How Did Frank Zappa Die? The True Story of the Guitar Legend’s Death

how did frank zappa die
Records on wheels, Toronto, sept. 24 1977. Image by Jean Luc on Wikimedia Commons.

The word genius gets thrown around often, but the late great Frank Zappa was one of the few who genuinely earned that description.

Zappa is known for his humor, genre-busting compositions, mind-bending guitar playing, and boosting the careers of several other virtuoso musicians.

But how did Frank Zappa die? This article will examine the circumstances of Frank Zappa’s death, his music, life, and family.

How Did Frank Zappa Die?

Frank Zappa died at age 52 on December 4, 1993, in Los Angeles, California.

How did Frank Zappa die? The great man died from cancer 17 days shy of his 53rd birthday at home with his wife and children at his side.

frank zappa death
Frank Zappa, 1970 image by Fotopersbureau De Boer on Wikimedia Commons.

What Cancer Did Frank Zappa Have? 

Frank Zappa had terminal prostate cancer.

Zappa was buried in an unmarked grave at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles the day after his death.

On December 6, his family announced that “Composer Frank Zappa left for his final tour just before 6:00 pm on Saturday.”

How Long Did Frank Zappa Have Cancer?

Frank Zappa was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1990. Zappa later stated that he had urinary problems for years and had sought medical diagnoses repeatedly.

However, when he was given a definitive diagnosis, doctors said the cancer had advanced unchecked for almost a decade and was inoperable and terminal.

Following this diagnosis, he reduced his musical activities but notably remained active with classical composition. 

His final studio release, The Yellow Shark, was performed with the Ensemble Modern orchestra. 

Despite being very ill, he debuted the material live in Europe, to which the audience gave a 20-minute ovation

Related: The Tragic Story of John Lennon’s Demise 

What Were Frank Zappa’s Last Words?

Frank Zappa’s last words on his deathbed were presumably private to his family, and they have not made them public.

However, Zappa’s wife, Gail Zappa, alluded to her husband’s ‘last words’ in 2008. 

She stated that her legal actions after his death, for example suing a music festival that used his likeness without permission, were done to protect the integrity of Zappa’s work.

“My job is to make sure that Frank Zappa has the last word in terms of anybody’s idea of who he is. And his actual last word is his music,” she said. 

Frank Zappa also addressed his legacy in an interview a few months before his death, stating:

“It’s not important to even be remembered. The people who worry about being remembered are guys like Reagan, Bush; These people want to be remembered, and they’ll spend a lot of money and do a lot of work to make sure that remembrance is just terrific. I don’t care.” 


Frank Zappa’s Death Wish?

Frank Zappa is not known to have had a death wish. 

He did not seek treatment for his cancer, but that was because doctors informed him that the cancer was so advanced that it was simply inoperable.

We all know smoking is bad for you, and Zappa was a heavy smoker throughout his life and even smoked in his final television interview in 1993. 

However, he claimed that smoking had no role in his illness, commenting that “To me, a cigarette is food. Tobacco is my favorite vegetable.” 

Related: The 30 Best 70s Songs: Classic Rock, Punk, Disco, and Some Serious Wild Cards 

Frank Zappa’s Net Worth

Frank Zappa’s net worth at the time of his death is most commonly reported as $40 million

Zappa’s net worth was achieved through his album releases, extensive touring, and film work.

He was highly prolific as a recording artist. He released an incredible 62 albums during his lifetime, and the Zappa Family Trust has released an additional 62 posthumous albums.

The Zappa Family Trust announced in June 2022 that it sold the entire Frank Zappa catalog to Universal Music, including trademarks, copyrights, and master tapes.

What Was Frank Zappa’s IQ?

Frank Zappa is widely considered to be a musical genius, but unfortunately there’s no reliable source on what his IQ was, or even any suggestion that he ever took an IQ test.

On some dubious websites, you can find an IQ score of 172 listed for Frank Zappa, but without any reputable sources reporting on the subject, that figure is merely speculative.

Frank Zappa’s Wife

Frank Zappa’s first wife was Kay Sherman, and the pair were married in 1960 and divorced in 1963. 

This marriage occurred before Zappa’s music career took off, as he would release his debut album in 1966.

Zappa’s second wife was Gail Zappa (nee Sloatman), who he married in 1967. They remained together until he died in 1993.

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

frank zappa
Publicity photo of Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention in 1971. Image by Herb Cohen Management on Wikimedia Commons.

How Did Gail Zappa Die?

Frank Zappa’s wife Gail Zappa died at 70 on October 7, 2015, following a long battle with lung cancer. The Zappa Family Trust stated she died peacefully at home surrounded by her children. 

As Zappa’s widow, she managed her husband’s estate following his death and oversaw the release of dozens of posthumous Frank Zappa albums.

As a 21-year-old Gail met Frank, who was four years her senior, while working as a secretary at the famed Whisky a Go Go club in Los Angeles.

In Frank’s 1989 autobiography, he said it took him just “a couple of minutes” to fall in love with her.

Gail also recalled that early in their relationship Zappa played his record collection for her and gauged her reaction as some sort of “test,” which she passed, although he didn’t say as much. 

Frank Zappa’s Children

Frank Zappa had four children, all with his second wife, Gail Zappa. The children are Moon, Dweezil, Ahmet, and Diva.

Upon Gail’s death in 2015, the four children received the shares of the Zappa Family Trust and control over his musical estate.

Zappa’s children all worked in creative fields. 

Moon is an actress, singer, and author, while Diva is an artist and actress who also released a one-off comedy single.

Ahmet is a musician and writer, while Dweezil is a guitarist and actor.

Dweezil has perhaps the highest profile among the children due to his extensive touring and releases with his group Zappa Plays Zappa, which performs his father’s music. 

The group has sometimes featured Frank Zappa alumnae Terry Bozzio (drums and vocals) and Steve Vai (guitar).  

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31 Inspiring Facts About the Band Queen 

The Rolling Stones: A Wild Story of Struggle and Success 

How did Janis Joplin Die? The Tragic Story of Her Heroin Addiction and Final Days 

Written by Erik Ritland

Erik Ritland is a songwriter, musician, journalist, and podcaster based in Nashville, Tennessee. He’s released over a dozen albums since 2002, most recently Old Dog Almost Gone (2021), the first-ever multimedia album, and his latest collection of all original material, A Scientific Search (2020). During his 15+ years as a music journalist, Erik has written hundreds of articles for Music in Minnesota, Something Else Reviews, his own blog Rambling On, and more. In addition to continuing his music career, Erik currently runs The Cosmic American, a music journalism website, and is the editor of Music in Minnesota.


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