Legendary US musician David Crosby dies aged 81

Tom Ambrose and Steph Harmon

Thu, 19 January 2023 at 10:22 pm GMT

  • singer, songwriter and filmmaker (born 1945)
<img src="https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/uwlkNFB.thzWfcygJ5Zi2g–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTQyMw–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/2691e814cf3b3f5144785830f80f4232&quot; alt="<span>Photograph: Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP
Photograph: Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP

Legendary US musician David Crosby has died aged 81, after a “long illness”.

The singer, guitarist and songwriter was part of the original lineup of the Byrds and appeared on their first five albums, including the 1965 hit cover of Bob Dylan’s Mr Tambourine Man.

He also co-founded the folk rock supergroup Crosby, Stills & Nash along with fellow musicians Stephen Stills and Graham Nash. They later added Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young to the lineup.

In a statement to Variety, his widow Jan Dance said: “It is with great sadness after a long illness, that our beloved David (Croz) Crosby has passed away. He was lovingly surrounded by his wife and soulmate Jan and son Django.

“Although he is no longer here with us, his humanity and kind soul will continue to guide and inspire us. His legacy will continue to live on through his legendary music. Peace, love, and harmony to all who knew David and those he touched.

“We will miss him dearly. At this time, we respectfully and kindly ask for privacy as we grieve and try to deal with our profound loss. Thank you for the love and prayers.”

In a tribute shared on Instagram, Crosby’s former bandmate Graham Nash wrote of his “profound sadness” to hear the news.

“I know people tend to focus on how volatile our relationship has been at times, but what has always mattered to David and me more than anything was the pure joy of the music we created together,” Nash wrote. “He leaves behind a tremendous void.”

In a statement to Billboard, Stephen Stills wrote: “David and I butted heads a lot over time, but they were mostly glancing blows, yet still left us [with] numb skulls. I was happy to be at peace with him. He was without question a giant of a musician, and his harmonic sensibilities were nothing short of genius … I am deeply saddened at his passing and shall miss him beyond measure.”

Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys wrote that he was “heartbroken” and “at a loss for words”.

The son of Oscar-winning cinematography Floyd Crosby, David Crosby pursued a career in music after flunking school in Los Angeles.

Crosby joined the Byrds in 1964, but was dismissed from the band three years later. In 2019 documentary Remember My Name, Byrds member Roger McGuinn described Crosby and his on-stage political rants as “insufferable”, with fellow band member Chris Hillman saying he had a superiority complex.

In 1968, Crosby met Stephen Stills and the pair started jamming together. They were soon joined by Graham Nash to form Crosby, Stills & Nash, selling millions of copies of their first two albums: their self-titled debut in 1969, and – joined by Neil Young – Déjà Vu the following year.

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young disbanded in 2016 after years of rivalry and tension. In a 2021 interview with the Guardian, Crosby described Graham Nash as “definitely my enemy” and Neil Young as “the most self-centred, self-obsessed, selfish person I know”.

Crosby discovered Joni Mitchell playing in a Florida club in 1967, helping her get a record deal and producing her first album, Song to a Seagull. The pair were romantically involved. He recently described Mitchell as “the best singer-songwriter … I don’t think anybody comes close”.

Crosby’s first solo album came out in 1971, If I Could Only Remember My Name. He released a few more solo records through the 80s and 90s, before a 20-year break and a prolific late-life period, with five coming out since 2014.

His most recent, For Free, was produced and co-written with James Raymond, a son Crosby didn’t know he had until Raymond was 30, after he was given up for adoption by his mother after birth. Raymond had been a musician for 20 years before he discovered who his father was, and tracked him down. The pair also released albums with the Lighthouse Band.

“He gave me a chance to earn my way into his life … by making music with him,” Crosby told the Guardian. “Imagine how I feel about my son being that good a writer. I wear it like a garland of flowers on my head. It’s just fucking wonderful.”

Crosby had another biological son, Bailey, conceived with musician Melissa Etheridge via artificial insemination. On Twitter on Thursday, Etheridge posted she was grieving his loss. “He gave me the gift of family. I will forever be grateful to him, Django, and Jan. His music and legacy will inspire many generations to come.”

In 1983, Crosby was convicted of possession of cocaine and a loaded pistol. He fled California to Florida after being released on bail, eventually turning himself into police in December 1985. He served five months of his five-year sentence before being released on parole. This jail sentence was how he got clean. “If you see somebody who’s doing heroin, they’re in pain,” he said in 2021. “I haven’t had a hard drug near me in 35 to 40 years. I’m very glad I got past it.”

In the same interview, Crosby admitted that – after surviving alcohol, cocaine and heroin addictions for many years – he “expected to be dead” at 30. “My skin is like tissue paper, man. It tears or bruises. It’s just part of being old.”

Eight months ago Crosby agreed to be interview by a journalist class at a high school in Colorado. He made headlines after answering a student’s question about whether he would tour again, replying: “No. I’m not, because I’m 80.” He also pointed to his age to explain his recent spate of solo albums: “I’m 80 years old so I’m gonna die fairly soon. That’s how that works. And so I’m trying really hard to crank out as much music as I possibly can, as long as it’s really good.”

Crosby was famously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame twice and five albums to which he contributed were included in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

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