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 died. He was 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 he died Wednesday.
“It is with great sadness after a long illness that our beloved David (Croz) Crosby has passed away,” the statement says. “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 continue to 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 deal with our profound loss.”
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Born David Van Cortlandt Crosby on Aug. 14, 1941, in Los Angeles, Crosby honed his musical skills at coffeehouses, clubs and colleges as a teen.
“I took a job washing dishes and bussing tables in the coffeehouse so I could be there, and would beg permission to sing harmony with the guy who was singing onstage,” the two-time Rock & Roll Hall of Famer told PBS in 2004. “That was the first time I ever got on a 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. By the early ’60s, he was drifting from city to city, performing and learning from other musicians, when he crossed paths with folk singer Roger McGuinn. The two began collaborating, electronically amplifying folk music to create a style that would eventually be defined as folk-rock.
They joined up with Gene Clark, Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke to form The Byrds, famous for its influential sound. The band’s first single, a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” shot into the top 10 in 1965, sparking a creative momentum that generated hits such as “Eight Miles High,” “All I Really Want To Do” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!” (by Pete Seeger).
Although known for harmonies, The Byrds suffered from discord. Crosby had an unwelcome habit of interrupting live performances with political rants, and the rest of the band ousted him in 1968.
After parting ways with The Byrds, Crosby began jamming with Stephen Stills of Buffalo Springfield. Graham Nash of the Hollies finished out the supergroup that took the name Crosby, Stills & Nash. Their 1969 self-titled debut album catapulted the group to a best new artist Grammy.
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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” demonstrated their anti-war activism.
In July 2021, Crosby spoke with USA TODAY on the cusp of releasing his solo album “For Free.”
“80 is not a number you celebrate, darling,” Crosby joked. “Being old is not something to celebrate in general.”
Crosby, instantly recognizable for his signature mane and walrus mustache, also reflected on tackling mortality in the album’s closing track. His son James Raymond, with whom he reunited in the 1990s after putting 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 weeping (after they heard 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 I am, if not better.”
Crosby had an exceedingly prolific career: 12 studio albums with The Byrds; eight with CSN&Y, three as Crosby & Nash; and eight as a solo artist (beginning 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 primarily lived on the road.
Though he stepped back from any major touring in the past two years because of his health issues, Crosby remained active in recording music.
“I miss being on the road because I did 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 tendonitis … I’m at 85% of what I used to do, and there isn’t anything you can do about it.”
Crosby battled a series of health challenges, including three heart attacks, a liver transplant and diabetes.
He famously served as a sperm donor to Melissa Etheridge and her former partner Julie Cypher. One of their two children, son Beckett Cypher, died in 2020 at age 21 from opioid addiction.
His stellar career was often matched by a chaotic personal life, detailed in his 2018 documentary, “Remember My Name,” directed by Cameron Crowe. Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, Crosby experienced drug addiction, weapons offenses and prison time.
In recent years, Crosby publicly feuded with his CSNY bandmates, especially Nash, for reasons he would never disclose. In his 2021 USA TODAY interview, Crosby was sanguine about the reality of ever repairing that relationship.
“Graham and I just don’t like each other very much,” he said. “Human beings do not 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 remained engaged with music and social issues.
A regular presence on Twitter, Crosby often interacted with fans, tweeting Wednesday about topics including the arrest of climate activist Greta Thunberg and his favorite Beatles song (“Eleanor Rigby”).
On Thursday, singer Pink told USA TODAY she had just talked to Crosby – a California neighbor – last week about songs he wanted to play for her.
“He was a really spiritually deep person. My heart goes out to Jan,” she said. “We’ve lost so many great people lately. It’s really heartbreaking.”
Contributing: Kristin McGrath, USA TODAY