Pop Musicians Who Died in the 2000s

As time marches on, we lose key pop musicians, producers, songwriters, and other industry personnel. Each year some people leave behind fans and admirers. This is a listing of some of those who left us far too soon in the 2000s giving us another opportunity to remember and say goodbye.

Aaliyah (1979-2001)

Essence Awards 2001 Aaliyah
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Together with Timbaland and Missy Elliott as producers, Aaliyah helped forge a new direction for hip hop and R&B at the beginning of the decade. She first hit the charts as a 15-year-old in 1994 with the album Age Ain't Nothing But a Number. Her 2000 single "Try Again" became the first in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 to hit #1 based entirely on radio airplay. Aaliyah was also an accomplished film actress starring in Romeo Must Die. She died at the age of 22 in a plane crash in the Bahamas August 25, 2001.

Laura Branigan (1952-2004)

Laura Branigan

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Singer Laura Branigan had a few minor chart appearances earlier in her career, but it was the release of the single "Gloria" in 1982 that led to pop stardom. The song stormed on to the charts and eventually rose to #2. It spent 36 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, a record for a female solo artist at that time. She returned to the pop top 10 twice more with "Solitaire" and "Self Control." Laura Branigan remained a popular live artist throughout the 1990s. She died from a brain aneurysm at home August 26, 2004.

Johnny Cash (1932-2003)

Johnny Cash

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Johnny Cash is one of the most influential and prolific recording artists of all time. He released 96 albums in his lifetime and was a pioneer in both country and rock music. In the 1950s as a Sun Records artist, he helped define the sound of rock 'n roll. Later his powerful songs that addressed the struggle with issues of personal morality brought him critical acclaim. Late in his career, stark recordings with producer Rick Rubin brought Johnny Cash a new generation of fans primarily interested in alt-rock music. He died September 12, 2003, less than four months after his wife June Carter Cash.

Ray Charles (1930-2004)

Ray Charles

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Ray Charles is a key figure in the development of popular music in the US. He pioneered the development of what became known as soul music by fusing elements of gospel and R&B. Later he broke down color barriers by crossing over successfully to country music. Ray Charles has 11 top 10 pop singles to his credit and has appeared on the Billboard Hot 100 more than 70 times. He was one of the earliest members elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He continued recording throughout his life leaving the duet album Genius Loves Company, one of his most successful, when he died on June 10, 2004, from liver cancer.

Rosemary Clooney (1928-2002)

Rosemary Clooney

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Rosemary Clooney became a pop star in the days before rock 'n roll when she hit #1 with "Come On-a My House" in 1951. She returned to the top of the charts with both "Hey There" and "This Ole House" in 1954. In 1977 she began recording for the Concord Jazz record label and became a celebrated jazz singer in her later years. She received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. Rosemary Clooney died from lung cancer June 29, 2002.

Perry Como (1912-2001)

"The Very Best of Perry Como" album cover

Courtesy of RCA

Singer Perry Como hit the pop singles charts over 100 times in his long career. Including the years before rock 'n roll, he hit #1 fourteen times. His final top 40 hit was in 1973 with the song "And I Love You So." Perry Como is estimated to have sold over 100 million albums in his career. However, he is probably best remembered for his Christmas TV specials broadcast in the 1970s and 1980s. Perry Como died in his sleep on May 12, 2001.

John Entwistle (1944-2002)

John Entwistle

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John Entwistle is remembered as one of the top rock bassists of all time. He gained fame as a member of the Who, but he also recorded a series of solo albums. John Entwistle was nicknamed "The Ox" and noted for making the bass a prominent instrument in many rock classics. He continued performing throughout his life and died June 27, 2002, one day before a new concert tour by the Who was scheduled to begin.

Dan Fogelberg (1951-2007)

"The Very Best of Dan Fogelberg" album cover

Courtesy of Sony

Singer-songwriter Dan Fogelberg first hit the pop top 40 with the single "Part of the Plan" from his second album Souvenirs released in 1974. He also found success duetting with Tim Weisberg on the hit "The Power of Gold." In 1980, Dan Fogelberg's single "Longer" climbed to #2 on the charts, and he became one of the hottest pop artists. He released three more top 10 hits, "Same Old Lang Syne," "Hard To Say," and Leader of the Band." Dan Fogelberg found even greater success on the adult contemporary chart hitting the top 10 eleven times. He continued performing live and died from prostate cancer December 16, 2007.

