Young stars who died too soon is no stranger to Hollywood as actors James Dean and River Pheonix all died before their 30th birthdays. But for these five stars Aaliyah, Tupac Shakur, Kurt Cobain, Keith Ledger, and Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopez, their success was cut short when tragedy struck their lives before they reached 30. Even though these young stars are no longer with us, their contribution to the arts will never be forgotten.
Born in Brooklyn, New York in January 1979, the late Aaliyah (Aaliyah Dana Haughton) made her singing debut on national television on “Star Search” at the age of 10. But it was her debut album, “Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number” released in 1994 that made her one of the most promising R&B and hip-hop stars of the 1990’s.
The success of the album started rumours that Aaliyah and R.Kelly had gotten secretly married. Although they both denied it, in 2005, Vibe magazine published the marriage license stating the two were married when Aaliyah was only 15-years-old and R. Kelly was 27 at the time.
The marriage was annulled and Aaliyah worked with Missy Elliot and Timbaland to produce her second album “One in a Million,” which was certified double-platinum within a year. Her third album self-titled “Aaliyah” was released in July 2001, after starring in her first major film role in “Romeo Must Die” alongside Jet Li.
But life was cut short for Aaliyah when on August 25, 2001 after finishing the production of her music video for the single “Rock the Boat” in the Bahamas, Aaliyah and members of her entourage were involved in a sudden plane crash shortly after takeoff. Aaliyah died instantly and all members of her crew also perished; she was only 22-years-old. Even after her death, her fans remained dedicated to ‘baby girl’ as she won the 2002 American Music Award for Favorite Female R&B Artist and Favorite R&B/Soul Album for “Aaliyah.” Even though it has been nine years since her tragic death, Aaliyah still remains as one of my favorite R&B singers of all time.
Tupac Shakur was born in Harlem, New York in June 1971 from active Black Panther Party parents. A stage actor and poet during his childhood days in school, Shakur developed a love for rapping when he moved to California in the late 1980’s when he was hired as a back-up dancer for the rap group Digital Underground in 1990.
He released his first album, “2Pacalypse Now,” in 1991 and formed the group Thug Life in 1993. As Shakur was at the height of his fame, he had a string of criminal offenses when he was charged with sexually assaulting a woman in 1993. In November 1994, Shakur was shot five times and robbed in the lobby of a New York recording studio, Shakur blamed Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs and Notorious B.I.G for the attempted murder. His multi-platinum album, “Me Against the World,” went to No.1 on the Billboard 200 and was recorded in prison while he was serving his sentence for the sexual assault charge. After getting out of jail, Tupac stuck with his story that Notorious B.I.G had orchestrated the 1994 shooting and recorded a song called “Hit Em Up” where he explicitly disrespects Biggie Smalls and his crew. His hatred only fueled more fire to the East Coast/West Coast hip-hop rivalry in the 1990’s.
On September 7, 1996 while driving through Las Vegas after the Mike Tyson – Bruce Seldon fight, Shakur was shot twelve to thirteen times in a drive-by shooting. He died six days later of internal bleeding; he was only 25-years-old.
Until this day, Shakur’s death remains a mystery as no suspect has been charged with his murder. Fourteen years after his death, Shakur remains a hip-hop legend. He was named the highest-selling rap artist by the Guinness Book of World Records, with more than 75 million albums sold worldwide.
Kurt Cobain, the front man for the iconic grunge band Nirvana, was born in February 1967 in Washington. A creative and sensitive child, Cobain’s interest in music started when he was four-years-old as he started to play the piano and guitar. After his parents divorced when he was eight-years-old, Cobain became isolated and depressed as he lived in-between both parents and was raised by family members and friends.
After dropping out of high school, Cobain found solace in the punk rock scene as he attended concerts and, eventually, got involved in relationships with women who would influence his song writing.
When Nirvana was formed in 1985, it took a while before they got a record deal. But with the release of their 1991 album “Nevermind” Cobain was seen as a symbolic figure during the 1990’s Seattle grunge scene with the song “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
During his teen years, Cobain used drugs and alcohol to escape from his problems and at the height of Nirvana’s success he became a heroin addict to help him cope with the pressures of the media, years of depression, chronic bronchitis and mysterious stomach pains. The untimely death of Cobain came on April 8, 1994 when he committed suicide by shooting himself in the head in his home on Seattle’s Lake Washington. He died at the age of 27, leaving behind wife Courtney Love and daughter Frances Bean. Today, Cobain’s legacy lives on as “Rolling Stone” ranked him the 12th greatest guitarist and 45th greatest singer of all time.
Ledger was born in Perth, Australia on April 4, 1979. Before moving to the United States in 1998 to pursue his acting career, Ledger enjoyed much success in the 1990’s as a television and film actor in his native Australia. He starred in several Hollywood motion pictures,”10 Things I Hate About You” and “Monster’s Ball.” But his breakthrough role in “Brokeback Mountain” in 2005 earned him the “Best Actor of 2005” awards from both the New York and San Francisco Film Critics Circle. He was also nominated for a Golden Globe Best Actor in a Drama and a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Actor. Success came quickly for Ledger as he acted in several other films and made his director’s debut for artists Ben Harper and 1200 Techniques. On January 22, 2008, Ledger was found dead in his Manhattan apartment surrounded by bottles of prescription drugs; he was 28-years-old. The autopsy stated that Ledger died as the result of abuse of prescription medications and that his death was an accidental over dose. Even after his death, Ledger’s legacy lives on as he won his first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as the Joker in the Batman movie, “The Dark Knight.”
Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes
Born on May 27, 1971 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes is famously known to be one of the three members of one of the most successful R&B girl groups TLC. In 1994, Left Eye became infamous for burning down NFL player Andre Risen’s house whom she was dating at the time. No one was injured, but she was charged with arson and was sentenced to five years probation and to undergo psychotherapy. After releasing two successful albums, “Oooohhh… On the TLC Tip” and “Crazy, Sexy, Cool,” TLC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on July 3, 1995 citing over three million dollars of debts due to Lopes’ law and insurance fees and Tionne ‘T-Boz’ Watkins medical bills. Lopes also was battling an addiction to alcoholism and was attending rehabilitation causing her to be less involved with TLC and caused a slight drift between the three band members from 1996 – 1998. In 1999, TLC started to record their third studio album “Fanmail,” Lopes was clearly not featured on many tracks on the album as she felt that she could no longer express herself in TLC and decided that it was time to focus her attention on a solo career.
In 1999, Lopes was featured in R&B singer Donnel Jones’ single “U Know What’s Up” and in 2000 she collaborated with former Spice Girl Melanie C and released the single “Never Be The Same Again.” She also started to record her solo album “Supernova,” but it was never released as Lopes decided to go into hiatus for an undisclosed amount of time from the music industry and went to the Honduras for a spiritual retreat.
On April 22, 2002 Lopes was driving a Mitsubishi Pajero in La Ceiba, Honduras when she tried to swerve around a truck, but with another vehicle heading toward them in the opposite direction, she drove off the road causing the vehicle to roll several times after hitting two trees. Lopes and three other passengers were thrown out of windows and she died instantly due to severe head and neck injuries; she was only 30-years-old.
Today, TLC’s legacy has influenced many R&B groups most notably, Destiny’s Child and Lopes’ family has continued to operate UNI studios which Lisa created for the purpose of letting new artists have the chance to record their music at a low price in a high-end studio.