A History of Musicians Who Have Cheated Death

Ronnie Hawkins should be dead. After battling pancreatic cancer–one of the worst and most virulent cancers there is–he’s still alive a dozen years after his diagnosis.  Joni Mitchell may still be in rough shape, but people are hopeful that she’ll recover from her brain aneurysm.  And Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode was technically dead from a drug overdose but was arrived by EMS personnel.

We tend to focus on musicians who died: Kurt, Jimi, Jim, Janis, Amy and so on. But what about those who faced death and beat it?  The Independent picks up on the thread of rock stars who despite serious odds  have cheated death.

Pop adores its pretty young corpses, from Jimi Hendrix to Amy Winehouse. The flame that burns out before it can disappoint always has an allure. But, as Julien Temple’s new film The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson shows, coming back from near-death can be a weirder and more fascinating path. As other musicians including The Kinks’ Dave Davies, and Edwyn Collins, have found, facing your end then somehow surviving it can force you to confront what your life and music is for.

“Spring 2014,” Wilko Johnson muses at the start of Temple’s documentary. “My life is coming to an end. It’s been a strange year…” The former Dr Feelgood guitarist had been a remarkable musician and eccentrically unique person long before he was diagnosed with inoperable cancer in January 2013. But his public explanations of how this death sentence had made him shrug off his constitutional melancholy and embrace the ecstasy of being alive made him loved as he’d never been before. His farewell gigs at London’s Koko that March were among rock’n’roll’s great moments, his guitar-playing more vividly personal than ever, as love poured from a tearfully happy crowd.

But then, even more astonishingly, he was rediagnosed with a rare, just barely treatable cancer. The guitarist beat the odds again to survive an operation with an 85 per cent chance of death. Knowingly facing the day of his likely death on that operating table held no terror.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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