What is it about drummers that make them, in many cases, even more interesting than their bands’ lead singers? In the musician gene pool, drummers are widely considered a species of their own, distinct from non-percussionists. Many drummers – at least the most memorable ones – have stories that make you wonder how they ever came out of it alive.
Well, some didn’t. This list of disturbed drummers shows the dark side of percussionists’ lives – from painful pasts to wild lifestyles to tragic events that they just can’t seem to shake off.
Jim Gordon: The Drummer Who Killed His Mother
Jim Gordon isn’t a widely known drummer, but his story puts many others to shame. The drummer for Derek and the Dominos (who co-wrote Eric Clapton’s Layla, by the way) killed his mother in 1983 with a hammer and a butcher knife.
Clearly, the man wasn’t well. He was a Grammy Award winner and one of the most requested session drummers of the late ‘60s and ‘70s. (He started out with the Everly brothers and worked with The Beach Boys, Joe Cocker, and Little Richard to name a few.) But he had a darkness that simply took over. He was, after all, diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Jim Gordon Chooses to Stay in Prison
Gordon developed schizophrenia in adulthood and started hearing voices, including those of his mother. The voices told him to starve himself and not to sleep, relax, or play the drums. In 1983, it came to a fatal blow when he attacked his mother.
Despite his acute schizophrenia, he wasn’t allowed to use the insanity plea (due to some change in California law). Gordon was sentenced to 16 years to life. He was recently entitled to a parole hearing but didn’t show up for it. Reportedly, he has said he is “institutionalized” and has no desire to get out.
Dennis Wilson: The Beach Boys’ Troubled Drummer
Dennis Wilson was the middle brother of the Wilson brothers’ trio (which is a complex on its own), who came to be known as the surfer, the womanizer, the drug addict and the eccentric one who torched his wife’s car in a jealous fit of rage.
“They say I live a fast life,” he wrote on the sleeve of 1964’s album All Summer Long. His brother Brian had major issues of his own, but Dennis was supportive; he just had some bad habits, along with a stormy energy and rash lifestyle. Eventually, the guy drifted away. It all goes back to his (and their) childhood.
Dennis Wilson Was the “Ugly Duckling” Who Joined the Manson Family Cult
Dennis considered himself the black sheep of the Wilson family. “I’m a duck who was born with two chickens,” he said in 1962. Let’s not forget that the boys endured physical abuse by their father, Murray Wilson, which scarred Dennis for life. As a result, Dennis grew into an adult who was lured by enigmatic people and had a constant feeling of worthlessness.
Dennis fell victim to Charles Manson and the Manson Family cult, becoming bankrupt and personally damaged as a result. He became a drunk and drug addict. His life came to a tragic end when he drowned at Marina Del Ray while diving to get his ex-wife’s belongings, which had been thrown overboard from his yacht three years earlier during their messy divorce.
Artimus Pyle: The Drummer Who Survived the 1977 Plane Crash
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s former drummer was there, in the plane, when it crashed on October 20, 1977, and killed six people on board, including the lead singer and guitarist. “I think about this every single day. It’s not something that I can put out of my mind. It’s always there,” Pyle said.
After the crash landing in rural Mississippi, Pyle crawled out of the plane with broken ribs and found help at a local farmhouse. “I was upset, I was scared, my friends were dead before my eyes,” he recalled, adding, “I think about the people that perished every single day.”
Artimus Pyle Became a Sex Offender
The crash never left him, and although he moved on and started his own band, he got involved in some shady, criminal acts, and they haunt him to this day. In 1993, he was charged for sexual battery of a victim under 12 and to “lewdly fondling, assaulting or simulating sexual acts on a child under 16.”
Pyle pleaded no contest, was sentenced to probation and was required to register as a sex offender. He was then arrested in Florida, in 2007 after he failed to register as a sex offender (he was later acquitted of the 2007 arrest).
Taylor Hawkins: The Drummer Who Left Everyone in Tears
Taylor Hawkins’s death is still a fresh wound for many music fans, but what would a list of disturbed drummers be without the famed Foo Fighters percussionist? Dying of an overdose in March 2022, he left his wife, their three kids, and Dave Grohl, who loved him like a brother.
It wasn’t the first time Hawkins overdosed. Despite his success and close relationships, the drummer faced demons that followed him throughout his life. His mother, he once said, had demons of her own, which affected his early life. His mom died in 2012, nine months after he lost his dad.
Taylor Hawkins’s Painful Past Never Left Him
Hawkins, who had a painful childhood – “I was a fat, chubby, stupid kid who [failed] at everything and that nobody liked” – eventually discovered a passion for drumming. It was his parents who gifted him his first drum kit.
