This list came about as the result of an email conversation with reader Marc MacMaster. He brought up an interesting point about famous musicians being affected by having their parents die when they were still very young.
To underscore his point, Marc provides this list. Makes you think, really.
1. Bono: Lost mother when he was 14. Inspired "I Will Follow", and had an impact on "Mofo", "Lemon" and "Out of Control".
2. Larry Mullen Jr: Mother passed when he was 16 (almost 17). This happened about 2 years after the formation of U2. Internet sources claim that he was ready to quit the band after this happened, if it wasn't for Bono convincing him to stay (likely due to his ability to relate to the loss).
3. Dave Matthews: Lost his father at age 10. His biographer claims that this incident has influenced his "carpe-diem"-style lyrics.
4. Billy Joe Armstrong: Lost father at age 10. Inspired "When September Ends" as this was the time of year his father passed from a battle with cancer.
5. Dave Navarro: Lost mother at age 15 (murdered). The was a multi-year manhunt for the killer, who was put on death row (and recently taken off death row recently) in California.
6. John Lennon: Lost mother at age 17. This became a point of connection between him and Paul McCartney, and had a big impact on his late teen years. Inspired the song "Julia" and in his own words, became "his son's muse".
7. Paul McCartney: Lost mother at age 14. As above, became a touchstone with John. Directly inspired "Let it Be" (based on a dream about his mother, Mary).
8. Leonard Cohen: Lost father at age 9. Inspired early book of poetry.
9. Ray Charles: Lost father at age 10, mother at age 15. Following his mother's death, he essentially stopped going to school and played piano for local bands.
10. James Hetfield (Metallica): Lost mother at age 16 as a result of her refusing treatment due to her Christian Science beliefs. This directly inspred "The God that Fails". Her death meant he moved around in Californa where he later met Lars and the rest of the band.
11. Richard Ashcroft: Lost father at age 11. Generally felt that "The Drugs Don't Work" was written in response to this event.
12. Bob Marley: Lost father at age 10. Anyone know of any evidence of this loss in any of his songs?
13. Dave Gahan (Depeche Mode): Lost stepfather at age 10 (although at the time he thought he was his actual father). His biological father appeared out of nowhere soon thereafter, then disappeared. Sounds complicated, to say the least.
14. Jerry Cantrell (Alice in Chains): Lost mother at age 19. Her name was Gloria, and this is mentioned in the song "Rooster". Her death happened in 1987 right around the formation of the band (I haven't determined whether it was before or after).
As a bonus (?), some sibling losses:
1. Johnny Cash: Lost brother at age 12. I included the death of a sibling here because there is much evidence on the internet of how this impacted Johnny's life, causing him to wrestle with his well known emotional demons.
2. Joe Strummer: Lost brother at age 17 due to suicide. Again, another sibling death, but there is mention of it having an impact on his direction in life.
We might also want to include David Bowie's older half-brother, Terry, is often credited with introducing Bowie to rock'n'roll, Jack Kerouac, jazz and Buddhism. Sadly, Terry was tormented by schizophrenia and was frequently institutionalized. Terry was the inspiration behind songs such as "Aladdain Sane," "All the Madmen," "The Belway Brothers" and "Jump They Say." He committed suicide on January 16, 1985.