Are Music Deaths More Likely in Groups of Three?

Another rock & roll passing leaves me counting.

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Photo: John Verive/flickr

This year may be no match for 2016, but 2020 so far has been brutal when it comes to music and loss. We’ve had to say goodbye to Kenny Rogers (March 20), Joe Diffie (March 29), Bill Withers (March 30), John Prine (April 7), Little Richard (May 9), Betty Wright (May 10), Bonnie Pointer (June 8), Charlie Daniels (July 6), Mac Davis (September 29), Helen Reddy (September 29), Eddie Van Halen (October 6), Johnny Nash (October 6), and a number of other talented performers who contributed to the soundtrack of our youth.

And here comes the rain again. On October 19, Tony Lewis, the lead singer of the ’80s British trio The Outfield died “suddenly and unexpectedly,” his rep revealed October 20 on Twitter, at age 62 near London. Normally my response to such tragic news is to wonder who’s next. After all, isn’t death supposed to come in threes?

Sadly, in this case, it already has — six years ago. On July 9, 2014, Lewis’s The Outfield bandmate, guitarist and songwriter John Spinks, died of liver cancer at age 60. When I bought The Outfield’s Play Deep album on vinyl in 1985, little did I know that 25 years later, they’d have me once again tossing around my theory that members of musical trios might be more susceptible to dying young-ish than members of other collaborative configurations.

What is it about threesomes? If one is the loneliest number and two’s company, is three totally unlucky? I first noticed the phenomenon on May 4, 2012, when the rap trio Beastie Boys lost its original member Adam “MCA” Yauch, who died of parotid cancer at age 47. (The Rock and Roll Hall of Famers’ 20-song retrospective, Music, drops today.)

There have been so many, too many other early departures by members of musical trios, before and since. Among them …

Florence Ballard, an original member of The Supremes: Died February 2, 1976, of a heart attack at age 32

William Powell of The O’Jays: Died May 26, 1977, of cancer at age 35

Diane Taylor of Love Unlimited: Died November 29, 1988, of cancer at age 38

Kurt Cobain of Nirvana: Died April 4, 1994, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at age 27

Dan Hamilton of Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds: Died December 23, 1994, of complications from Cushing’s syndrome at age 48

Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes of TLC: Died April 25, 2002, from injuries suffered in a car accident in Honduras at age 30

Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell of Run-D.M.C.: Shot to death on October 30, 2002, at age 37

Maurice Gibb of Bee Gees: Died January 12, 2003, of complications from a twisted intestine at age 53

Paul Hester of Crowded House: Died March 26, 2005, from suicide at age 46

June Pointer of The Pointer Sisters (originally a quartet but best known as a trio): Died April 11, 2006, of cancer at age 52

Stephen “Static Major” Garrett of Playa: Died February 25, 2008, of a suspected brain aneurysm at age 33

Fayette Pinkney of The Three Degrees: Died June 27, 2009, of respiratory failure at age 61.

Marvin Isley of Isley-Jasper-Isley: Died June 6, 2010, of complications from diabetes at age 56

Robert Wilson of The Gap Band: Died August 15, 2010, of a heart attack at age 53

Rich Cronin of LFO: Died September 8, 2010, of complications from leukemia at age 36

Dan Peek, an original member of America: Died in his sleep on July 24, 2011, at age 60

Robin Gibb of Bee Gees: Died May 12, 2012, of complications from colorectal cancer at age 62

Cathy Carson of Hot: Died June 26, 2014, of lung cancer at age 60

Charmayne Maxwell of Brownstone: Died February 28, 2015, after falling and cutting her throat on a drinking glass at age 46

Devin Lima of LFO: Died November 1, 2018, of adrenal cancer at age 41

Neil Peart of Rush: Died January 7, 2020, of brain cancer at age 67.

Two of Gladys Knight’s three Pips are now gone, too, as are Motörhead’s entire classic line-up of three and the two Levert brothers of LeVert. We have, however, been spared having to say goodbye to David Crosby, Stephen Stills, or Graham Nash. Perhaps by including Neil Young in the Crosby, Stills and Nash line-up on and off, making themselves an occasional quartet, they did more than just enhance their sound. I’m happy to say all four are still with us.

And so are all former and current members of the trios Labelle, The Police, Bananarama, Thompson Twins, Love and Rockets, Wilson Phillips, SWV, Destiny’s Child (the trio edition), Rascal Flatts, Lady A, and The Chicks. May they continue to be safe and, if possible, avoid trending.

Written by

Brother Son Husband Friend Loner Minimalist World Traveler. Author of “Is It True What They Say About Black Men?” and “Storms in Africa”

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