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Last updated on July 31st, 2023 at 03:47 pm
They’re some of the most talented musicians of the last century, bringing us the music we still love listening to, but they have another thing in common. Being in the ‘musicians diagnosed with cancer’ club isn’t a fun one to be in, but they’ve all bravely faced the battle.
Here is a list of 15 musicians diagnosed with cancer.
1. Nile Rodgers
Record producer, guitarist, and composer Nile Rodgers, best known as being a co-founder of Chic, began his battle with an aggressive form of prostate cancer in October 2010, and allowed fans to follow along with his journey on his blog, Walking on Planet C.
Although he went into remission three years later, he is one of the musicians diagnosed with cancer whose journey didn’t end there. In 2017, he was diagnosed with two different types of cancer after a large mass was discovered on his right kidney.
To the relief of fans, he was cancer-free and back to performing by Jul. 4, 2019, at the Hollywood Bowl, after a successful surgery.
Related: 18 Celebrities Who Beat Cancer
2. Levon Helm
For any of the musicians diagnosed with cancer, the worst has to be anything that will potentially affect your ability to perform.
For Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Levon Helm, drummer and one of the three lead vocalists for the Band, that was throat cancer. He was diagnosed in 2012, and an announcement was made to fans on Apr. 17, 2012.
“Levon is in the final stages of his battle with cancer. Please send your prayers and love to him as he makes his way through this part of his journey,” his family posted in a message to fans on Helm’s website.
Helm ultimately lost his batter on Apr. 19, 2012. He was 71.
Related: 29 Best Drummers of All Time, Ranked
3. Frank Zappa
Guitarist Frank Zappa is another on our list of musicians diagnosed with cancer who ultimately lost the fight against the disease.
The guitarist and composer passed away from prostate cancer on Dec. 4, 1993, just 17 days before he was set to celebrate his 53rd birthday.
4. George Harrison
The Beatles were a cultural phenomenon of the 1960s that is still being discovered by music lovers today. This is why lead guitarist George Harrison’s diagnosis of throat cancer in 1997 shook fans.
While initial radiotherapy treatments were successful, the cancer returned in 2001, and had spread. The treatment included the removal of a cancerous growth from his lungs, treatments in Switzerland for a brain tumor, as well as radiotherapy for non-small cell lung cancer that had metastasized to his brain.
Harrison ultimately lost his battle on Nov. 29, 2001, at the age of 58.
Related: 10 Best Beatles Songs, 1963-1966
5. Gregg Allman
Gregg Allman, most famed for his place as a musician in the Allman Brothers Band, has his position on the musicians diagnosed with cancer list thanks to his diagnosis of liver cancer in 2008.
To treat it the first time, he underwent a liver transplant in 2010 that proved successful. By 2016, the liver cancer had returned, but he kept his battle private from fans.
“He kept it very private because he wanted to continue to play music until he couldn’t,” his manager said.
The “Melissa” writer later died at his home on May 27, 2017.
6. Eddie Van Halen
Was it his years of smoking or his guitar pick?
It may never be known what caused Van Halen lead guitarist Eddie Van Halen’s bout with tongue cancer in 2000, which was successfully treated with surgery to remove a third of his tongue by 2002. The multi-instrumentalist leaned toward the latter, noting his habit of holding his guitar picks in his mouth.
“I used metal picks – they’re brass and copper – which I always held in my mouth, in the exact place where I got the tongue cancer.”
It was later revealed in 2019 that the legendary musician had been battling throat cancer since 2014, and his ex-wife Valerie Bertinelli alluded in an Instagram post that he also battled lung cancer.
Van Halen eventually died of a stroke on Oct. 6, 2020.
7. Phil Lesh
Known best as a founding member of the Grateful Dead, Phil Lesh revealed his diagnosis of prostate cancer on Oct. 26, 2006, the same type of cancer that took the life of his father years earlier.
After undergoing surgery to remove the cancer that December, he was soon back on the road and remains one of those musicians diagnosed with cancer who was able to come out on the other side in remission.
8. Linda McCartney
Wings keyboardist Linda McCartney, wife of The Beatles’ co-founder Paul McCartney, began her battle with breast cancer in 1995, and it slowly worsened as it metastasized to her liver. She later passed away on Apr. 17, 1998.
Paul McCartney said following her death: “The doctors have told me privately that we’d caught it too late, that she’ll have about 18 months. And that was what she had.”
9. Tommy Iommi
Tommy Iommi, the leader and co-founder of the legendary band Black Sabbath, had a slightly easier battle than others on our musicians diagnosed with cancer list.
He was still in the early stages of his lymphoma when he was diagnosed in 2012, and all it took was a successful surgery to remove it and some treatment, leading to his remission by Aug. 11, 2016.
Iommi did have another scare in Dec. 2016 when he had surgery to remove a lump from his throat, but he left fans in relief during an interview with Planet Rock, a UK radio show, when he revealed that the lump was not cancerous.
10. Dave Mustaine
Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, who was the original lead guitarist of Metallica (he co-wrote four songs they released but doesn’t appear on their albums), is another of our musicians diagnosed with cancer who had a short struggle with it. He announced his throat cancer diagnosis on Jun. 17, 2019, and announced that he was in remission just a few months later, on Jan. 31, 2020, during a Megadeth concert.
Related: 35 Best Metallica Songs, Ranked
11. Peter Criss
Women aren’t the only ones who deal with breast cancer. Original KISS drummer Peter Criss proved that when he was diagnosed with the disease in 2008.
To the relief of fans, all it took was a lumpectomy for him to be determined in remission, meaning he had no more detectable cancer.
12. Mark Hoppus
Mark Hoppus, known as the co-lead vocalist and bassist of the rock band Blink-182, mistakenly divulged his battle with stage IV diffuse large B-cell lymphoma during an Instagram story, which immediately left fans shaken.
Thankfully, he announced that he had no detectable traces of cancer on Sept. 19, 2021, and has remained so ever since.
Polish musician Adam Darksi, better known as Nergal and the frontman of Behemoth, an extreme metal band, was diagnosed with leukemia on Aug. 24, 2010, after being rushed to the hospital a few weeks earlier.
At the time, doctors determined that his cancer was so advanced that chemotherapy would most likely be unsuccessful, but he underwent a bone marrow transplant just a few months later.
Although a later infection threatened his body’s acceptance of the new bone marrow, by March 2011, his health was improving, and all was going as planned.
14. Andy Taylor
Andy Taylor, guitarist for the English rock band Duran Duran, announced his battle with stage 4 metastatic prostate cancer via a letter during Duran Duran’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2022.
Taylor is one of the more recent musicians diagnosed with cancer on our list, although the letter noted how he had been privately fighting the cancer for four years.
The letter was later posted on the band’s website and says that while his condition is described as incurable, it is not immediately life-threatening.
15. Jeremiah Green
Jeremiah Green, best known as the drummer for the indie rock band Modest Mouse, is one of the musicians diagnosed with cancer who ultimately lost the battle. On Dec. 25, 2022, the band’s frontman Isaac Brock announced his stage IV diagnosis of an unspecified form of cancer on their Instagram page.
“Some of you may have already heard, but I figured it would be good to hear the news directly from our camp,” Brock wrote. “Jeremiah, as am I, are believers in the power of positive energy, so if you would be so kind as to send ‘good vibes’ (to quote Jeremiah) in the direction of Jeremiah and his family, that’d be great.”
Green died just one week later, on Dec. 31, at the age of 45.
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