When a celebrity dies young, we’re sad to see a life end too soon – and often haunted by the life and career that could’ve been. Popular in life, young Hollywood stars Jean Harlow, James Dean, Heath Ledger, and River Phoenix became icons in death. Music has lost its share of greats, too: Hank Williams, Otis Redding; Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper; Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Jimi Hendrix; Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, and DJ Avicii. We remember legends and budding stars from film, television, music, and sports gone much too soon with a photo gallery of celebrities who died before the age of 30.
Grammy-nominated electronic dance DJ AVICII (1989 – 2018) performed sold-out concerts for feverish fans around the world.
Anton Yelchin (1989–2016)
Anton Yelchin had already filmed his role as Chekov in the third of the new Star Trek movies when he passed away at the age of 27. He played Chekov in the first two movies of the new franchise as well.
Christina Grimmie (1994–2016)
Singer CHRISTINA GRIMMIE (1994 – 2016) was a YouTube sensation who came in third on season six of NBC’s “The Voice.” In June 2016, she was signing autographs for fans after a concert in Orlando, Florida, when she was shot by a gunman. She died a few hours later. Grimmie was 22.
Peaches Geldof (1989–2014)
PEACHES GELDOF (1989 – 2014) was the wild-child second daughter of concert organizer Bob Geldof who worked as a model, a television presenter and a fashion writer and filled the pages of British tabloids with her late-night antics.
Skye McCole Bartusiak (1992–2014)
SKYE MCCOLE BARTUSIAK (1992 – 2014) portrayed Mel Gibson’s young daughter in the 2000 film “The Patriot.” She died at 21.
Lee Thompson Young (1984–2013)
Actor LEE THOMPSON YOUNG (1984 – 2013) was known for his role as the title character on TV’s “The Famous Jett Jackson.” He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at 29.
Amy Winehouse (1983–2011)
AMY WINEHOUSE (1983 – 2011) earned critical acclaim and won several awards with her jazzy tones, powerhouse vocals, and original lyrics. She died of alcohol poisoning at 27.
Heath Ledger (1979–2008)
HEATH LEDGER (1979 – 2008) was the rare young actor who seemed to ignore (or be unaware of) his own good looks and took roles that, rather than showing off his handsome face, displayed his impressive acting talent. His star was still on the rise when he died at 28 of an accidental overdose of prescription medications.
Brad Renfro (1982–2008)
The career of actor BRAD RENFRO (1982 – 2008) began promisingly with the lead role in “The Client” at age 11 followed by appearances in “Sleepers” and “Ghost World,” among other films. But his star rapidly faded as he struggled with drugs and alcohol, dying of a heroin overdose at 25.
Jonathan Brandis (1976–2003)
R&B singer and actress AALIYAH (1979 – 2001) died at 22 when a small plane that was to carry her and eight others back to the U.S. crashed after takeoff in the Bahamas.
Christopher Wallace (1972–1997)
CHRISTOPHER WALLACE (1972 – 1997) was known better by his various stage names: NOTORIOUS B.I.G., BIGGIE SMALLS, or just plain BIGGIE. The rapper was shot and killed at 24. His murder remains unsolved.
Tupac Shakur (1971–1996)
Tejano musical sensation SELENA (1971 – 1995) was on her way to the top of the charts when she was murdered in 1995. She was just 23.
Kurt Cobain (1967–1994)
Nirvana frontman and songwriter KURT COBAIN (1967 – 1994) died at 27 of a reportedly self-inflicted gunshot wound on or around April 5, 1994. Distraught fans still debate whether his death was suicide or murder.
River Phoenix (1970–1993)
A movie star, a singer and an activist, RIVER PHOENIX (1970 – 1993) said in interviews that he didn’t choose roles he thought would advance his career, but roles he wanted to play. He died at 23 of a drug overdose.
Brandon Lee (1965–1993)
The son of martial arts movie star Bruce Lee, BRANDON LEE (1965 – 1993) appeared in several action films before his death at 28 after an accidental shooting on the set of “The Crow.”
