How Your Favorite Rock Stars Would Look Today If They Hadn’t Died Young
By Marco Margaritoff | Edited By John Kuroski
Published November 28, 2019
Updated July 25, 2022
From Jimi Hendrix to Kurt Cobain, some of history's most iconic rock stars left this world far too soon thanks to addiction, suicide, and other tragedies. But these revealing mock-ups give us a glimpse of how they'd look if they'd lived.
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Before his apparent suicide on April 5, 1994 at age 27, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain changed the face of music after pioneering the Seattle grunge sound. The band sold tens of millions of albums and reached the heights of fame, but Cobain nevertheless remained plagued by his personal demons.
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After years of heroin addiction compounded by marital troubles and problems dealing with his own fame, the 27-year-old Cobain eventually retreated to his home in April 1994 and reportedly shot himself with a shotgun — though some theorists argue that he may have been murdered and that the note was doctored.Sachs Media Group
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After revolutionizing reggae and inspiring fans the world over throughout the 1970s, Jamaican singer/guitarist Bob Marley eventually discovered that a malignant melanoma was growing on his foot when a seemingly innocuous soccer injury proved worse than expected.Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images
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Marley refused to have his toe amputated, as advised by doctors, citing his religious beliefs and the threat to his performing career. Ultimately, his refusal caused the disease to progress unchecked and he died on May 11, 1981 at age 36.Sachs Media Group
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After introducing rock and roll to much of America in the mid-1950s and becoming the genre's biggest star, Elvis Presley achieved a kind of fame few performers had ever had before. A rock star, movie star, and all-around cultural icon, Presley found worldwide devotion from fans and amassed untold wealth — though his own vices were waiting to knock him from this perch.Wikimedia Commons
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By the mid-1970s, Presley's drug abuse and overeating left him in poor health and scarcely able to perform like he once did. Finally, he infamously died of a heart attack brought on by drug use inside the bathroom of his Memphis home on Aug. 16, 1977 at age 42.Sachs Media Group
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As one of the most powerful rock and blues voices of the late 1960s, Janis Joplin always seemed to infuse her work with the real pain and torment she so often felt inside. Bullied as a child and dependent on drugs and alcohol from an early age, Joplin was a tortured soul even as her star was on the rise.GAB Archive/Redferns/Getty Images
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Just weeks after fellow rock icon Jimi Hendrix died due to drugs, Joplin's demons got the better of her. When she failed to show up for a recording session, her producer went to her house and found her dead on the floor thanks to a heroin overdose. She was just 27.Sachs Media Group
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Guitar virtuoso Jimi Hendrix redefined what rock musicianship could be as he reached the heights of fame in the late 1960s. With performances at iconic festivals like Monterey Pop, Woodstock, and the Isle of Wight, he solidified his reputation as a performer unlike anything the music world had ever seen before.Peter Timm\ullstein bild via Getty Images
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Though his albums with his band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, only charted higher and higher, Hendrix's personal life continued to sink to new lows. Eventually, his drug abuse took over his life and he died after choking on his own vomit following a barbiturate overdose in London on Sept. 18, 1970 at the age of just 27.Sachs Media Group
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Though he achieved nationwide fame as a singer and actor in the 1950s and early 1960s, Bobby Darin always figured that he wouldn't live to old age. Having suffered from poor health his whole life, Darin knew that his rheumatic fever had left him with a weakened heart that was sure to end his life one day.Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
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Ultimately, Darin underwent heart surgery in 1971 and was on the road to recovery. But, in the end, it wasn't enough and he died due to his damaged heart on Dec. 20, 1973 at age 37.Sachs Media Group
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Jim Morrison and The Doors attained both fame and infamy in the late 1960s for their distinctive psychedelic blues-rock as well as their unpredictable live performances. Often fueled by alcohol, Morrison was so much of a loose cannon onstage that he even allegedly exposed himself to a Florida crowd in 1969, leading to his arrest.Wikimedia Commons
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Morrison's alcohol abuse never let up and his health deteriorated before he retreated to Paris in early 1971. He may have sought peace there, but his time in the city didn't last long and he died on July 3 at age 27, likely of congestive heart failure (though no autopsy was ever performed as it wasn't required by French law).Sachs Media Group