Stephen Gately (1976-2009)

Stephen Gately

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As one of the lead vocalists for the Irish boy band Boyzone, Stephen Gately became one of the most prominent singers in the history of the genre. Boyzone hit the top 10 on the UK pop singles chart 17 times, and all three of their studio albums hit #1. However, their success did not cross the Atlantic to the US. Stephen Gately generated tremendous publicity when he came out as gay in 1999. He wed his partner Andrew Cowles in a Las Vegas commitment ceremony in 2003 and later a civil ceremony in London in 2006. He released his own top 10 solo album New Beginning in 2000. Stephen Gately died suddenly October 10, 2009.

Maurice Gibb (1949-2003)

Maurice Gibb

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Along with his twin Robin and brother Barry, Maurice Gibb formed the Bee Gees, one of the top pop groups of all time. He focused on harmony and backing vocals as well as playing a key role in putting together instrumental arrangements. On stage, Maurice Gibb played mostly bass guitar. The group first had success as a pop group with five consecutive top 20 pop hits in the 1960s. Following a fade in commercial fortunes in the early 1970s, they returned to help disco music storm the pop charts with a primary role in the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever. In their career, the Bee Gees hit #1 nine times, and they sold over 200 million albums. Maurice Gibb died January 12, 2003.

Ellie Greenwich (1940-2009)

Ellie Greenwich with Pete Norman

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The list of songs Ellie Greenwich has helped contribute to pop music history is long and illustrious. Her primary success came co-writing songs with her husband, Jeff Barry. She first visited the Brill Building in New York City in 1962 where she and Barry would become among the most successful songwriting teams to work out of the legendary factory for pop hits. They divorced in 1965 after an amazing string of songwriting successes. Ellie Greenwich was not only a songwriter but also an accomplished singer in her own right and businesswoman. The hit musical Leader of the Pack was based on her life and her work with Jeff Barry.

Watch the Shangri-Las sing "Leader of the Pack."

George Harrison (1943-2001)

George Harrison
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As a member of the Beatles, George Harrison is one of the top pop recording artists of all time. On his own, he released nine top 10 solo singles including three #1's. He is recognized as one of the top guitar players of all time. He also took part in the rock supergroup the Traveling Wilburys with Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, and Bob Dylan. George Harrison was also noted for his devotion to Hare Krishna and being an accomplished gardener. He died from cancer on November 29, 2001.

Isaac Hayes (1942-2008)

Isaac Hayes

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Memphis soul man Isaac Hayes had already laid claim to being an R&B legend when he electrified the pop music world with the #1 smash "Theme from Shaft" in the fall of 1971. His earlier album Hot Buttered Soul is rightfully recognized as an R&B landmark. His versions of pop classics "Walk On By" and "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" each sprawled more than 10 minutes. They laid the blueprint for much of 70's deep R&B and funk. In his later years, Isaac Hayes was recognized for charitable work and a comic turn as the voice of Chef on the animated series South Park.

Michael Jackson (1958-2009)

Michael Jackson

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Michael Jackson is frequently referred to as the "King of Pop." He became a star as a child fronting the brother at the Jackson 5. He emerged as an adult soul and pop star with the album Off the Wall which was followed by Thriller, the biggest selling album of all time. His music transcended boundaries between pop, soul, dance, and rock music. Michael Jackson has earned 15 Grammy Awards, and it is estimated that he has sold over 350 million albums worldwide. He died June 25, 2009, from a fatal combination of prescription drugs.

Rick James (1948-2004)

Rick James

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Rick James began his major label musical career as a songwriter and producer for Motown in the late 1960's. A decade later he began recording as a solo artist for Motown's subsidiary Gordy and had the breakthrough top 15 pop hit "You and I" in 1978. Three years later he established himself as arguably the top funk artist with the massive hit Street Songs album that featured the definitive "Super Freak." Rick James earned great notoriety for his wild lifestyle. He ended up in courts and tabloids due to drug use and sexual exploits. Rick James was reportedly working on a new album when he died August 6, 2004, from heart disease.