Reggie Lewis (1965–1993)
Boston Celtics captain REGGIE LEWIS (1965 – 1993), pictured with his wife Donna, announced his return to basketball May 10, 1993, days after collapsing during a playoff game. Lewis died of cardiac arrest during practice two months later. He was 27.
Rebecca Schaeffer (1967–1989)
Actress REBECCA SCHAEFFER (1967 – 1989) starred in the CBS sitcom “My Sister Sam.” She was fatally shot at 21 by an obsessed fan who had been stalking her for three years. Her death prompted the passage of anti-stalking laws in California.
Heather O’Rourke (1975–1988)
Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–1988)
JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT (1960 – 1988) first made his mark as a graffiti artist in New York City in the late 1970s. By the 1980s, he was exhibiting his neo-expressionist paintings in galleries and museums internationally. After he died of a heroin overdose at 27, the Whitney Museum of American Art held a retrospective of his work.
Gia Carangi (1960–1986)
One of the first supermodels, GIA CARANGI (1960 – 1986) was everywhere in the late 1970s and early ’80s, featured on the covers of Vogue and Cosmopolitan, and appearing in ad campaigns for Armani, Chanel, Christian Dior, Versace, and Yves Saint Laurent. After Carangi became addicted to heroin, her modeling career rapidly declined. She died of AIDS-related complications at 26, one of the first famous women to die of the disease. Her life was dramatized in the 1998 made-for-TV film “Gia,” starring Angelina Jolie.
Dominique Dunne (1959–1982)
DOMINIQUE DUNNE (1959 – 1982) was an up-and-coming actress, having just co-starred in “Poltergeist,” when she was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 1982. Her death took a heavy toll on her father, writer Dominick Dunne (1925 – 2009), who later said he nearly gave up writing after his daughter’s murder.
Dorothy Stratten (1960–1980)
Ian Curtis (1956–1980)
With his brooding lyrics and distinctive voice, IAN CURTIS (1956 – 1980) was an essential part of Joy Division as they moved beyond punk and helped establish the Manchester scene in the late 1970s. Tragically, he took his own life at 23, just as the band stood on the cusp of widespread success. His bandmates would reform as New Order and pay tribute to Curtis with the song “Elegia.”
Sid Vicious (1957–1979)
Decades after his death, Sex Pistols bassist SID VICIOUS (1957 – 1979) remains an icon of punk music. He died at 21 of a heroin overdose.
Freddie Prinze (1954–1977)
Comedian and actor FREDDIE PRINZE (1954 – 1977) starred in 1970s American sitcom “Chico and the Man.” But Prinze struggled with depression, and as the third season was drawing to a close, he died by suicide at 22.
Ronnie Van Zant (1948–1977)
RONNIE VAN ZANT (1948 – 1977) was just 29 when he died in a plane crash. While he lived, his band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, enjoyed four years of success, with Van Zant on lead vocals for a string of southern rock hits that endure today.
Marc Bolan (1947–1977)
David Bowie may have outshone MARC BOLAN (1947 – 1977) in the glam rock world, but don’t write Bolan and his band T. Rex off. Had Bolan lived beyond age 29, he too might have become an elder statesman of rock.
Anissa Jones (1958–1976)
Pete Ham (1947–1975)
Badfinger had been poised to become the next Beatles. But by the time frontman PETE HAM (1947 – 1975) died by suicide at 27 (leaving behind a pregnant girlfriend who gave birth to his daughter a month after his death), the band was in serious financial trouble.
Gram Parsons (1946–1973)
GRAM PARSONS (1946 – 1973) helped change the sound of rock ‘n’ roll, with his cosmic fusion of country and rock. After died from an overdose of opiates and alcohol at 26, holed up in a desert motel near Joshua Tree, a battle ensued between his friends and family over what should become of Gram.
Duane Allman (1946–1971)
DUANE ALLMAN (1946 – 1971) didn’t have a lot of time to make his mark as a guitarist – just 10 short years from the day he bought his first guitar at age 14 until the day he died in a motorcycle crash at age 24.
