David Crosby, a rock icon who rose to fame in the 1960s as a founding member of both The Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash (later known as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), has passed away. He turned 81.
Crosby’s wife Jan Dance announced his death Thursday in a statement to Variety. Sources close to Crosby confirmed the news to Rolling Stone and Billboard. Dance’s sister, Patricia, told The New York Times that he passed away on Wednesday.
“It is with great sadness after a long illness that our beloved David (Croz) Crosby passed away,” the statement said. “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 live on through his legendary music. Peace, love and harmony to all who knew David and those he touched. We will miss him dearly.”
She thanked fans for their love and asked for privacy “as we grieve and try to cope with our deep loss.”
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Born David Van Cortlandt Crosby on August 14, 1941, in Los Angeles, Crosby honed his musical skills in coffee houses, clubs, and colleges as a teenager.
“I was taking the dishes and doing tables in the coffee house so I could be there, and I begged permission to sing harmony with the guy who was singing on stage,” the two-time Rock & Roll Hall of Famer told PBS in 2004. “That was the first time I ever stood on stage in front of people. Of course I didn’t get paid, but for me it was the big time.
Crosby briefly studied drama at Santa Barbara City College, but music was his calling. In the early 1960s, he was wandering from town to town, performing and learning from other musicians, when he bumped into folk singer Roger McGuinn. The two began collaborating and electronically amplifying folk music to create a style that would eventually be defined as folk rock.
Together with Gene Clark, Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke they formed The Byrds, famous for their influential sound. The band’s first single, a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man”, shot into the top 10 in 1965, sparking creative momentum that spawned hits such as “Eight Miles High”, “All I Really Want To Do and “Turn! Turn! Turn!” (by Pete Seeger).
Although known for their harmonies, The Byrds suffered from discord. Crosby had an unwelcome habit of interrupting live performances with political tirades, and the rest of the band ousted him in 1968.
After parting ways with The Byrds, Crosby began jamming with Buffalo Springfield’s Stephen Stills. Graham Nash of the Hollies completed the supergroup which took the name Crosby, Stills & Nash. Their 1969 self-titled debut album catapulted the group to a Grammy for Best New Artist.
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The trio became Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young when Neil Young joined the group. CSNY claimed its place in music history with its performance at Woodstock. In 1970, their songs “Ohio” (a protest song about the Kent State Shootings) and “Teach Your Children” showcased their anti-war activism.
In July 2021, Crosby spoke to USA TODAY about releasing his solo album ‘For Free’.
“80 ain’t a number you celebrate, honey,” Crosby joked. “Being old is generally not something to celebrate.”
Crosby, instantly recognizable by his signature mane and walrus mustache, also reflected on tackling mortality in the album’s closing track. His son James Raymond, whom he reunited with in the 1990s after giving him up for adoption in 1962, wrote it.
“It’s a beautiful song, isn’t it? I’ve had a bunch of friends call me crying (after hearing it),” he said. “He was a good (songwriter) when I met him, and we started writing together right away. But he’s at least as good as me, if not better.”
Crosby had an extraordinarily productive career: 12 studio albums with The Byrds; eight with CSN&Y, three as Crosby & Nash; and eight as a solo artist (starting with 1971’s “If I Could Only Remember My Name”).
He also participated in side projects such as CPR – Crosby, guitarist Jeff Pevar and son James Raymond – which existed from 1996 to 2004. His life, he often said, was mainly on the road.
Although he had been out of major tours for the past two years due to his health problems, Crosby remained active in recording music.
“I miss being on the road because I’ve done it for 50 years, but I don’t think I’ll do it again,” he told USA TODAY in 2021. “Both of my hands have tendinitis…85% of what I used to do, and there’s nothing you can do about that.”
Crosby battled a series of health challenges, including three heart attacks, a liver transplant and diabetes.
He was famous as a sperm donor to Melissa Etheridge and her former partner Julie Cypher. One of their two children, son Beckett Cypher, died of opioid addiction in 2020 at the age of 21.
His stellar career was often accompanied by a chaotic personal life, detailed in his 2018 documentary ‘Remember My Name’ directed by Cameron Crowe. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Crosby faced drug addiction, gun crimes, and prison sentences.
In recent years, Crosby publicly feuded with his CSNY bandmates, especially Nash, for reasons he would never reveal. In his 2021 USA TODAY interview, Crosby was optimistic about the reality of ever restoring that relationship.
“Graham and I just don’t like each other that much,” he said. “People don’t grow on parallel paths. The reason we can’t play together isn’t what people think it is, but I can’t tell you what it is. I’m not worried about it. I’m busy as hell .”
Despite his declining health, Crosby still continued to engage in music and social issues.
A regular on Twitter, Crosby often interacted with fans, tweeting on Wednesday about topics such as the arrest of climate activist Greta Thunberg and his favorite Beatles song (“Eleanor Rigby”).
On Thursday, singer Pink told USA TODAY that she had just talked to Crosby — a neighbor in California — last week about songs he wanted to play for her.
“He really was a spiritually deep person. My heart goes out to Jan,” she said. “We’ve lost so many great people lately. It’s really heartbreaking.”
Contributions: Kristin McGrath, TODAY USA