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Bright lights burn half as long? Phenomenal artistes have short lifespans

Published:Sunday | July 21, 2013 | 12:00 AM

One of the noticeable features of many early outstanding entertainers is their short lifespan. Bob Marley lived for only 36 years; Bobby Darin survived for a year longer; Roy Hamilton managed to make it to 40, while Nat King Cole died at age 45.

Jamaica's child prodigy and the dean of reggae, Delroy Wilson, survived for two years longer than Nat King Cole, while Jamaica's singing sensation duo of the 1960s, The Blues Busters - Phillip James and Lloyd Campbell, died at age 47 and 50, respectively.

What is most interesting, is the fact that, Peter Tosh, Dennis Brown, and the rock and roll king, Elvis Presley, all graced this earth for 42 years.

Tosh, who was born, Winston Hubert McIntosh on October 19, 1944, died on September 11, 1987; Brown on February 1, 1957 and transitioned on July 1, 1999 while Presley spent January 8, 1935 to August 16, 1977 on this earth. All have made enormous contributions to the development of popular music, belying their short lifespans, which leaves one to wonder if, that's the way nature planned it.

Many of these artistes have achieved as much as, or even more than, others who have lived full lives, which leaves one to wonder if nature or destiny had a plan for them.

Darin's death, unlike the others, was predicted from early. With his heart damaged from bouts of rheumatic fever, doctors had predicted his death by age 18, but he optimistically set his targets for age 25. In an interview with Life Magazine, he was quoted as saying, "I'd like to be a legend by the time I'm 25 years old".


The comment led some to accuse him of being arrogant and conceited, but few understood that Darin felt that he had to achieve greatness quickly. He realised his potential from early and had great ambitions, but was also aware that he had a short time in which to achieve his goals.

So, with grit and determination, he set out on a mission that many would have thought impossible.

Born in New York on May 14, 1936, he showed an interest in music from an early age and became proficient at drums, piano and guitar by his early teens.

When he had his first set of hits in the late 1950s he was a teen idol with much more talent and mature command of his craft than the typical singer of his age. His breakthrough recording was the 1958 rock and roll smasher, Splish Splash, which sold 100,000 copies in less than a month.

He followed up with a similar piece, titled, Queen Of The Hop, before unfolding his classic self-penned 1959 rock ballad, Dream Lover, which climbed to No. 1 and No. 2 on the United Kingdom and United States charts respectively.

Thereafter, Darin became so versatile that he prompted considerable discussion about whether he should be classified as a rock and roll singer, a Vegas hipster cat, an interpreter of popular standards, a balladier or a folk rocker. He was all ot these, yet none of these, because he made a point of not becoming committed to any one style at the exclusion of others.

Darin also had starring roles and an Oscar nomination in the movie world. After one of his heart failures, he slipped into a coma, and died on December 20, 1973.


Bob Marley's achievements in a 36-year lifespan and a two-decade music career is unbelievable and far-reaching, to the extent that he was universally accepted as 'Reggae King'.

His collaboration with noted music producer, Chris Blackwell, created the classic albums Catch A Fire, Burning, Natty Dread, Rastaman Vibration, Exodus, Kaya, Survival and Uprising, between 1973 and '81.

The albums brought hope to the downtrodden and guidance to world leaders. Born in Nine Mile, St Ann, Jamaica in 1945, Marley first came to prominence as a member of the 1960s vocal trio, The Wailers. His lyrics focused mainly on revolutionary issues, though others delved into the romantic.

Marley also found time during his short lifespan to father some 11 children, many of whom followed in his musical footsetps.

Peter Tosh, who along with Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer, comprised the Wailers, went international, after splitting with the group, following the recording of the album Burning. He established the reputation of being Jamaica's most outspoken and uncompromising artiste on matters of injustice and demonstrated this in recordings like Buckingham Palace, Equal Rights And Justice and Get Up, Stand Up.

During a 23-year music career, he copped several No. 1 hits, and was posthumously awarded a Grammy and similarly conferred with the Order of Merit by the Jamaican Government in 2012.

Like Peter Tosh, Dennis Brown died at age 42. He was perhaps, second only to Marley, in terms of international popularity, and earned the title 'The Crown Prince'.

Brown's consistent invasion of international music charts have made him one of the best-known Jamaican artistes of all time. His achievements lead one to ponder on the level of impact he would have created, had he been around for much longer.


Elvis Presley's legend was incomparable. He was dubbed 'King of Rock and Roll', after posting a record 18 No. 1 singles on the US charts, surpassed only by the Beatles (20).

With a plethora of recordings throughout the 1960s up to the early 1970s, Presley became the most recorded artiste of his generation, an achievement which belies how long he lived.

As for Nat King Cole, his multifarious and multitudinous achievements during his short life defies description.

A multilingual singer, an accomplished pianist, a multi-genre performer and an accomplished movie star, are but few of the credentials embodied in this single human frame.

Roy Hamilton lived for only 40 years, yet he was able to record scores of songs in the various genres of pop, soul, rock and roll, Latin and sentimentals. He also tried his hand at boxing and painting, with a reasonable level of success.