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Before her untimely death, Mamas and the Papas singer Mama Cass Elliot became a vital part of the 1960s hippie generation and its unique music. But like so many others of that generation, her success story was marred by drug abuse.Donaldson Collection/Getty Images
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Ultimately, Mama Cass was found dead in her sleep from heart failure on July 29, 1974 at age 32. Though she didn't live to see it, Elliot was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for her contributions to music.Sachs Media Group
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As both the drummer and one of the iconic singing voices in The Beach Boys, Dennis Wilson earned his place among rock royalty in the 1960s. But by the end of the following decade, he'd spent many years struggling with drug issues that left his career flagging.Michael Putland/Getty Images
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By 1983, Wilson was destitute and without a home as he slipped deeper and deeper into addiction (perhaps alcohol, worst of all). Drunk just days after leaving rehab, Wilson died tragically on Dec. 28, 1983 at age 39 after drowning in the Pacific at Marina del Rey, California.Sachs Media Group
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Karen Carpenter, one half of the Carpenters duo with her brother, topped the charts again and again throughout the 1970s. But, all the while, she suffered from severe anorexia for years.Harry Langdon/Getty Images
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Her condition ultimately led to her death of heart failure on Feb. 4, 1983 at a mere 33 years of age. Her own mother had found her lying on the floor of a walk-in closet.Sachs Media Group
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As the wildman/virtuoso drummer for The Who, Keith Moon solidified his legend in the 1960s. However, he suffered various setbacks in the 1970s, including the end of his marriage and a tragic incident in which he drunkenly killed his own chauffeur by unintentionally running him over when attempting to flee some skinheads.Flickr
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In the end, Moon died of an overdose at age 32 on Sept. 7, 1978 from Heminevrin, a drug he took to treat and prevent the symptoms of his alcohol withdrawal.Sachs Media Group
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As both a member of The Beatles and an activist who inspired people the world over, John Lennon reached a level of fame that few artists can ever achieve. It's virtually certain that no rock band in history remains as widely beloved as The Beatles just as it's undeniable that it takes a special kind of politically-involved rock star to end up on an FBI watchlist, which Lennon did thanks to his anti-war and civil right activism in the 1970s.Bettmann/Getty Images
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But on Dec. 8, 1980, 40-year-old John Lennon was murdered in front of his New York apartment building by a deranged fan. Nearby, Central Park's Strawberry Fields was dedicated to him and remains hallowed ground for his fans four decades later.Sachs Media Group
How Your Favorite Rock Stars Would Look Today If They Hadn’t Died Young
"Live fast, die young, and leave a good looking corpse."
This oft-quoted mantra — which has appeared in many forms over the years, often in a version mistakenly attributed to James Dean — has caused countless youths to throw caution to the wind. And that goes double for rock stars.
From the members of the tragic 27 Club — artists who all died at that tender young age — to those who hung on a little longer, countless rock stars have left this world before they got anywhere near their golden years. In these cases, it was often drug and alcohol abuse that was the culprit, especially for artists who achieved fame in the heady days of the 1960s and '70s.
According to The Atlantic, researchers from Liverpool's John Moores University found that American musicians whose first charting success occurred between 1956 and 1999 were up to three times more likely to die from drug and alcohol abuse than people in other walks of life.
From Jim Morrison to Elvis Presley, many of history's most celebrated rock stars have indeed allowed their vices and their demons to get the better of them — with fatal results. Meanwhile, we're all left wondering what might have been.
Listen above to the History Uncovered podcast, episode 25: The Death of Jim Morrison, also available on Apple and Spotify.
And as for what some of these luminaries might have looked like if they survived, recent artist's renderings from Phojoe Photo give us a place to start. Revisit these legends as they were in their heyday, and then as they might have looked had they lived to today, in the gallery above. Then, delve deeper into some of these tragic stories below.
Jimi Hendrix: Overdose Or Murder?
Evening Standard/Getty ImagesThe legendary Jimi Hendrix performs at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. It would be one of his last performances.
The death of Jimi Hendrix at the age of 27 on Sept. 18, 1970, in London has remained both tragic and — to some — mysterious ever since.
The official report said he took nine sleeping pills and died of suffocation from his own vomit. Hendrix had spent the previous night at the apartment of girlfriend Monika Danneman, a German painter, who found him in a coma the following morning and called an ambulance. He was pronounced dead at 11:45 a.m. at St. Mary Abbot's Hospital.