He was passionate but even more impulsive. “I used to do a lot of f***ing drugs,” he said once. He overdosed in 2001, explaining how he “was heading down a road that was going to lead to even worse paths.” He overcame that near-death experience, seemingly moving forward, only to let the next one be his last.
Rick Allen: The Drummer With One Arm
Rick Allen became Def Leppard’s drummer when he was only 14, and most of his life has been focused on the band. But a tragic twist of fate in the ‘80s changed his life and career forever, leaving him with one arm. On New Year’s Eve of 1984, Allen and his girlfriend Miriam Barendsen were driving near Sheffield, where the band came from.
Allen, who was in the driver’s seat, misjudged a curve and crashed through a stone wall. The car flipped multiple times. One of the biggest problems was that Allen’s seatbelt wasn’t completely fastened. Because of it, he was ejected from the vehicle.
Rick Allen Struggled Through His Recovery
Barendsen, who was properly fastened, suffered whiplash. “I think my arm was left in the car,” Allen told the BBC. His arm was actually found, packed in ice, and was even reattached to Allen in the hospital. But infections forced surgeons to amputate the arm in the end.
Three years later, after struggling to no end, Allen returned to the stage. But his recovery was a dark one, which involved self-medicating and PTSD, he also hopes to try and help those who are suffering in similar ways to him. “It was the darkest time in my life…”
Lars Ulrich: The Drummer Who Pisses Everyone Off
Hotheaded drummer Lars Ulrich started down a path of pissing people off when he decided to embark on a public feud with Napster at the turn of the millennium. Attacking fans who scored free Metallica music didn’t faze him one bit.
The drummer let so much of his ego get to his head that the popular blog site Village Voice named him the “Douchiest Drummer of All Time.” Author Nate Jackson called him a “pompous windbag” with “enough ego to fill a stadium.” There are countless accounts of times Ulrich took things to a$$hole territory, one of them being in 2009…
Lars Ulrich Seems to Hate the World
Funnily enough, the story was told by comedian Jim Breuer on Howard Stern’s show. When the King of All Media asked him, “Did you ever meet Lars Ulrich?” Breuer told him about the time he hung out with Ulrich one night in Greenwich Village. The first red flag was when he found an NYU student’s backpack full of books in their cab, and the comedian took it with him, planning to return it to the kid who’d lost it.
Breuer wanted to return the bag to the kid, but Ulrich tossed it across a busy street. Then, at a bar, a Metallica fan asked him for a cigarette, leading the drummer to go on a rant, saying things like, “You might not know it, but I work really f***ing hard for this pack of cigarettes, so why don’t you go buy yourself a pack, huh? F*** that!”
John Bonham: The Irreplaceable Late Drummer
It was John Bonham’s sudden and tragic death that brought Led Zeppelin to its end. Bonham, aka Bonzo or The Beast, was the heartbeat of the band, and an “irreplaceable” drummer. Page, Plant, and Jones decided to call it a day after Bonham’s accidental death in 1980 at age 32.
He had been drinking vodka all day (40 measures in 12 hours) until his body gave up, and he passed out on the floor. The next morning, Benje LeFevre, the band’s road manager, found the drummer dead. And just like that, it was the end of an era.
John Bonham Drank Himself to Oblivion
“Drumming was the only thing I was any good at and so I stuck at it,” Bonham said. Once he joined Zeppelin and they hit superstardom, the once poor Bonham was suddenly driving flashy cars and living the typical rock star life.
The only way he could calm down was by drinking. He later confided to friends that he was suffering from panic attacks before each concert. “I have terribly bad nerves all the time,” he said in 1975. His once jovial personality became broody and aggressive. Eventually, his drinking took him under.
Joey Jordison: The Drummer Who Lost His Legs to MS
Drummer and co-founding member of Slipknot, Joey Jordison faced one devastation after another until he died in 2021 in his sleep. He didn’t tell his band that he was suffering from a neurological disorder called transverse myelitis, a form of MS, which prevented him from playing the drums.
“I lost my legs. I couldn’t play anymore,” he explained. The illness was bad enough, but Jordison didn’t have an easy life from the beginning. For one, his school days were some of his worst. Being short (5 feet, 5 inches), he was constantly bullied. Music was his only solace.
Joey Jordison Turned to Drugs to Cope
Fame, at least the dark side of it, was something that deeply angered Jordison. When Slipknot got hit with negativity, it got to him. “It f***ing brings me to a f***ing boiling point.” Being in the band was stressful enough, but his love life made him bitter, too, especially since his girlfriend cheated on him.
