13 of the Most Famous and Gruesome Music Murders

LOS ANGELES - 1973: Soul singer and songwriter Marvin Gaye at Golden West Studios in 1973 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jim Britt/Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images)
Most Famous Music Murders

From deranged fans brandishing firearms to father-son feuds resulting in bloodshed, the music industry has long been plagued by violent homicides rooted in jealousy and rage. In more recent years, the consistency at which these music murders take place has only accelerated, and the ever-present threat has made music and murder almost inextricable.

The menacing shadow cast over the industry is both dark and deceiving, as musicians are simultaneously the most untouchable and the most targeted. In honor of Halloween, here are the true ghastly stories of 13 famous artists whose cold-blooded killings set the curve. 

Marvin Gaye

One day shy of his 45th birthday, Marvin Gaye Jr. was shot and killed by his own father, a preacher in the Hebrew Pentecostal Church. 

Marvin Gay Sr. was long-described by his children and those close to the family as a cruel, strict man who drank hard and often cross-dressed. The hyper-religious patriarch was an amalgam of moral contradiction. According to Gaye’s mother, Alberta, as a child Marvin Jr. received a multitude of violent whippings at the hands of his father and the effects of such abuse and embarrassment bled heavily into their adult relationship. The “Sexual Healing” singer eventually added an “e” to his last name in an effort to disassociate from his father and rumors of his own homosexuality.

When the former Motown Records musician moved back to his parents’ Los Angeles home in 1983 following his tragic (yet somewhat predictable) fall from grace — including debt, depression and drugs — it was with formulaic normalcy that their father-son relationship returned to its rocky state.

In the days before Marvin Jr.’s murder, his parents fought over a misplaced insurance policy. Then, on April 1, 1984, as Marvin Sr. ranted and berated Alberta about the missing document, Mavin Jr. decided he’d had enough. The 44-year-old singer beckoned his father upstairs to his bedroom where he and his mother sat talking. Initially, Marvin Sr. refused, continuing to chastise his wife from a distance. Upon further provoking, however, he eventually entered his son’s room. There, the verbal altercation between the two turned violent, and Alberta was forced to put a stop to the fight.

Unfortunately, that wouldn’t be the end of things. Marvin Gay Sr. — kicked and beaten by his robed son — retreated to his bedroom and retrieved the Smith and Wesson .38 Special that Marvin Jr. had gifted him for Christmas. He then shot his son three times in the chest.

Selena Quintanilla

On March 31, 1995 in Corpus Christi, Texas, Latina singer Selena Quintanilla was murdered by her “number one fan,” Yolanda Saldívar.

Four years earlier, at Saldívar’s persistent request, the 34-year-old nurse was appointed head of Selena’s fan club. Then, in 1994, as Selena catapulted to English-Spanish stardom, Saldívar was promoted to manager of the “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” singer’s boutiques. Things between the two began souring when associates of Selena’s started complaining about Saldívar’s messy managing approach.

After receiving handfuls of phone calls from outraged fans who had paid for memberships only to be continuously stiffed, Selena’s father began investigating the issue. Turns out, Saldívar — using forged checks and other forms of thievery — had stolen over $60,000 of the singer’s money.  

Selena and her family confronted Saldívar, and on the afternoon of March 30, Selena expressed to a boutique employee her intentions to fire the former fan-club manager. The next morning, Selena made her way to the Days Inn where Saldívar was staying. Upon arrival, Saldívar told Selena she’d been raped in Mexico. Selena transported Saldívar to a nearby hospital where medical staff informed Saldívar of their inability to assist her. The two then returned to the Days Inn where an argument ensued. Selena reportedly dumped out the contents of Saldívar’s purse, exposing both stolen bank statements and a gun Saldívar had recently purchased.

Saldívar pointed the gun at Selena and fired one shot, severing an artery and generating massive blood loss. Selena — screaming for help — ran to the motel’s lobby where she collapsed. Her last words to the motel staff gathered around her trembling body were Saldívar’s name and room number. When the paramedics arrived, Selena’s heart was faintly beating and one medic — observing the large lake of blood surrounding the singer’s body — said aloud, “It’s too late.”

Nipsey Hussle

On March 31, 2019, Eric Holder — an aspiring rapper and member of the Crips subset Rollin’ 60s — and a woman known only as "Witness #1" entered a shopping center on the corner of Crenshaw Boulevard and Slauson Avenue in Los Angeles.