But for some of those closest to him, the story wasn't that simple. Though alternative theories about Hendrix's death remain somewhat fringe, they have gained traction at various points over the years. Many of these theories argue that Hendrix was murdered for financial gain (in most accounts) by someone in his inner circle.
For one, Hendrix road manager James "Tappy" Wright claimed in his 2009 book that the rock legend was killed via forced drug overdose on the orders of manager Michael Jeffery. Jeffery allegedly took out a $2 million life insurance policy on the singer and told Wright that Hendrix was "worth more to him dead than alive."
Though the doctor who treated Hendrix stoked the fires by claiming that this theory was medically plausible, it remains hotly contested. Additionally, even Jeffery once claimed that the death wasn't a suicide (but didn't offer another culprit), believing that the supposed suicide note was anything but.
"I don't believe it was suicide," said Jeffery. "I've been going through a whole stack of papers, poems, and songs that Jimi had written, and I could show you 20 of them that could be interpreted as a suicide note."
But as it stands, Hendrix's official cause of death remains suffocation from accidental drug overdose.
Kurt Cobain And Another Contested Tale Of Rock Suicide
Michel Linssen/Redferns/Getty ImagesThe last year of Kurt Cobain's life was plagued by marital troubles, drug addiction, and turmoil within his band.
Kurt Cobain's death, also at the age of 27, was similarly both tragic and ultimately controversial.
In the early 1990s, Nirvana was one of the biggest bands in the world. No other group was as celebrated in the grunge genre and no other frontman was as revered as Kurt Cobain. Sadly, it only took a few years of fame and drug abuse to spell his demise.
Just days before his apparent suicide inside his Seattle home on April 5, 1994, the rock star had fled rehab in California and was nowhere to be found. Little did his wife, mother, and friends know that he'd been living in the greenhouse next to his home all along.
This is where, according to the official reports, Cobain wrote a suicide note addressed to his childhood imaginary friend, Boddah, put a shotgun to his head, and pulled the trigger.
However, this story has been the subject of several conspiracy theories, often involving murder. These theories have perhaps found their most credible advocate in Tom Grant, a private investigator hired by Cobain's widow, Courtney Love.
For one, theorists say that Cobain had too much heroin in his system at the time of his death to be able to pull the trigger of a shotgun. Others say that the handwriting on Cobain's so-called suicide note was inconsistent with his own and that it was merely a doctored journal entry or letter.
What this supposed evidence adds up to, for believers, is that someone murdered Cobain and massaged the crime scene. Who that person might be remains fuzzy at best, though Grant and others have intimated that Love herself could be responsible. For one, Grant claimed that scraps of Cobain's handwriting reportedly found in Love's purse suggest that she was working on copying his handwriting for the purposes of crafting a "suicide" note.
Needless to say, the murder theories have remained on the fringes. But regardless of how it happened, what is clear is that Cobain's untimely death left millions of fans around the world mourning the loss of a once-in-a-generation icon.
Bob Marley May Have Been Able To Prevent His Own Death
Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns/Getty ImagesBob Marley while on tour in Amsterdam in 1976.
When compared with some of the artists above, Bob Marley was lucky to live "long" enough to reach age 36 — though even that didn't always look like a sure thing. While the pioneering reggae icon died from a long battle with cancer on May 11, 1981, he had already survived an assassination attempt by three gunmen at his home in Jamaica in 1976.
But ultimately Marley died from a malignant melanoma that spread from his toe. He first discovered he was ill in 1977 after a mundane foot injury turned surprisingly serious.
He was told that an amputation would be best, but Marley refused, as Rastafarianism prohibited this — and he believed his performing career would suffer were he to be off his feet.
Marley opted for a skin graft instead. However, it didn't work well enough and the cancer soon spread. Eventually, he collapsed during a jog in Central Park and played his last gig in September 1980 while on tour in Pittsburgh.
After an unsuccessful eight-month treatment period in Germany, he flew home to Jamaica — but never made it. Marley was rushed to the hospital upon landing in Miami and died shortly after.
Marley was buried with his Gibson Les Paul guitar in a chapel near his birthplace on May 21, 1981. He remains, like so many others who perished too soon, a beloved icon around the world to this day.
A staff writer for All That’s Interesting, Marco Margaritoff has also published work at outlets including People, VICE, and Complex, covering everything from film to finance to technology. He holds dual bachelor's degrees from Pace University and a master's degree from New York University.