Drug and drinking problems (mostly) aside, the music industry has had its fair share of prominent health issues. From illnesses or misfortunes that made the artists stronger to those who weren’t so lucky, guest writer Ryan Bray takes a look at the music industry’s most memorable maladies.
Ailment: Brain aneurysm
What went wrong: For more than 45 years now, Neil Young has pretty much worked at breakneck speed, recording and touring prolifically with little downtime between the two disciplines. That fretless work ethic has served him well, but his workhorse ways caught up with him in a frightening way when he underwent surgery for a brain aneurysm that nearly took his life in 2005. But in true Neil form, he didn’t stay down long, picking up right where he left off. Prairie Wind, the singer’s 28th studio effort, was released just six months later.
Where he is now: Young is as busy as ever these days. Beyond touring and recording, he has found time to pen an autobiography, work on an extensive archive project consisting of old demos and live tracks and pilot Pono, a new digital-download player.
Ailment: Internal abscess
What went wrong: Mike Watt has never been one to reach too far for inspiration. His 1997 solo effort Contemplating The Engine Room was a concept album driven by the memory of his late father, a Navy man, but even those experiences paled in comparison to what he would bring to the table for his next record. The Secondman’s Middle Stand, released in 2004, chronicles in detail the sickness that almost literally left him on his deathbed in early 2000. An infection on his perineum left him confined to his bed for the better part of two months, while he later had to relearn how to play the bass largely from scratch.
Where he is now: The legendary Minutemen bassist is still leading the thud staff for the reunited Stooges, a gig he’s held since 2003, while his latest solo record, Hyphenated-Man, came out in 2010.
What went wrong: It’s hard to narrow down the troubled Joy Division frontman’s health issues to any one isolated incident, as his struggles with epilepsy marked the duration of his tenure with the post-rock icon. Curtis braved his health woes mightily, offering up classics such as Unknown Pleasures and Closer that would turn the band into celebrated cult heroes in the years to come. But the singer succumbed to his struggles in a death by hanging in December 1980 on the eve of the band’s first U.S. tour.
Where he is now: Curtis’ premature death has helped him climb the ranks to become a canonized indie rock icon, while the musical trail he helped blaze with Joy Division lived on through his bandmates’ later success in New Order. The singer was further immortalized by actor Sam Riley on screen with the 2007 biopic Control.
Ailment: Throat cancer
What went wrong: When To The 5 Boroughs topped the charts more than 18 years after their initial commercial breakthrough in 1986, the Beastie Boys looked like they were well on their way to becoming hip-hop’s answer to the Rolling Stones. The trio’s electric, brother-like chemistry was still well intact as they gracefully edged toward middle age. But Adam Yauch’s diagnosis with throat cancer in 2009 threw everyone, Beasties included, for a loop. Yauch and the band did their best to weather concerns from fans and the media, but the world was dealt with the abrupt news of Yauch’s passing May 4, 2012.
Where are they now: Just more than one year since his passing, Yauch’s spirit lives on in the hearts of Beastie fans world wide. His legacy continues to loom particularly large in the trio’s native New York, where on May 3, 2013 Palmetto Playground in Brooklyn was renamed in his memory.
Ailment: Brain aneurysm
What went wrong: Bill Berry had served proudly behind the kit on countless R.E.M. tours heading into the band’s run in support of Monster. But while a 1995 show in Switzerland began not unlike countless others before it, he collapsed mid-set, the result of what was later found to be a brain aneurysm. He recovered and hung in with the band for another two years but left on good terms after retiring from music in 1997.
Where he is now: Berry now lives in Georgia, where he has since left the music business behind to try his hand at farming. But he has not completely divorced himself from his R.E.M. days, reuniting with the band on select occasions, most memorably during the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.
Ailment: Near-fatal drug overdose
What went wrong: For many years, Phil Anselmo lived a life every bit as hard and rugged as his tenure fronting Pantera would lead one to believe. But his escalating drug problem caught up with him in a big way when he overdosed on heroin after a show in 1996, afterward claiming he had “died for four to five minutes.” The addiction stemmed from a need to quell his ongoing back problems, but the singer eventually kicked his habit, and he underwent successful back and knee surgeries in the years that followed
Where he is now: Dimebag Darrell’s death in 2004 effectively brought Pantera’s run to an end, but Anselmo has kept plenty busy with Superjoint Ritual and Down.
What went wrong: Freddie Mercury still stands as one of the most dynamic, larger-than-life frontmen in rock history, so it is ironic that the last years of his life were spent trying to lie low in secrecy. Rumors of Mercury’s AIDS diagnosis had been swirling since 1986, but it wasn’t until the day before his death in November 1991 that he publicly acknowledged he had the disease. Some criticized Mercury posthumously for not having been more vocal about his illness, arguing he could have played a bigger part in AIDS awareness. But far more people continue to mourn the loss of one of the music world’s truly great rock stars.
Where he is now: Mercury’s legacy has continued to grow in leaps in bounds in the years since his passing. Queen’s music continues to sell records and inspire new generations of musicians, while Mercury, as one of the first rock stars to fall victim to AIDS, has helped bring the disease to new levels of global awareness. The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness, held in April 1992, was televised around the world and seen by close to 1 billion people.
Ailment: Bile duct cancer
What went wrong: Straight from the “this just in” department, it was announced last month that new music from the soulful throwback sounds of the Dap-Kings will be put on hold while Sharon Jones undergoes treatment for Stage 1 bile duct cancer. It is awful news for one of America’s most pristine voices, but fortunately Jones was in good spirits after going public with her diagnosis. “Luckily, we caught it really early and fast, and the doctors say it’s operable and curable,” Jones said in a press release.
Where she is now: Still dealing with the news. Let’s hope that Jones’ prognosis is as strong as her spirits.
Ailment: Bleeding ulcers, pneumonia, collapse
What went wrong: From his strict vegetarian lifestyle to an overall physical appearance that well belies his years, Morrissey for years seemed to be a picture of perfect health. But the last few years have found the legendary Smith’s career repeatedly stalled by a variety of health hiccups. There was his collapse at the start of a UK show in 2009, followed by hospital stints for both bleeding ulcers and pneumonia that saw the singer cancel numerous dates earlier this year.
Where he is now: Sick or not, Morrissey doesn’t seem to have strayed from his old ways. Illness didn’t keep him from waging war with Jimmy Kimmel for a seemingly innocent affront to his passionate animal rights stance, while rescheduled dates in Mexico, Peru, Argentina and Brazil were set to take off in June.
Ailment: Motorcycle crash
What Went Wrong: Bob Dylan’s 1966 motorcycle crash near his home in Woodstock, N.Y., is just one of the many mysterious wrinkles in the singer’s famously mercurial career. According to lore, no one knows exactly what led to the crash because police or medics weren’t called to the scene, but the lingering effects were perhaps more mental than physical. Dylan used the incident not only as an opportunity heal but also to duck out of the inescapable eye of the public. He also took the time to make some of the best music of his career, including John Wesley Harding (1967), Nashville Skyline (1969) and the legendary Basement Tapes (1975) alongside his cohorts in The Band.
Where he is now: Dylan is just being Dylan. The singer still knows how to get it done more than 50 years into his iconic career, as evidenced by The Tempest. This summer he is touring the States alongside kindred spirits in Wilco and My Morning Jacket.