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David Crosby Rock Star and CSNY Co-founder Dies at 81
Several media outlets reported Thursday that David Crosby, the boisterous rock musician who went from a baby-faced harmony vocalist with the Byrds to a mustachioed hippie celebrity and a troubadour in Crosby, Stills, Nash & (sometimes) Young, has died at 81.
Based on a text from Crosby’s sister-in-law, the New York Times reported his death Wednesday night. The Associated Press couldn’t reach Crosby’s widow or representatives, but other media outlets reported his death citing unidentified sources.
After decades of drug usage, Crosby survived a liver transplant in 1994, diabetes, hepatitis C, and heart surgery in his 70s. While he only wrote a few well-known songs, the witty and opinionated Crosby was at the forefront of the cultural revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, whether triumphing with Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young at Woodstock, testifying on behalf of a hirsute generation in his anthem “Almost Cut My Hair,” or mourning Robert Kennedy’s assassination in “Long Time Gone.”
He founded the Los Angeles rock music scene that produced the Eagles and Jackson Browne. The twinkly-eyed hippy dad inspired Dennis Hopper’s long-haired stoner in “Easy Rider.” He preached for peace but was an unrepentant loudmouth who waged personal warfare and recognized that many of the musicians he worked with no longer spoke to him.
In his 2004 memoir, “Chronicles: Volume One,” Bob Dylan said, “Crosby was a colorful and unpredictable guy, wore a Mandrake the Magician cloak, didn’t get along with too many people, and had a great voice – and architect of harmony.”
Drugs bloated broke and alienated Crosby. In 1985 and 1986, while serving a year in Texas prison for drug and weapons offenses, he quit. Overturned conviction. “I’ve always claimed that I picked up the guitar as a shortcut to sex and after my first joint I was sure that if everyone did drugs there’d be an end to war,” Crosby wrote in his 1988 autobiography, “Long Time Gone,” co-written with Carl Gottlieb. “Sex was right. Drugs were my mistake.”
He released many solo albums and collaborated with others, including his son James Raymond, throughout his 70s. “Most guys my age would have done a covers record or duets on old material,” he told Rolling Stone in 2013, just before “Croz” was released. This will fail. Nineteen copies will sell. It’s not for kids, yet I’m making it. For me. I must release this.”
The 2019 Cameron Crowe documentary “David Crosby: Remember My Name” features Crosby. His relationship with Nash ended as his solo career flourished. Nash and Crosby agreed that Crosby, Stills, and Nash were over after Nash’s 2013 memoir “Wild Tales” (which Crosby termed “whiny and dishonest”) sparked a public fight.
After Donald Trump became president, Crosby suggested a Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young protest tour, but his old comrades declined. He released many solo albums and collaborated with others, including his son James Raymond, throughout his 70s.
“Most guys my age would have done a covers record or duets on old material,” he told Rolling Stone in 2013, just before “Croz” was released. This will fail. Nineteen copies will sell. It’s not for kids, yet I’m making it. For me. I must release this.”
The 2019 Cameron Crowe documentary “David Crosby: Remember My Name” features Crosby. His relationship with Nash ended as his solo career flourished. Nash and Crosby agreed that Crosby, Stills, and Nash were over after Nash’s 2013 memoir “Wild Tales” (which Crosby termed “whiny and dishonest”) sparked a public fight. After Donald Trump became president, Crosby suggested a Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young protest tour, but his old comrades declined.
Critics called the group soft-headed and self-indulgent. “If you’re into living-room rock, fireside harmonies, and just a taste of good old social concern, this is your group,” Rolling Stone wrote, frequently covering the band. CSN, as they would become known, won a Grammy for best new artist and toured the world for decades.
The first album was lighthearted, while “Deja Vu” was darker. Neil Young joined the band, continuing his dispute with Stills from Buffalo Springfield. Nash, Mitchell, Stills, and Judy Collins all broke up. After fiancée Christine Hinton died in a vehicle accident, Crosby would cry on the studio floor.
The 1970 record, with a harsher, less cohesive sound, sold well. Within two years, the quintet broke up, doomed to rejoin and split forever. They performed solo, duet, trio, and sometimes all four. Stadiums and clubs. They participated in the 1989 Berlin Wall fall and the 2011 Occupy Wall Street protests.
In recent years, Crosby frequently toured and answered Twitter questions with a mix of affection and frustration, whether critiquing rock stars or a fan’s marijuana joint. His biggest regret, besides hard drugs, was selling his 74-foot boat. Stills and Jefferson Airplane’s Paul Kantner co-wrote “Wooden Ships” on the yacht.
Los Angeles-born David Van Cortlandt Crosby was born on August 14, 1941. “High Noon” Oscar-winning cinematographer Floyd Crosby was his father. His mother, Aliph, and brother, Floyd Jr., moved to Santa Barbara.
Early on, Crosby heard classical, folk, and jazz. In his autobiography, Crosby stated he harmonized with his mother, father, and brother while they played mandolin, and guitar, and sang. “When rock ‘n’ roll came in and the Age of Elvis possessed America, I wasn’t into it,” he said.
He performed in Santa Barbara clubs in his teens after learning guitar from his brother. In 1960, he traveled to Los Angeles to study acting but instead became a folk singer, touring the country before joining The Byrds. Crosby, like many folk musicians, was inspired by “A Hard Day’s Night” to become a rock star.
Crosby married their long-term girlfriend Jan Dance in 1987. Django, their son, was born in 1995. Debbie Donovan gave Crosby a daughter, Donovan. After the liver transplant, Crosby reconnected with the 1961-adopted Raymond. Jeff Pevar, Raymond, and Crosby founded CPR.
“I regretted losing him many times,” Crosby told the AP of Raymond in 1998. “I was too immature and irresponsible to parent.” Melissa Etheridge revealed in 2000 that Crosby fathered her two children with Julie Cypher. Etheridge told Rolling Stone that Cypher carried Crosby’s ART children. Beckett, one son, died in 2020. “If, you know, in due time, at a distance, they’re proud of who their genetic dad is, that’s great,” added Crosby, who did not raise the children.
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