Singer-songwriter-guitarist David Crosby, a founding member of two popular and enormously influential ’60s rock units, the Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash (later Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), has died, his representative says. He was 81 years old. A cause of death has not been revealed.
The death came as a surprise to those who followed his very active Twitter account, which he’d kept tweeting on as recently as Wednesday. One of Crosby’s final tweets Wednesday was to make a typically jocular comment about heaven: “I heard the place is overrated… cloudy.”
Crosby died Wednesday night, according to an in-law of the singer who texted the New York Times with that time of death but provided no further information.
Former CSNY partner Graham Nash, who had been estranged from Crosby in recent years as their group went its separate ways, paid tribute on his social media. “It is with a deep and profound sadness that I learned that my friend David Crosby has passed,” Nash wrote. “I know people tend to focus on how volatile our relationship has been at times, but what has always mattered to David and me more than anything was the pure joy of the music we created together, the sound we discovered with one another, and the deep friendship we shared over all these many long years.
“David was fearless in life and in music,” Nash continued. “He leaves behind a tremendous void as far as sheer personality and talent in this world. He spoke his mind, his heart, and his passion through his beautiful music and leaves an incredible legacy. These are the things that matter most. My heart is truly with his wife, Jan, his son, Django, and all of the people he has touched in this world.”
Eight months ago, Crosby made headlines when he said he was done performing live, declaring, “I’m too old to do it anymore. I don’t have the stamina; I don’t have the strength.” But he said he was recording as busily as possible: “I’ve been making records at a startling rate. … Now I’m 80 years old so I’m gonna die fairly soon. That’s how that works. And so I’m trying really hard to crank out as much music as I possibly can, as long as it’s really good… I have another one already in the can waiting.” Crosby subsequently backtracked about having retired from performing live, saying in mid-December that he’d changed his mind: “Dare I say it?… I think I’m starting yet another band and going back out to play live.”
So I played with some friends the day before yesterday and spent today sing with two really good friends and ……hmmmmmm….dare I say it ? …I think I’m starting yet another band and going back out to play live ……
— David Crosby (@thedavidcrosby) December 15, 2022
In recent years, as CSNY had seemed irrevocably split up, it was clear that what Crosby had wanted most of all was to reconcile with those bandmates. That was not to be, but Stephen Stills said in his own statement Thursday night that their relationship had ended peacefully.
Wrote Stills, across a series of tweets, “I read a quote in this morning’s paper attributed to composer Gustav Mahler that stopped me for a moment: ‘Death has, on placid cat’s paws, entered the room.’ I shoulda known something was up.
“David and I butted heads a lot over time, but they were mostly glancing blows, yet still left us numb skulls,” Stills continued. “I was happy to be at peace with him. He was without question a giant of a musician, and his harmonic sensibilities were nothing short of genius. The glue that held us together as our vocals soared, like Icarus, towards the sun. I am deeply saddened at his passing and shall miss him beyond measure.”
Neil Young shared his thoughts Friday morning in a post on his website. “David is gone, but his music lives on. The soul of CSNY, David’s voice and energy were at the heart of our band. His great songs stood for what we believed in and it was always fun and exciting when we got to play together. ‘Almost Cut My Hair,’ ‘Deja Vu’ and so many other great songs he wrote were wonderful to jam on and Stills and I had a blast as he kept us going on and on. His singing with Graham was so memorable, their duo spot a highlight of so many of our shows. We had so many great times, especially in the early years. Crosby was a very supportive friend in my early life, as we bit off big pieces of our experience together. David was the catalyst of many things. My heart goes out to Jan and Django, his wife and son. Lots of love to you. Thanks David for your spirit and songs, Love you man. I remember the best times!”
Young and Crosby had become estranged after Crosby was critical of Young’s relationship with then-girlfriend, future wife Daryl Hannah in a 2014 interview. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young last played together as a quartet at a Bridge School benefit in 2013, and the final appearance by CSN as a trio was at the National Christmas Tree lighting in 2015.
Crosby reentered the public consciousness in a big way in 2019 with a theatrical documentary, “David Crosby: Remember My Name,” narrated and produced by Cameron Crowe. Crosby spoke about his own mortality in the film, and Crowe remarked on that in an interview with Variety, saying the singer was thinking about “’telling the truth in my last huge interview that I’ll probably ever do’… In the second question of the first interview we did with Crosby,” Crowe noted, “he came right out with ‘Time is the final currency. What do you do with the time you have left?’ …What’s great is, he’s got more energy than all of us. He’s gonna outlive us all. He’s batting his eyes like he’s on his deathbed. He ain’t on his deathbed at all! Maybe it all is a con job, like he says at the end. You don’t know.”
With bandmates Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark, Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke, Crosby set down the template for ’60s L.A. folk-rock in the Byrds during his stormy 1964-67 tenure in the group.
Bonding with Stephen Stills of Buffalo Springfield and Graham Nash of the Hollies amid the glitter of L.A.’s late-’60s Laurel Canyon scene, Crosby launched CS&N, whose multi-platinum 1968 debut inaugurated rock’s supergroup era.
The addition of another volatile member, Stills’ erstwhile Buffalo Springfield colleague Neil Young, added to the act’s commercial luster. However, a constant clash of egos within Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, fueled by the rock excesses of the era, toppled the act during the ’70s, though its members would regroup sporadically over the years as a recording and touring unit. Crosby’s most stable association was with Nash: The duo recorded and toured regularly into the new millennium.
While never the principal songwriter in either the Byrds or CSN&Y, Crosby was an integral part of the densely layered harmony front line that launched both those acts’ multiple chart hits.
The hedonistic personification of the ’60s sex-drugs-and-rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, he grappled with addiction for many years. His sensational 1982 arrest in Texas on drug and weapons charges led to a five-month prison stay in 1986. Wracked by years of cocaine and alcohol abuse, he underwent liver transplant surgery in 1994.
Though he never returned to the popular eminence of his early years, Crosby recorded and toured profitably into the 2000s.
He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice, as a member of the Byrds (1991) and Crosby, Stills & Nash (1997).
Crosby was a child of Hollywood privilege. He was the son of cinematographer Floyd Crosby, who won an Oscar for his work on F.W. Murnau’s 1931 feature “Tabu.” Raised in L.A. and Santa Barbara, he was an indifferent student who gravitated to acting and music at an early age.
Dropping out of Santa Barbara City College to pursue a career in music, he became involved in the commercial folk music scene via brief membership in Les Baxter’s Balladeers, a Limeliters-styled unit organized by the well-known composer-arranger.
He began working the L.A. folk clubs as a solo act; at a set at the Troubadour, his crisp tenor voice attracted the attention of Jim Dickson, the house engineer at Richard Bock’s L.A. label World Pacific Records. Dickson began demoing Crosby as a solo artist, but those sessions ultimately culminated in the formation of a band.