on musicians who ruined their careers (and lives) with “reckless behavior”

Estimated reading time is 4 minutes.

A YOUNGER MEMBER of Quora—meaning significantly younger than me—asked me to answer the question, “Which musicians ruined their careers with their reckless behavior?” Quora is the place I seem to get rather easily dragged into on an almost daily basis, generally answering questions about Elvis. This question was more general but actually encompassed Presley.

The question is a little vague, so I responded by taking a bit of license in how interpreted it. My answer is also general: replace “musician” with any other vocation you can think of (athlete, doctor, politician, actor, novelist, police officer, etc.) and it works, if not quite as dramatically as with musicians.

My answer is indented between the two images below.


TheWho Tommy US DXSW 600

The Who’s landmark two-record album TOMMY, which not only elevated them from being a “mere” singles band to an album group that the more serious rock fan could take more seriously but also rescued them from years of financial insecurity.

Causes of reckless behavior

Steven Reichert (and I’m using your name here, young sir, because I tie you—or at least your profile photo on Quora—into my answer at the end of my answer) asked me to address the question, “Which musicians ruined their careers with their reckless behavior?” That’s a pretty wide open question, so I will make it a wee bit more specific:

1.  For “musicians” we include musicians in the more popular forms of music (jazz, blues, country, folk, rock, and pop—the unfamous along with the famous) but not musicians associated with orchestral music.


Damn it all and blow it all! Who thought I would fall a slave to demon alcohol? 1


2.  For “ruined” we mean everything from crashing their career and turning themselves into overnight has-beens (like, who remembers them, right?) to derailing the arc of a successful career for several years but eventually getting back on track (Brian Wilson is an extreme example, derailing one of the most successful careers in pop music for more than twenty years) to actually killing themselves (Brian Jones, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Elvis Presley, etc). 2

3.  For “reckless behavior” we include not only the overt behavior that gets them banned or arrested or kicked out of a group, but also the primary causes of that reckless behavior, including the evils of excessive alcohol and drug use. (And what’s more reckless than overindulging in either?) 3

So if you were to write a 10-page biography of each jazz, blues, country, folk, rock, and pop musician who ruined his career with alcohol or drug-fueled craziness, and you were to compile these mini-biographies into 500-page books (fifty artists per book), and you started writing immediately, I doubt that I would live long enough to see all the books you would turn out!

Hell, Steven, maybe you wouldn’t live long enough to complete those books, and you look pretty young to this old fart!

The causes of reckless behavior among musicians all too often include the evils of excessive alcohol and drug use. Share on X

TheWho posed 1969 SteveWood 1000

FEATURED IMAGE: Pete Townsend, John Entwistle, Keith Moon, and Roger Daltry—The Who, 1969, making rock & roll history by playing the entirety of their two-record, 75-minute album TOMMY on stage. Look how young and beautiful they were!

I chose The Who for this place of prominence to focus attention on Keith Moon: he was perhaps the most energetic, innovative, and just plain entertaining and enjoyable drummer in all of rock.

Alas, he was also one of the most self-destructive people in rock with a reputation for dismantling entire hotel and motel rooms. Much of it was fueled by an ever-increasing consumption of alcohol.

By the time of his death at the oh-so-young age of 32 in 1978, the lean young man with the baby-face above was paunchy and looked decades older. For more on Moon the Loon, give “What Really Happened the Night Keith Moon Died?” by Mark Blake a read.



1   From the lyrics to the song Demon Alcohol by Raymond Douglas Davies: “Oh, demon alcohol, sad memories I can’t recall. Who thought I would say, ‘Damn it all and blow it all’? Oh, demon alcohol, memories I can’t recall. Who thought I would fall a slave to demon alcohol?”

2   In 1966, Brian Wilson was arguably the single most creative and potent force in the world of pop music. By 1968, he was a has-been. By 1970, he was a recluse seemingly hell-bent on self-destruction. Since then, he made the most remarkable comeback since Elvis in 1968. and in 2018 is among the most revered musicians in the world. Hopefully, he’s also among the most content.

3   Technically, the primary causes of reckless behavior are not the drugs and the booze, but the underlying causes of the abuse, such as staggering insecurity, chronic depression, and other emotional/personality disorders and maladies. But that’s another story . . .


2 thoughts on “on musicians who ruined their careers (and lives) with “reckless behavior””

  1. It would be hard to find a better example than Lenny Breau, a guitarist’s guitarist, when it comes to self destructive behaviour. I suspect that it has something to do with their personality. Although the deleterious impact of all of the “hangers-on” who, like lamprey eels, attach themselves to people in the entertainment industry, should never be underestimated. Duane Allman might be a close second when I think about it....and then there was Bill Evans. Gene Lees (a friend) described Bill’s struggle with drugs as “the longest suicide in history”.

    • Supposedly, occupations with the highest drug abuse include doctors, airline pilots, and cops. But I don’t know that if studies like these include “musician” as an “occupation.”


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