As Witness #1 parked her white Chevrolet Cruz, she spotted the Grammy-nominated rapper Nipsey Hussle (Ermias Asghedom) outside of his South L.A. clothing store, The Marathon. Witness #1 acknowledged Hussle’s presence then parked her car. Holder then exited the woman’s vehicle and made his way into a burger joint where he ordered chili-cheese fries. While waiting for his food, Holder left the restaurant and approached Hussle.

Holder and Hussle grew up in the same neighborhood in Los Angeles and had even been members of the same gang at one point. The 33-year-old “Dedication” rapper frequented his own store, often stopping in to talk with fans & friends, sign autographs and take pictures. When Holder approached Hussle that day, witnesses say Hussle void of animosity or anger informed Holder of his growing reputation as a “snitch.” Holder then returned to the restaurant, retrieved his food, and headed to the car with Witness #1.

Moments later, he brandished a 9mm pistol, loaded it, and exited the vehicle once more. He approached Hussle and, before shooting him, reportedly spoke the words “You’re through.”

Holder fired at least 10 shots at Nipsey Hussle, using both a pistol and a revolver. Of the fatal bullets, one entered Hussle’s chest, one severed his spine, and another penetrated his skull.

Mac Dre

On Halloween 2004, Andre Hicks — more famously known as Mac Dre — and members of his label Thizz Entertainment departed a show in Kansas City, Missouri and entered U.S Route 71 on their way back to a hotel.

Reportedly, the 34-year-old “Thizzle Dance” rapper and other members of the group were scheduled to perform that night, but a disagreement with the club’s owner resulted in the group’s departure. Shortly after, an Infiniti G35 approached Hicks’ van and opened fire. Hicks was shot in the neck and thrown from the van as it violently crashed into an embankment. The van’s driver eventually crawled from the wreckage and called for help. Reports specify that Hicks, who was pronounced dead at the scene, died from the gunshot wound.

Prior to his murder, Hicks had served a five-year stint in prison for a bank robbery that Hicks maintained he never committed nor conspired to commit. Upon his release in 1996, the California rapper founded Romp Records and, later, Thizz Entertainment. It was during these years that Hicks transformed his sound, focusing more on fun and freedom, and subsequently pioneering the popular hyphy movement. According to his mother, Hicks had finally left his troubled past behind, which made the mystery of his murder all the more curious.

It’s rumored that Hicks’ killer was a notorious Kansas City figure named Anthony “Fat Tone” Watkins, who was accused in 2002 of murdering a pregnant woman. In 2005, as retribution for the suspected slaying of Mac Dre, rapper Mac Minister shot Fat Tone 22 times in Las Vegas, Nevada. Fat Tone’s best friend, Jermaine “Cowboy” Akins was also murdered that night, sustaining 13 bullet wounds to his face and body. Mac Minister is serving a life sentence.

Big L

Like so many others in the music industry, the murder of master free-stylist Big L (born Lamont Coleman) remains unsolved. It was over two decades ago on February 15, 1999 in Harlem, New York — Coleman’s hometown — that the 24-year-old “Ebonics” rapper was shot nine times in the face and chest.

Gerard Woodley, the chief suspect in the shooting, was a childhood friend of Coleman’s, and the two reportedly spent time together in adulthood as well. Woodley even appeared on the back cover of Big L’s debut album Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous. Though Woodley was eventually released from custody by way of insufficient evidence, investigators maintain that Coleman and Woodley may have harbored conflicting interests.

While Coleman is now thought to be one of hip hop’s most skilled emcees gone too soon, his rap reputation before his untimely demise remained mostly underground. It’s speculated that in addition to rapping, Coleman ran an organized street operation sticking-up stacked drug dealers. This proved precarious to Woodley, and some postulate he murdered Coleman to ensure his own safety.

Though doubts pertaining to a connection persist, 17 years later in Harlem, New York on West 139th  the same street where Coleman was killed — Woodley was shot in the head and chest.

Pop Smoke

Two weeks after releasing his second mixtape, Brooklyn-born rapper Bashar Barakah Jackson (better known as Pop Smoke) was shot in his Hollywood Hills home during an invasion by four teenagers. The assailants were aged 19, 18, 17 and 15 at the time of the February 2020 attack, so two were eventually tried as adults and are now eligible for the death penalty.

Jackson was transported to and pronounced dead at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the same hospital where Biggie Smalls died 23 years earlier. It was determined two days later that a gunshot wound to the torso was the official cause of death.

Known for his drill style — a variation of trap music identified by its dark and ominous lyrics and tone — and recognized for his gruff, cinder-block delivery, Jackson had only recently risen to fame. His breakout single “Welcome to the Party” dropped in early 2019, and his debut studio album was released posthumously in July 2020. All 19 tracks charted on the Billboard Hot 100. Before his passing, Jackson was poised to be the next big thing out of New York, praised for his “throwback vibe” and a menacing, low growl that could make DMX’s Great Depression seem upbeat.

