Celebrity Deaths That Changed Music History: Gone Too Soon

Early, untimely deaths – and the questions and legacies left behind – from Janis Joplin to Elvis Presley to Whitney Houston to Chris Cornell

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Patsy Cline
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Patsy Cline GAB Archive/Redferns2/32

Patsy Cline

Year: 1963; Age: 30

Although she lived only a year and two months longer than 29-year-old Hank Williams had, Patsy Cline secured her legacy as one of the greatest vocal talents of the 20th century by fusing country charm and big-city boldness to a sterling voice that was as adept at honky-tonk weepers as it was lushly orchestrated pop standards. Hits like "I Fall to Pieces," "Walkin' After Midnight" and Willie Nelson's "Crazy" accompanied her slow ascent to stardom, while posthumous releases "Sweet Dreams (of You)" and "Faded Love" kept her in the spotlight after her death in a plane crash in Camden, Tennessee. In fact, her legend only flourished in the decades after her demise. In 1973, Cline became the first solo female artist elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame, even ahead of the genre-defining Kitty Wells. Portrayals by Oscar nominees Beverly D'Angelo (in the 1980 Loretta Lynn biopic Coal Miner's Daughter) and Jessica Lange (1985's Sweet Dreams), and continuing interest in her hits via jukeboxes and karaoke, spurred Cline's Greatest Hits album to sales in excess of 10 million, earning a Guinness World Records spot for its chart longevity. Now, there's even a shrine to the inimitable vocalist in downtown Nashville: the Patsy Cline Museum houses memorabilia from her 1961 Carnegie Hall debut, her history-making Las Vegas engagement the following year and the elegant wristwatch she was wearing when she died just a few months later. Over half a century since her tragic passing, Cline remains a direct and long-lasting influence – just listen to stylists like Reba McEntire, Kacey Musgraves and LeAnn Rimes for proof. SB

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