Jim Morrison (1943–1971)
JIM MORRISON (1943 – 1971) was known best as the lead singer for the Doors. He died at 27, allegedly of a heroin overdose.
Jimi Hendrix (1942–1970)
JIMI HENDRIX (1942 – 1970) is considered one of the most-influential electric guitarists in popular music. He died at 27 when he overdosed on a mixture of red wine and prescription sleeping pills.
Janis Joplin (1943–1970)
One of the biggest rock icons of the ’60s, JANIS JOPLIN (1943 – 1970) died of a heroin overdose at 27.
Tammi Terrell (1945–1970)
TAMMI TERRELL (1945 – 1970) was just 24 when she died of a brain tumor. But during her too-short life, she recorded some of Motown’s most enduring classics – both as a solo artist and in duets, most notably with Marvin Gaye.
Sharon Tate (1943–1969)
Actress and model SHARON TATE (1943 – 1969) appeared on television and in several movies. She married director Roman Polanski in 1968 and was 8-and-one-half months pregnant when she was murdered by the Manson Family. She was 26.
Brian Jones (1942–1969)
BRIAN JONES (1942 – 1969), a founding member of the Rolling Stones, contributed unique instrumentation that helped the band’s sound grow and evolve. Jones was just 27 when he was found dead in his swimming pool. The coroner’s official ruling was “death by misadventure.”
Frankie Lymon (1942–1968)
FRANKIE LYMON (1942 – 1968) and the Teenagers were teenagers themselves when they found pop music success. Lymon, center, was just 13 when they scored a hit single with “Why Do Fools Fall in Love.” He was 25 when he died of a heroin overdose.
Otis Redding (1941–1967)
OTIS REDDING (1941 – 1967) was already a major star and poised for further greatness at 26 with the new sound he was introducing in “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay.” He died in a plane crash shortly before the single was released.
Eddie Cochran (1938–1960)
Early rock ‘n’ roll star EDDIE COCHRAN (1938 – 1960) had hits with “Summertime Blues” and “Sittin’ on the Balcony.” Following the deaths of his friends Buddy Holly, Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens in a plane crash, Cochran recorded a tribute song – and had a premonition that he too would die young. Cochran died in a car crash while on tour in the U.K. He was 21.
Buddy Holly (1936–1959)
BUDDY HOLLY (1936 – 1959) is widely acknowledged as one of the most important influences on rock ‘n’ roll music. He was just 22 when he died in a plane crash along with Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper.
The Big Bopper (1930–1959)
Jiles Perry “Jape” Richardson Jr., aka THE BIG BOPPER (1930 – 1959) was known best for the timeless “Chantilly Lace” and for his untimely death, along with Ritchie Valens and Buddy Holly, in a plane crash Feb. 3, 1959.
Ritchie Valens (1941–1959)
RITCHIE VALENS (1941 – 1959) was only 17 when he died in a plane crash, alongside Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper, on a cold early morning that came to be known as “The Day the Music Died.”
James Dean (1931–1955)
JAMES DEAN (1931 – 1955) starred in just three major movies, more than half a century ago. But his presence was so magnetic, his skill so unique, that he remains one of our culture’s most enduring icons. Dean was 24 when he died in a head-on car collision.
Hank Williams (1923–1953)
HANK WILLIAMS (1923 – 1953) was a country music legend with simple-but-powerful songs. Among his most popular tunes was “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” Williams died at 29 of a heart attack, thought to be brought on by alcohol and drug abuse.
Robert Johnson (1911–1938)
ROBERT JOHNSON (1911 – 1938) is widely celebrated as the greatest of the early Mississippi bluesmen. But his sparse recorded output and the sketchy details surrounding his life and death inspired a mythology that sometimes obscures the reality of his artistic accomplishments.
Jean Harlow (1911–1937)
The original platinum blonde, JEAN HARLOW (1911 – 1937) was just 26 when she died of cerebral edema caused by kidney failure. Before her death, the popular actress starred in such films as “The Public Enemy,” “Platinum Blonde,” and “Saratoga.”