How Did Buddy Holly Die?: The Life and Death of a Music Legend

how did buddy holly die
How Did Buddy Holly Die? Buddy Holly publicity picture for Brunswick Records. Image is in the Public Domain.

Last updated on January 19th, 2023 at 12:07 am

Buddy Holly is an icon, an inspiration, and a true music legend. The fatal accident that took Buddy Holly upset everyone in the music industry and all his fans.

How did Buddy Holly die? This has been a question of people’s minds for a long time. Here we discuss the events leading to his death, what investigations were carried out, and who died with Buddy Holly. 

So what really happened to Buddy Holly? Keep reading to find out!

Buddy Holly’s Career

Buddy Holly was instrumental in shaping rock n’ roll. He influenced Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and practically every early rock artist that came after him.

Holly was especially influential because he wrote his own songs and played guitar on his recordings. In the 1950s, artists usually released songs written for them or covers of other material.

“That’ll Be the Day,” “Peggy Sue,” and “It’s So Easy” are only a few of the iconic songs that Holly released in his career. He was inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in its first class of 1986.

His death was immortalized in the famous Don McLean song “American Pie.”

who is buddy holly
Trading card photo of The Crickets. In 1957, Topps gum cards issued a series of movie stars, television stars and recording stars. They were part of their recording stars cards. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

How Did Buddy Holly Die?

A plane crash claimed Buddy Holly’s life near Clear Lake, Iowa. The tragic event unfolded while touring on February 3, 1959. As a result of this event, the date was referred to as “The Day the Music Died” in the famous song “American Pie.”

Holly was in the middle of a tough tour called The Winter Dance Party. After a gig at the Surf Ballroom in Iowa, he decided to fly rather than take the tour bus, which had heating issues. 

As soon as the show was over, he decided to get on a plane to relax and clean up for his next gig. 17-year-old Ritchie Valens and DJ JP Richardson, a.k.a. The Big Bopper, were flying with him.

Due to bad winter weather, the Beechcraft Bonanza light aircraft went out of control moments after takeoff. The entire crew and passengers were killed when the plane crashed into a snowy cornfield.

So how did Buddy Holly die? If you didn’t know already, now you do.

What Were Buddy Holly’s Last Words?

Another music legend, Waylon Jennings, has spoken about the fateful night of the Holly Crash. His words reflect how important this moment was for him. For years to come, he would be haunted by his final words to the teen idol. 

Following their evening performance at the Surf Ballroom, Ritchie Valens and guitarist Tommy Allsup tossed coins to win a seat on board. J.P. Richardson approached Jennings, asking him to give up his seat because he was unwell, and Jennings graciously gave up his seat for him. 

As soon as Holly learned Jennings and Allsup were traveling on the bus, he jokingly said, “Well, I hope your old bus freezes up!” Jennings responded, “And I hope your plane crashes too.” That remark haunted him for his entire life.

While we don’t know Buddy Holly’s last words, his last interaction with his friend is our closest documentation.

Related: Little Richard: The Life of a Legend and How He Died

How Old Was Buddy Holly When He Died?

Buddy Holly was only 22 years old when he died.


Was Dion Supposed to Be on the Plane with Buddy Holly?

Dion and the Belmonts were initially also on tour with them. However, Dion bailed after hearing the price tag of $36 per person. 

Has the Buddy Holly Crash Been Investigated?

Officially, the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) completed an investigation, revealing that the pilot, Capt Peterson, possessed significant flying experience. 

Despite this, he had only passed the written portion of the exam and was yet to be qualified to fly in conditions requiring using instruments alone.

As a result of his certification, he and co-pilot Dwyer could only operate their airplanes according to visual flight rules, which require pilots to see where they are heading. The lack of ground lighting and low clouds would have made visibility impossible.

Based on the CAB’s findings, the accident resulted from the pilot’s inappropriate decision to fly an instrument flight in which he lacked the necessary instrument flying skills.

Furthermore, Peterson’s weather briefing was inadequate, with supervisors failing to mention the adverse flying conditions to Peterson, which ought to be brought to his attention. The pilot could have done things differently if he had known about the conditions.

As a result of Richardson’s exhumation in 2007, his body was reburied at Forest Lawn cemetery in a better section. His son arranged for his father’s body to be re-examined.

A farmer discovered a pistol owned by Holly at the crash site, which they thought could have been shot accidentally onboard the aircraft, causing the crash.

There is also a rumor that Richardson survived the impact and tried to find help based on the distance between his body and the crash site.

However, Richardson’s body was subjected to several X-rays, which revealed that he died instantly and was thrown from the aircraft. 

Related: The 21 Best 60s Songs of All Time: Music That Defined a Decade

buddy holly grave
Picture taken September 14, 2016, at City of Lubbock Cemetery, Lubbock, Texas. Image by mhamilton456 on Wikimedia Commons.

The Funeral

Buddy Holly’s funeral took place on Feb 8, 1959. A large crowd attended to show their respects at the Tabernacle Baptist Church. His wife did not attend the funeral.


Buddy Holly’s death was a tragic loss to the music industry. Nonetheless, the music star remains in history as a legend that will live on along with his fellow men who also lost their lives in the fatal crash.

Now if you ever see it on Jeopardy!, you’ll know the answer to the question, ‘how did Buddy Holly die?’

Written by Bo Weber

Supporting artists since 2014


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