After finding out, he went on a three-week coke binge. He was no stranger to drugs and alcohol, having struggled from addiction for years. Despite admitting to his drug problems, he publicly stated, “I don’t like to condone any drug use, whatsoever.”
Keith Moon: The Drummer Who Partied Himself to Death
With a nickname like “Moon the Loon,” it’s obvious the drummer lived a crazy life, if not the craziest. He was a hard drummer who partied even harder. He did some funny stuff, but it was for the most part self-destructive. In the end, his lifestyle cost him his life at 32.
Since he was a young child, he would play practical jokes on people, which included explosions. When he joined The Who in 1964 at 17 years old, he effectively changed the band. A hyperactive guy, who liked to destroy instruments while on stage, Moon got bored when they weren’t performing live.
Keith Moon Killed His Driver
“When you’ve got money and you do the kind of things I get up to, people laugh and say that you’re eccentric, which is a polite way of saying you’re fucking mad,” Moon once said. He didn’t understand the concept of “too much.”
In between his insane and dangerous pranks, he managed to kill his friend, driver and bodyguard, Neil Boland, in 1970. He accidentally ran over him while driving drunk. He met his fate in 1978, when he took 32 clomethiazole tablets and was found dead the following afternoon. His last dinner, by the way, was with Paul and Linda McCartney.
Tommy Lee: The Bad Boy Drummer
The Mötley Crüe drummer, the bad boy of rock and roll, has been known as much for his love life as for his music. The man has done it all: made a sex tape with Pamela Anderson, started a racially motivated riot with Nikki Sixx, attacked photographers, endured fist fights with his own son, and did all kinds of drugs in between.
Lee wasn’t a prime example of what a dad should be. He was jealous of the attention his sons Brandon and Dylan got from Pam Anderson. He hit a boiling point and kicked his wife while she was holding their baby boy in her arms. Yeah…
Tommy Lee Was Sued for a Boy Drowning in His Pool
Lee has been married four times, not seeming to learn much through each one. If his wild ways didn’t get him into enough trouble already, Lee had to face the tragic fact that a four-year-old boy drowned in his pool.
In 2001, Lee was a freshly single dad hosting his son Brandon’s 5th birthday party. The little boy who drowned in the pool was with his babysitter at the party. The boy’s parents sued Lee for $10 million claiming negligence on the host’s part. Lee wasn’t found guilty in the end, but something like that sticks with you forever.
Ginger Baker: The Drummer Who Turned It Up to 11
As Cream’s drummer, Ginger Baker turned the rock drumming and outrageous behavior up to 11. He was drunk and on heroin for years, gave his 15-year-old son a line of coke before a gig and had sex with his daughter’s friends. Somehow, he made it out alive (he died peacefully at 80).
Raised in poverty, with a dad who died in WWII, he was a petty thief and joined a local gang. In high school he found drumming. “I got involved with drugs for the music,” he explained. “I took some smack and people told me, ‘You play incredible,’ so I took smack before every gig.”
Ginger Baker Relapsed “Like 29 Times”
It was his Cream bandmate Jack Bruce who bore the brunt of Baker’s fury. On stage, they would compete, turning up their amplifiers to drown the other out. Ginger would throw drumsticks at Bruce’s head and even pulled a knife on him, on stage no less. (Bruce hit back with his bass and Eric Clapton frustratingly watched.)
After Cream, Ginger continued to make music but was sliding down a slippery slope. He quit heroin but relapsed “something like 29 times.” He finally kicked the habit in 1981 and eventually moved to South Africa. He slowly faced financial difficulties, though. (He had a habit of buying horses to play polo.)
Dave Holland: The Drummer Who Went Private
Judas Priest’s drummer Dave Holland, who was in the band from 1980 to 1989, died in 2018 of reported lung cancer. But it was his troubled life that proved much more noteworthy. Things started going downhill in the late ‘80s, after having been with Judas Priest for eight years.
In 1989, personal health, family problems, and musical differences with the band forced Holland to leave. He toured with Trapeze for a while before deciding to give private drum lessons. These private lessons ended up ruining his life.
Dave Holland Might Have Been Wrongly Imprisoned
Holland was arrested back in 2004, accused of trying to assault a 17-year-old boy in his cottage while giving him drumming lessons. While he denied the accusations, he was ultimately found guilty of attempted rape and indecent assaults against the teenage boy, who had learning disabilities.
He was then sentenced to eight years in prison. While in prison, Holland announced he was writing an autobiography. He wrote to Priest biographer, Neil Daniels, from prison, telling him, “I was convicted of a crime that I didn’t commit.”
