David Crosby dead at 81

David Crosby portrait
(Image credit: Luciano Viti / Getty Images)

David Crosby, singer-songwriter and founding member of The Byrds and Crosby, Still & Nash, has died at the age of 81. The news was confirmed in a statement given to Variety by Crosby's wife, Jan Dance.   

"It is with great sadness after a long illness, that our beloved David (Croz) Crosby has passed away," wrote Dance. "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. At this time, we respectfully and kindly ask for privacy as we grieve and try to deal with our profound loss. Thank you for the love and prayers."

Crosby was born in Los Angeles in 1941, studying drama at Santa Barbara College before dropping out to concentrate on music. He formed The Byrds with Jim (later Roger) McGuinn, Chris Hillman, Gene Clark and Michael Clarke in 1964, who initially achieved success with covers of songs by Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger before McGunn took over the main songwriting duties. Crosby co-wrote the band's psychedelic classic Eight Miles High in 1966, but he was fired from the band two years later.

He went on to form Crosby, Stills & Nash with Stephen Stills, formerly of Buffalo Springfield, and ex-Hollies man Graham Nash. They played their second show at Woodstock in August 1969, and released their debut, self-titled album the same year.     

In 1970 Neil Young joined the trio, expanding the lineup to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. They released their first album, Deja Vu, the same year, and went on to achieve huge success with three singles taken from the album: Woodstock, Teach Your Children and Our House

Crosby's debut solo album, the cult classic If I Could Only Remember My Name was released in 1971, featuring guest appearances from the likes of Young and Nash alongside Joni Mitchell, The Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia, Micky Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, as well as members of Santana and Jefferson Airplane.   

Crosby was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice, as a member of the Byrds in 1991, and with Crosby, Stills & Nash in 1997. 

He was perhaps most famous for his voice, with a high-pitched, honeyed tone that lent itself to harmony. He was almost as well-known for his fractious relationships with his fellow musicians, and for his battles with addiction.

"There’s absolutely no question that taking drugs enhanced my creative process," he told Classic Rock in 2021. "Taking hallucinogens probably helped, in part, but obviously drugs are all different, and cocaine and heroin took me right down. I ended up in a Texas prison. There’s no way around it, it nearly killed me, destroyed my career, fucked me up bad."

Crosby had spent nine months in prison in 1985 after being convicted of drugs and weapons charges. The same year, he was arrested for drunk driving after colliding with a fence  in Marin County. Police officers also found cocaine and a concealed pistol in his vehicle. Further weapons and narcotic-related charges followed in 2004.

Drug problems over, Crosby seemed much more comfortable with the world, and would go on to enjoy a late-career resurgence, releasing a string of well-received albums, including last year's David Crosby & The Lighthouse Band Live at the Capitol Theatre. And in 2019, Cameron Crowe produced David Crosby: Remember My Name, a documentary that looked back over Crosby's long and eventful career. 

“I’m not wasting any time," he told Classic Rock. "I’ve probably worked just as hard in the last five years as I have at any other time in my life. I’m not getting paid for it, so I’m doing it for the right reasons. 

"I’m enjoying the art of it. And it’s what we leave behind, and I’m about to leave, so I’m really working on leaving behind my best."

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.