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The Curse of Harry Nilsson

Harry Nilsson

While many purveyors of early Rock & Roll are familiar with the "curse" of Buddy Holly, most are not aware of the fatal bad luck that seemed to be connected to singer/songwriter Harry Nilsson.

Harry Nilsson's popularity lasted from the late 1960s until roughly the mid-1970s. His hits include, "You Can't Do That," "Everybody's Talkin'," "One" (as recorded by Three Dog Night), "Best Friend" (the theme from television's The Courtship of Eddie's Father), "I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City," "Me and My Arrow," Badfinger's "Without You," "Coconut," "Jump Into the Fire" and "Spaceman." While a luminary of the Rock pantheon, Nilsson kept famous and talented company. Curiously, many who claimed Nilsson's association came to untimely and tragic ends.



Badfinger: Mike Gibbins, Pete Ham, Tom Evans, & Joey Molland

Badfinger's career was plagued by chaotic finances, dubious management and legal woes. In 1970, the band (Tom Evans, Mike Gibbins, Pete Ham and Joey Molland) released the album, No Dice, containing the track "Without You" (written by Evans and Ham). The song was unremarkable. A year later, Harry Nilsson covered "Without You"; it stayed at #1 on the charts for four weeks. In 1975, Pete Ham, distressed over the state of his personal finances, hanged himself in his garage/studio. He was 28. Tom Evans, reportedly after an argument with Joey Molland over the royalty division for "Without You," hanged himself in the garden of his home. It was 1983 and he was 36. Mike Gibbins would die in his sleep in 2005 - at the ripe old age of 56.

"Mama" Cass

The Mamas and the Papas

The Mamas & The Papas: Denny Doherty (d. 2007), Cass Elliot (d. 1974), John Phillips (d. 2001), and Michelle Phillips.

During the 1970s, Nilsson owned a flat at 12 Curzon Place in London. In 1974, Cass Elliot, formerly of The Mamas and the Papas, was performing at the London Palladium. Nilsson allowed Elliot to use his apartment while he was out of the country. On 29 July 1974, Mama Cass was found dead in the bedroom of Nilsson's apartment, of heart failure. She was 32. (Elliot's bandmates, John Phillips and Denny Doherty would also fail to reach old age. Phillips died in 2001 at age 65 from heart failure, and Doherty passed away at age 66 after a brief illness in 2005.)

Marc Bolan

Nilsson and Bolan

Harry Nilsson and Marc Bolan

Harry Nilsson and Marc Bolan were friends. At 5 am on 15 September 1977, Bolan and his girlfriend, Gloria Jones, were returning from a long night out when she crashed their Mini 1275 GT into a tree. Jones was seriously injured; Bolan was killed instantly.

Keith Moon

Keith Moon

On 6 September 1978, Keith Moon, eccentric drummer for The Who, previewed The Buddy Holly Story and dined with his girlfriend, Annette Walter-Lax, and Paul and Linda McCartney. Moon and Walter-Lax returned to a flat owned by Harry Nilsson - the same flat at 12 Curzon Place, London, where "Mama" Cass Elliot had died four years earlier. Moon supposedly woke up at 7:30 on the morning of the seventh, and returned to bed. At 3:40 pm, Walter-Lax tried to wake him, but he was unresponsive. At some point during the previous night or that morning, he had ingested 32 tablets of Clomethiazole (Heminevrin), a sedative prescribed for alcohol withdrawal. Keith Moon was dead of a prescription drug overdose. (The Who's bassist, John Entwistle, would die from a heart attack brought on by cocaine use in 2002. Entwistle was 57.) Read more about Moon's connection to the Curse of Buddy Holly.

John Lennon

John Lennon with Harry Nilsson

John Lennon with Harry Nilsson

John Lennon was a fan of Nilsson's since 1968. They forged a lasting friendship and became notorious drinking buddies. Lennon turned to Nilsson during his separation from wife, Yoko Ono, in 1974, and the two embarked on a campaign of drunken and drug-induced chaos.

On 8 December 1980, Lennon and Ono were returning home to the Dakota Apartments in New York City when deranged fan, Mark David Chapman, shot the ex-Beatle to death. Lennon was 40. While still with The Beatles, Lennon was asked how he expected to die. He lightly answered: "I'll probably be popped off by some loony."

Fellow Beatle, George Harrison, passed away in 2001 at the age of 58. The cause was cancer. (Lennon and Harrison also figure into the Curse of Buddy Holly.)

Jesse Ed Davis

Jesse Edwin Davis was a respected and popular session guitarist who appeared on albums by Eric Clapton, Jackson Browne, Leonard Cohen, Steve Miller, fellow Nilsson-cursed musicians Keith Moon and John Lennon and - who else? - Harry Nilsson. He also participated in George Harrison's (see 2001) The Concert for Bangladesh. Davis collapsed and was pronounced dead in a laundry room in Venice, California in 1988. He had various drugs in his system, but his death is thought to have been caused by a heroin overdose. He was 43 years old.

Harry Nilsson

Harry Nilsson

Although he survived most of the others by at least ten years, Harry Nilsson was not able to escape the bad luck that seemed to follow him. He suffered a massive heart attack in 1993. He passed away on 15 January 1994 of heart failure. He was 52.

Bruce Gary

Gary was the original drummer for the Knack ("My Sharona") and recorded with solo artists including George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Stephen Stills, Yoko Ono, and Harry Nilsson. He died in 2004 from lymphoma. He was 55.