Several reports theorize that the four men responsible for the 20-year-old rapper’s death likely learned of his location from photos and videos Jackson posted during a party, revealing the address and sizeable sums of money. Mysteriously, the initial phone call to police was made from the East Coast and no one else in attendance at Jackson’s home that night was shot or injured.  


On June 18, 2018 at a motorcycle dealership in Deerfield Beach, Florida, two men exited a black SUV and approached the vehicle of rapper XXXtentacion. They then reached inside the rapper’s car and stole a Louis Vuitton bag filled with $50,000 in cash before shooting the 20-year-old rapper several times in the neck and fleeing the scene.

XXXtentacion (born Jahseh Dwayne Ricardo Onfroy) started rapping via SoundCloud in 2013. By the time of his death five years later, his experimental and dejected music had landed the “Moonlight” rapper top spots on the charts. His troubled past — which included domestic violence, attempted murder of his homosexual cellmate, and assaulting fans — made Onfroy’s death and the subsequent mourning by the masses extremely problematic. Perhaps it was the combination of Onfroy’s intense vulnerability and nihilistic indifference that attracted a following, but many were confused by the cult-like teenage crowds that gathered to mourn the controversial rapper.

Four men were eventually arrested in connection to the crime. All but one are currently being tried for first-degree murder.


DeShaun Dupree Holton  otherwise known as the D12 rapper Proof grew up in Detroit, Michigan alongside his friend Eminem. The eclectic group formed in 1996 and began topping charts in the early 2000s with songs like “Purple Pills.” Five years later, at a nightclub on East 8 Mile Road, Holton was murdered  shot twice in the back and once in the head following a dispute over a game of pool.  

Though the narratives and details surrounding the happenings of that early April 11 morning remain conflicting and unclear, what is surely known is that the initial dispute involved Holton and a Desert Storm veteran named Keith Bender.

One account describes the events of that morning as having been wholly Holton’s fault: A disagreement about a game of pool between Holton and Bender turned violent. Upon seeing this, a man by the name of Mario Ethridge  Bender’s cousin and the nightclub’s bouncer  fired his gun into the air. Holton then brandished his own firearm and shot Bender in the face. Ethridge, in retaliation, proceeded to fire three shots into the back of Holton’s body.

Alternate accounts report that the dispute involved several others and that Holton had not entered the venue with a gun that night. Shortly after, Bender’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Holton’s estate and it was eventually concluded that Ethridge had acted lawfully. Those that knew Holton (and several who were in attendance that morning), however, maintain the 32-year-old rising rapper’s innocence, citing that “[Holton] would never, ever shoot someone over some bullshit.”


On September 7, 1996 rapper Tupac Shakur left the Mike Tyson-Bruce Seldon boxing match at the MGM Grand hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. He then entered the passenger’s seat of a car driven by record-label head Suge Knight. While waiting at a red light on Flamingo Road, a white Cadillac pulled up alongside Shakur’s vehicle and began shooting. Of the 12 bullets fired, four penetrated Tupac’s body: one to the arm, one to the thigh, and two to his chest — a single bullet penetrating his right lung.

Though the 25-year old “I Get Around rapper survived the initial attack and was thought by doctors to be recovering, Tupac succumbed to his wounds six days later at 4:03 p.m. at the University Medical Center. His body was supposedly cremated the next day.

Though Tupac’s murder remains unsolved, there are countless theories as to who’s responsible for his death. In the moments prior to Tupac’s departure from the MGM Grand hotel, he and his entourage were seen engaging in a scuffle in the hotel lobby. The man with whom Tupac and his group fought that night was later identified as Orlando “Baby Lane” Anderson, a Southside Compton Crip. Speculators believe it was Anderson — in a blatant and successful attempt at revenge — who shot Tupac before being murdered himself 18 months later.

Still, hundreds of alternate theories and conspiracies continue to circulate about the murder of Tupac Shakur  the most popular being that he isn’t deceased at all, but rather enjoying a reclusive life in Cuba. He’d be 49 years old.

Biggie Smalls

On March 9, 1997, Christopher Wallace — fondly known as the Notorious B.I.G. or Biggie Smalls — was shot at the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and South Fairfax Avenue after leaving Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. On an operating table at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the 24-year-old “Gimme the Loot” rapper was pronounced dead just 30 minutes later.