Phil Collins: The Drummer Who Went Solo
The Genesis drummer turned solo artist is something of a basket case when it comes to his love life. The man has been accused of divorcing his ex-wife through fax and refusing to leave the home he shared with his third wife.
Phill Collins has recently retired due to chronic health issues, but his failing health is minor compared to his disastrous personal life. His wife Orianne claims that Collins was drinking heavily and abusing pills. According to Orianne, he hit his head when he fell down drunk and checked into hospitals under an alias.
Phil Collins Has Been Slowly Deteriorating
Supposedly, it’s Collins’ “serious neurological problem that requires him to take daily medication and this means he does fall sometimes on stage,” his friend reported. His health started to decline in 2011. “I dislocated some vertebrae in my upper neck and that affected my hands,” he wrote, confessing that he can’t play drums or piano.
But his wife says it’s worse than that. “He was incapable of having sex,” she stated. Is she also telling the truth about him not “showering, brushing his teeth and dressing properly”? It’s hard to say. But one thing is for sure, Collins is no longer who he was.
Topper Headon: From the Clash’s Drummer to Cab Driver
For the first five years of Topper Headon’s time with the Clash, he was so deep into the rockstar lifestyle that premature death seemed like the only possible end to it. Joe Strummer and the others tried to save the drummer from himself, but it was futile, so Strummer threw him out of the band (although they publicly announced it was due to exhaustion).
Drugs are expensive, and Headon was heading towards bankruptcy. He worked as a minicab driver in London to fund his addiction. He was driving a beat-up Talbot Solara that broke down all the time, but he “didn’t give a sh*t.”
Topper Headon Was Humiliated but Kept It Up
Eventually, he made cash in the London Underground by busking with a set of bongos. People would stop and ask him, “Are you Topper Headon from The Clash?” and he would say, “Yeah, this is what I do now.” He found it “so humiliating.” But he continued his junkie ways.
By 1986, he got arrested for supplying heroin and served a 15-month jail sentence. After hitting the lowest of lows, and going to rehab over 13 times, he finally got clean. Headon even launched a Narcotics Anonymous group and Hepatitis C support group, too. Better late than never, right?
Travis Barker: The Drummer Who Dealt With Tragedy From the Beginning
Travis Barker may have the tattoos and crazy-eyed look to make him seem like an insane person, but it’s not his personality or inner demons that gives him a place on this list. Rather, it’s the events and tragedies he’s had to deal with in his past and after his run as Blink-182’s master drummer.
First of all, the guy lost his mom at a young age. And she was the kind of mom any young, aspiring musician could want – she supported him from the beginning. Growing up in a “tough city” (Fontana, California) with “shootings and stabbings,” the future drummer had some close calls with violence himself.
Travis Barker’s Near-Death Experience Changed Him
He also engaged in years of drug addiction, with pills being his “scariest” addiction. A near-death experience in 2008 propelled Barker into sobriety. A plane crash left him in critical condition with burns all over his body, and it was a “wake-up call” for him to get his life back together.
The crash took the lives of both pilots, Chris Baker and Charles Monroe Still, Jr. Only Barker and DJ AM, his close friend, survived. The aftermath of the crash, the extreme pain he endured as a result of it, and the survivor’s guilt he felt, made him want to end his life. He even asked a friend to do the deed.
Travis Barker Seems to Suffer From Really Bad Luck
The crash left Barker with PTSD. “I couldn’t walk down the street. If I saw a plane [in the sky], I was determined it was going to crash, and I just didn’t want to see it,” he confessed. To make matters worse, his close friend and fellow survivor, Adam “DJ AM” Goldstein, died of a drug overdose a year after the crash.
Things didn’t end there. The drummer suffered medical problems in 2018. During a Blink-182 reunion residency in Las Vegas, Barker started “suffering from blood clots in both arms” and had to cancel the shows. Then came another crash, this time, a car accident. A school bus ran a red light and totaled his car.
Ringo Starr: The “Funny” Drummer With a Sad Life
You can say that Ringo Starr has suffered his fair share of bad luck throughout his life. Unlike his Beatle buddies, Starr grew up in poverty. Worse, his father abandoned the family when the boy was only three years old.
Then, when he was six, in 1947, his appendix ruptured, which developed into an internal infection and left him in the hospital for nearly a year. Six months in, as he was “getting rather well,” he got excited, fell out of bed, “and ripped open all these stitches in my stomach.” That got him another six months in the hospital bed.
Ringo Starr Was a Sick Kid
Just when he thought he was in the clear, at 13, he got hit with Tuberculosis. At the time, TB was one of the most potentially deadly diseases in the world. Doctors sent him to a “greenhouse in the country,” where he and other sick kids could “breathe some decent air for a change.” After two years of recovery, he missed so much school that he never went back.