Waylon Jennings (1937-2002)

Waylon Jennings

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Waylon Jennings' career spanned the early days of rock 'n roll to the beginning of a new century. His first fame was as a bass player for Buddy Holly. He escaped an early death by giving up his seat on the plane that killed Buddy Holly to the "Big Bopper." He gained his greatest commercial success as one of the country music "outlaws" in the 1970s who worked outside of the Nashville corporate structure. He landed inside the pop top 40 three times with "Good Hearted Woman," "Luckenbach, Texas," and the "Dukes of Hazzard Theme." In the late 80's he formed the supergroup the Highwaymen. Waylon Jennings died on February 13, 2002, of diabetes.

Peggy Lee (1920-2002)

Peggy Lee

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Singer Peggy Lee gained her first major notice in 1941 when she joined Benny Goodman's band. She had her first #1 single "Somebody Else Is Taking My Place" in 1942. She returned to #1 in 1948 with "Manana" which spent nine weeks at the top. Peggy Lee's last top 10 pop hit, "Fever," became her signature song. She also achieved great success as a songwriter. In 1995 Peggy Lee received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 1999 she was elected to the Songwriter's Hall of Fame. She died of a heart attack on January 21, 2002.

Lisa Lopes (1971-2002)

Lisa Lopes

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As part of the trio TLC, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes was among the most successful pop and R&B artists of the 1990s. The group released three consecutive multi-platinum albums. They included nine top 10 pop hits among them and four that went all the way to #1. The biggest hit, "Waterfalls," spent seven weeks at the top. Billboard counts them as the bestselling girl group of all time. In 2001 Lisa Lopes released her first solo collection Supernova which generated a top 20 pop single in the UK. It was not released in the US. Lisa Lopes died, the victim of a car accident in Honduras, on April 25, 2002.

Robert Palmer (1949-2003)

Robert Palmer

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Robert Palmer began his career primarily as a soul and blues singer. However, his ability to shift musical styles helped him generate a series of major hit singles. A turn in the rock direction in 1979 resulted in the top 20 pop single "Bad Case of Loving You." A memorable video and sledgehammer beat led to the #1 hit "Addicted to Love" in 1986. Two more singles, "I Didn't Mean to Turn You On" and "Simply Irresistible," were #2 chart smashes. A side project, Power Station, brought two more top 10 pop hits. Robert Palmer continued to record through 2003's album Drive. He died of a sudden heart attack on September 26, 2003.

John Peel (1939-2004)

John Peel's Margrave of the Marshes

Courtesy of Bantam Press

John Peel became one of the best known and most influential of BBC Radio 1's DJ's in the UK. He worked regularly in his position from 1967 through 2004. He is probably best remembered for the "Peel Sessions," an ongoing series of live in-studio performances by upcoming artists. John Peel promoted a wide range of artists who would later take their place among the top pop stars in the world. Although born in the UK, John Peel gained his first radio experience in the US before returning to the UK in 1967. John Peel died suddenly of a heart attack October 25, 2004, in Peru.

Sam Phillips (1923-2003)

Sam Phillips
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As founder and chief producer for the Sun Records label, Sam Phillips was a seminal figure in the development of rock 'n roll. Among the artists he signed to the label were Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Roy Orbison. Due to financial difficulties, he was forced to sell Elvis Presley's contract to RCA in 1955. With declining sales and recordings, Sam Phillips sold Sun Records in 1968. However, he became a wealthy man largely due to his early investments in the Holiday Inn hotel chain. Sam Phillips was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Blues Hall of Fame, and Country Music Hall of Fame.