The assailant responsible for Biggie’s murder is said to have been a Black male wearing a blue suit and bow tie. After pulling his dark Chevy Impala SS up alongside Biggie’s vehicle, the assailant rolled down his window and brandished a 9mm blue-steel pistol. Biggie’s murder, still unsolved and widely speculated upon, came only six months after the also-unsolved drive-by killing of Tupac Shakur, Biggie’s well-known West Coast rival.

Of the four bullets that struck Biggie’s body that morning, only the final one proved fatal. The first bullet entered his left forearm, stopping in his wrist. The second bullet entered through his back and exited through his left shoulder, causing minimal damage despite its close proximity to vital organs. The third bullet entered and exited through his left thigh, lacerating his scrotum in the process. And the fourth and final bullet entered his right hip, ripping through his colon, liver, heart and lung before settling in his left shoulder.

John Lennon

Yes. I just shot John Lennon,” were the words calmly uttered by Mark David Chapman when asked if he knew what he had done. Chapman stood on the asphalt of West 72nd Street in New York City with the revolver he’d used to shoot the former Beatle laying beside him in the street. In his hands, he held a paperback copy of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. At the same time, John Lennon lay bleeding in the arms of Jay Hastings, the concierge at Lennon’s New York residence, The Dakota.

Just hours before Lennon was shot in the archway entrance of his luxury complex, he had autographed a copy of Double Fantasy for Chapman who stood waiting for his departure from The Dakota. Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono then made their way to Record Plant studio for a session. When they returned, reports detail that both Lennon and Yoko acknowledged Chapman’s presence as he stood in the shadows of the infamous archway. As the couple walked past the deranged fan, Chapman turned towards them and fired five shots, at close range, directly into the 40-year-old “Imagine” singer’s back. Four hollow-point bullets entered Lennon’s body and, with blood bubbling from his mouth, he stumbled into the reception area screaming that he’d been shot. Several unsuccessful attempts to resuscitate the singer were made, but he was pronounced dead upon arrival at Roosevelt Hospital.

Chapman, a long-time Beatles fan who had flown in from Hawaii, professed that he was angered by Lennon’s lifestyle and statements made in the media. He also admitted that he had planned to kill several other celebrities, including Paul McCartney, Johnny Carson and Elizabeth Taylor.

Dimebag Darrell

Following the dissolution of the popular groove-metal band Pantera in 2003, Darrell Abbott  better known as Dimebag Darrell and his brother (and drummer) Vinnie Paul formed the band Damageplan. It was at a small Damageplan show a year later in Columbus, Ohio that Nathan Gale, an unhinged Pantera super-fan, barreled into the venue brandishing a Baretta 9mm handgun, and shot the 38-year-old “Fucking Hostile” guitarist straight through the forehead. Abbott, who was known for passionately thrashing his long hair as he played his chugging riffs, never saw it coming. Shortly after, Gale was shot and killed by Officer James Niggemeyer.

Witnesses recall Gale waiting in the parking lot of the venue as opening bands played. When asked why he didn’t go inside the venue for warmth, Gale replied, "I’m waiting for Damageplan.” The 25-year-old Marine Corps dropout was described by friends as increasingly unstable, often laughing and talking to himself in the weeks prior to the murders (Gale also fatally wounded three others that night). Another friend recalls Gale talking of plans to sue Pantera for stealing his songs. 

Sam Cooke

On the night of December 11, 1964, Sam Cooke (born Samuel Cook)  an American soul singer and civil-rights activist  was shot through the heart and beaten with a broomstick by Bertha Franklin.

The story goes that Cooke and a woman named Elisa Boyer spent the evening dining and drinking at Martoni’s Restaurant in Hollywood. According to Boyer, an inebriated Cooke then forced her back to the Hacienda Motel where he attempted to rape her. Stripped down to her underwear and desperate to escape, Boyer waited until Cooke left for the restroom before snatching up her clothing (and much of his) and fleeing the room. Upon realizing that Boyer had bolted, a half-naked Cooke began scouring the motel, ultimately landing at motel manager Bertha Franklin’s office door. When Cooke, who was allegedly yelling for Franklin to reveal Boyer’s whereabouts, finally forced his way into Franklin’s office, a scuffle ensued. Franklin allegedly beat Cooke with a broomstick before shooting the singer through the chest.

Discrepancies in both Franklin and Boyer’s stories quickly presented themselves and suspicions among Cooke’s friends and family burgeoned. The most notable inconsistency was Etta James’ observation that the 33-year-old “Chain Gang” singer’s body appeared to have been badly beaten, “his head nearly separated from his shoulders, his hands [broken] and crushed, and his nose mangled.”

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