he was found dead. His body was doused in gasoline, and bruises were found up and down his body.
Despite all this, his death was considered a suicide. Police later amended their cause of death and ruled it as accidental. Nobody knew what to make of it. Some suspected the mafia, others the Manson Family, and of course some pointed their fingers at the police. So what (or more specifically, who?) caused Fuller’s death? Unfortunately, we’ll almost certainly never know.
3. Brian Jones
Some might not know this, but Brian Jones was actually the founder of the Rolling Stones. He played everything from guitar, to harmonica, to piano, and even marimba. Jones was behind some of the most daring decisions that the group made, including the marimba on “Under my Thumb.” Despite his tremendous impact, he was pushed out of the group, and only a month later, he was dead.
Jones’s death was declared an accident, labeled as “death by misadventure.” He was found dead in his pool, and the coroner suggested that both alcohol and drugs were in his system. Despite the police report, UK journalist Scott Jones contended that Jones was actually murdered by Frank Thorogood – the last man to see him alive. The Sussex police reviewed Jones’s claims but decided not the re-open the case. According to reports, Thorogood admitted to the murder to the Rolling Stones’ driver, Tom Keylock, but later denied it. Brian Jones was only 27-years-old.
2. Cornell Gunter
The lead tenor of the Coasters, the group that brought us hits like “Yakety Yak” and “Charlie Brown,” was shot dead in his car in Vegas. He had been performing with the Coasters since 1957, but left the group a few years later. Gunter was beginning to regain some of his fame, performing in Las Vegas with his new group, Cornell Gunter and the Coasters, when he was murdered in 1990.
The 1987 inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was allegedly heard getting into an argument with a man at an intersection. Police found Gunter slumped over in his car with two gunshot wounds in the chest. No charges were were ever filed and the case remains unsolved. As a tribute to the singer, his group still performs under the name The Original Cornell Gunter’s Coasters Inc.
1. Thomas Ince
Thomas Ince wasn’t a musician or artist, but no one would argue that he wasn’t an artist. A struggling actor who transformed himself into a film producer, he revolutionized the film industry by inventing the shooting script along with creating the first movie studio (Inceville). After his film studio burned down, he created another one in Culver City that would later become MGM. Classic films like Gone with the Wind, King Kong, and Citizen Kane were shot on his studio lot. Later, he’d sell the rights to the studio and form another that eventually became Paramount Pictures.
After several failed projects, Ince was on the brink of bankruptcy. In 1924 he boarded a yacht owned by newspaper man William Randolph Hearst (the man who inspired Citizen Kane). Other passengers included Charlie Chaplin and Hearst’s mistress Marion Davies. And that’s where things get weird, right down to the fact that no one can even agree exactly where he died, let alone how.
There are several accounts of what occured on the yacht. Some believe that Hearst, angered by his mistress’s deceit, fired a shot at Davies or Chaplin and accidentally shot Ince. A newspaper actually ran a story stating that Ince had been shot on the yacht. However, his death certificate stated he died of heart failure. Other accounts hold that Ince simply became extremely ill on the ship and was taken ashore by a water taxi. And yet witnesses claim to have seen Ince bleeding from a bullet wound to the head as he left the yacht. His wife was quickly ushered to Europe after Ince was cremated and rumors continued to swirl that Hearst paid off Ince’s wife to keep her quiet. It seems will never know the truth about the death of the film legend.