How are we going to deal with that fact that so many legendary rock stars will soon die?

Every once in a while, I realize how old some of our biggest rock stars have become. I dwell and brood over the fact that, for example, artists I’ve been listening to literally my whole life are into the eighth decade of life.

Ozzy Osbourne (70). Stevie Nicks (71). Brian May (72). Pete Townshend (74). Mick Jagger (75). Jimmy Page (75). Ray Davies (75). Paul McCartney (77). Bob Dylan (78). Grace Slick (79). Ringo Starr (79). Ian Hunter (80). Hell, Springsteen, buff and vital as he is, turns 70 on the 23rd of this month.

How can this be? They’re not supposed to age. Because if they’re getting old, then…so must I. And when people get old, they eventually die.

During one of my recent funks (I was wondering how many times media outlets will call upon me to comment when some famous musician dies), I realized that we’re headed for a big wave of rock start deaths in the next five to ten years. How was the world going to react? And what would eventually become of rock when all its elder statesmen and women–people who have been making music for us for 60 years–finally disappear?

A idea began to form for a future post/column. But before I could get around to it, this post appeared at It pretty much sums up everything I was thinking.

“Those losses have been painful. But it’s nothing compared with the tidal wave of obituaries to come. The grief and nostalgia will wash over us all. Yes, the Boomers left alive will take it hardest — these were their heroes and generational compatriots. But rock remained the biggest game in town through the 1990s, which implicates GenXers like myself, no less than plenty of millennials.

“All of which means there’s going to be an awful lot of mourning going on.”

What will become of rock when the dying begins? It’s possible that rock fans will have to deal with a lot of loss as the legends start dropping like flies. What kind of effect will that have on our psyche?

It was bad enough through 2016 when there was a string of deaths: Bowie, Prince, Glen Frey, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, Leonard Cohen. That was a very rough stretch. More people have died since, of course, but it hasn’t been as bad as 2016. Yet.

How will the touring industry adapt? So much of today’s tours are based on heritage artists heading out on the road again. Sure, there’s maybe a few decades’ worth of runway thanks to bands like Pearl Jam, the Foo Fighters, and U2. But then what? How will Live Nation, which owns amphitheatres that need to be filled, deal with the coming shortage of acts able to fill them?

We’ve done a terrible job of creating new rock superstars in the 21st century. Instead, the industry has relied on the old horses from the 60, 70s, 80s, and 90s over and over again. Few acts who have emerged over the last 20 years can reliably fill arenas and stadiums like the old guard.

Will it matter to a young wannabe guitar hero when Jimmy Page has gone to The Great Beyond? People still learn from Jimi Hendrix and he’s been dead since 1970. So maybe, maybe not.

But a world without a living Beatle? Unimaginable.

The Music Legend Extinction is almost upon us. How will we deal with it?

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ 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.

5 thoughts on “How are we going to deal with that fact that so many legendary rock stars will soon die?

  • September 1, 2019 at 11:03 am

    You forgot Rick Parfitt, in 2016.

  • September 1, 2019 at 2:11 pm

    I may sound like a cold-hearted prick, but I won’t lose a minutes sleep when Ozzy, Stevie, Brian, Pete, Mick, Jimmy, Ray, Paul, Bob or Grace shuffles off their mortal coil…

    They all have had very long and successful careers, made million$ and lived “1%er” lives. They have travelled the world (repeatedly), rubbed elbows with the rich and famous and literally “lived like rock stars” for decades, experiencing a very different world then the other 99% or us poor jamokes have.

    When Ozzy finally croak’s, I’ll tell Google to play “Shot in the Dark” loud one last time, have a final laugh about the Prince of Darkness and then get on with the rest of my day …

  • September 1, 2019 at 5:29 pm

    Well there’s the option of seeking out the next generation of rock bands like The Struts or Greta Van Fleet.. Only problem is that these bands aren’t “legends” and in todays musical climate, they’re just as unexceptional and meager as the Crash Test Dummies

  • September 1, 2019 at 7:19 pm

    I was talking with my son the other day about this. He, like me, is a huge fan of the “good” music. We saw Iron Maiden this weekend (high energy and seemed young), Judas Priest a few months ago (really showing their age), and we were all pumped and haven’t stopped listening to TOOL (can we get another album out of them – in less than a decade?).

    Where are the next great musicians? You used to say how the bad government seemed to cause a rise in great music. If the current political landscape doesn’t inspire great rock and a rise in punk, I would hate to see what will. There is talent out there, for sure. We need all the parts coming together for legendary music that can we can be amazed with and that will continue to deepen with age.

    Who is the next Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin? Can we find another TOOL? A friend said his impression of Iron Maiden before he heard them was some speed metal guitars. He was amazed at how operatic it was. We need a wave of those willing to do the hard work to create amazing music again.

    I was encouraged to hear about the depth that Sicamore goes to create an album but it still does not have the depth of The Wall or Fear Inoculum.

    Me and my 17 and 15 year old sons are already shedding a tear for the future of music.

  • September 2, 2019 at 5:19 pm

    We simply have to do a better job hunting for exciting new sounds. We have to leave our houses and go see what’s playing at live venues, and when we find someone we like we have to be evangelical and tell the world about them so they can start playing bigger and bigger venues until they’re playing the biggest venues in the world. That’s how indie bands like Arcade Fire and Metric can fill NHL arenas.


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