He even missed out on a leg of the Beatlemania world tour thanks to ill health. To boot, he became the disrespected Beatle for a long time. He was only allowed to sing on 11 songs and write two on his own.
Ringo Starr Was Always the Outsider
By the end of the ‘60s, Starr briefly left the band during The White Album recordings, saying he felt like an “outsider.” After the boys split up in 1970, Starr did what the others did – he went solo. But it didn’t work out in his favor. His songs were flops and people grew tired of the Beatles’ former drummer.
Feeling “absolutely lost,” he developed a “serious drinking problem” that only got worse. Hell, he was drinking up to 16 bottles of wine a day. There was a time when he got so drunk that his staff thought he killed his wife, actress Barbara Bach, who fell victim to addiction too.
Ringo Starr’s Bad Luck Reached His Own Daughter
His first wife, Maureen Cox, with whom he had a turbulent marriage, died of leukemia. Despite their failed marriage (she cheated on him with George Harrison) the two remained friends after the divorce, and her death took a toll on him.
Also close to home was the suffering he had to watch his daughter, Lee Starkey, endure. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor and had to undergo an experimental four-hour operation. Thankfully, the tumor was removed, but in 2001, it returned. It seems as though bad luck runs in the Starr (or Starkey) family.
Pete Best: The Guy Whom the Beatles Fired
Speaking of the Beatles, Pete Best was the Fab Four’s best-kept secret. The band’s original drummer was suddenly fired from the band that would become the best group in the world. Two years after joining John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, just as fame and fortune was within reach, he got sacked.
Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager, had told him, “The boys want you out of the group. They don’t think you’re a good enough drummer.” Three days later, Ringo Starr filled his seat. He is now known as the guy who almost got famous – the guy who could have been one of the Fab Four. Try to imagine the toll that would take on you.
Pete Best Hit Rock Bottom
As the Beatles were recording the White Album, Best was working at a bread factory, and later became a civil servant. Best hit rock bottom at one point and tried to take his own life. His mother and brother “gave me the most sensible talking-to I’ve ever had.”
After an early retirement, he returned to making music and played with his band. “We do a lot of Sixties stuff, and, of course, Beatle songs,” he said. Is Best bitter about the past? It took him a long time, but in the end, he’s not “bitter and twisted.” Not anymore, at least.
Bill Ward: The Drummer Who Was Set on Fire
Let’s put it this way: anyone who (willingly) spends four decades with Ozzy Osbourne has to be at least a little bit crazy. Black Sabbath’s drummer Bill Ward has been just as possessed by some form of craziness as his band’s lead singer.
I mean, there was a time when, during a recording session, guitarist Tommy Iommi asked Ward if he could set him on fire. Ward only agreed after finishing the day’s work (there’s some logic in that, I guess), telling Iommi (in Iommi’s words), “I’m going home now, so if you want, you can set fire to me.”
Bill Ward Was the Victim of Every Black Sabbath Prank
The event went down, and after being doused in alcohol and set alight, Ward found himself in the hospital with third-degree burns. (Iommi is clearly just as insane, but this list isn’t about crazy guitarists.) As it turns out, Sabbath was known for pulling some legendary pranks, mostly at Ward’s expense.
Iommi recalled the time when they painted the drummer gold. “We found all this paint in the garage and were all pissed, so thought it would be fun to paint Bill gold from head to toe. He started having convulsions. The ambulance people gave us a right bollocking: “You idiots! You could have killed him.”
Vinnie Paul: The Drummer aka the “Cowboy From Hell”
It seems like you have to have crazy in your blood if join the band Pantera. Just look at the late brothers Vinnie Paul and Dimebag Darrell, who called themselves the “cowboys from hell.” Their backstage antics on tours could easily be part of a season of Jackass.
Paul was never the same after his brother was tragically shot and killed while performing on stage in late 2004 at a club in Columbus, Ohio. The event crushed the drummer. “Man, I thought I’d never play again… I just wanted to disappear from this business totally.”
Paul died in 2018 from an enlarged heart.
Neil Peart: The Drummer Who Lost Everything Dear to Him
Rush’s drummer was critically acclaimed, but a tragic event left him a changed, broken man. After the band’s Test for Echo Tour in 1997, Peart’s 19-year-old daughter, Selena Taylor, died in a single-car crash in Ontario, Canada. A year later, his common-law wife, Jacqueline Taylor, died of cancer.
He described his wife’s death as a result of a “broken heart” and “a slow suicide by apathy.” He felt that he died along with them and couldn’t move on from his massive loss. The drummer couldn’t continue on as a drummer.