Wilson Pickett (1941-2006)

Wilson Pickett

Courtesy of Atlantic

Wilson Pickett learned his forthright, aggressive style of performing as a gospel singer. He first hit the charts as a member of the group the Falcons, but he became a star as a solo soul performer signed to Atlantic Records in the mid-1960s. His two top 10 pop singles are "Land of 1000 Dances" and "Funky Broadway." Among other notable songs, Wilson Pickett recorded are "In the Midnight Hour" and "Mustang Sally." Although he didn't reach the pop charts after the early 1970s, Wilson Pickett continued recording into the late 1990s. He died of a heart attack on January 19, 2006.

Watch "Land of 1000 Dances" live

Purchase / Download Wilson Pickett's Greatest Hits

Gene Pitney (1941-2006)

Gene Pitney

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Gene Pitney hit the charts as a solo pop singer while also writing major hit singles for others. His first major hit was the song "Town Without Pity" released in 1961 as the theme for the movie of the same name. It earned Gene Pitney an Academy Award nomination. He hit the pop top 10 four times as an artist with the #2 "Only Love Can Break a Heart" being his biggest hit. "He's a Rebel," "Hello Mary Lou," and "Rubber Ball" are among the hits Gene Pitney wrote for others. Although his last US chart appearance was in 1969, Gene Pitney continued to score hits in the UK well into the 1970s. He died of heart disease complications April 5, 2006 while on tour in the UK.

Joey Ramone (1951-2001), Dee Dee Ramone (1951-2002), Johnny Ramone (1948-2004)


Courtesy of Sire Records

The Ramones were considered key pioneers among punk groups in the US. All members of the group adopted the last name, Ramone. Joey, Dee Dee, and Johnny were the founders. The group formed in 1974 and recorded their first album in 1976. Although the group never gained major commercial success, they are one of the most influential American bands of all time. The album End of the Century was their biggest chart success hitting #44 in 1980. Perhaps the group's best-known song remains "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker" which edged inside the Billboard Hot 100 in 1977. The group broke up in 1996, and the three founding members died within four years of each other.

Joe Strummer (1952-2002)

Joe Strummer

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Reportedly Joe Strummer saw an early Sex Pistols performance and was impressed which led him to help form the Clash a few months later. In a flurry of signings of punk and new wave bands, the Clash signed with CBS Records in 1977. They soon earned tremendous critical acclaim as an exciting and politically aware band. The group's London Calling is considered by many to be one of the top albums of all time. The Clash scored major commercial success with the top 10 single "Rock the Casbah" and its top 10 album Combat Rock. After major internal difficulties, the Clash disbanded in 1985. Joe Strummer had some success with his group the Mescaleros. He died suddenly December 22, 2002.

Ike Turner (1931-2007)

Ike Turner

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Although he gained a great deal of notoriety due to his difficult relationship with his former wife singer Tina Turner, Ike Turner is a rock and soul pioneer. He is given credit by many for recording the first rock 'n roll song "Rocket 88." In the late 1950s, he met Anna Mae Bullock who later became his wife, Tina Turner. Together the pair created one of the top high energy soul and rock acts of all time. They hit #4 in 1971 with their signature "Proud Mary." Although revelations of spousal abuse later dimmed his image among American music fans, Ike Turner continued to perform and record up until his death on December 12, 2007.

Luther Vandross (1951-2005)

Luther Vandross

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Luther Vandross began his long, successful career as a studio backup singer in the mid-1970's working on projects such as David Bowie's Young Americans album. With the emergence of disco in the late '70s, Luther's silky smooth voice helped create classics by the groups Chic and Change. After the encouragement of friend Roberta Flack, Luther Vandross recorded his first solo album Never Too Much in 1981. That album's quick success turned Vandross into a star. Ultimately he released five top 10 pop solo singles and earned eight Grammy Awards. Luther Vandross died July 1, 2005, after having suffered a stroke two years before.

Warren Zevon (1947-2003)

Warren Zevon

Courtesy of Elektra

Although he never gained the commercial success to be considered a major pop star, rock singer and songwriter Warren Zevon put together a body of work highly respected by critics and his fellow musicians. His music is often marked by a sardonic approach and unique sense of humor. Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London," a top 25 pop hit in 1978, is his only major singles chart success. He continued recording completing the album The Wind when seriously ill with cancer. Warren Zevon died September 7, 2003.