Inside Taylor Hawkins’ Final Days as a Foo Fighter
M arch 22, 2022, was a muggy day in Asunción, Paraguay’s capital city. Thunderstorms had ruined the grounds of the Asunciónico festival, forcing Foo Fighters to cancel their headlining concert there that night, but severe weather couldn’t stop hundreds of fans from gathering around the Sheraton, where the group was staying. Taylor Hawkins, the band’s charismatic drummer and singer, known for his athletic performances and surprising vocal agility, was hanging out in the lobby when the sound of a drum set came crashing through the din, playing his parts to “The Pretender” and “Everlong.” The sound piqued his interest, so he ventured out to find the source.
In the throng, nine-year-old Emma Sofía Peralta, who first picked up a pair of drumsticks at age seven, stationed herself behind her drum kit near a barricade with the hopes of catching the attention of her heroes, Dave Grohl and Hawkins. “That day was about to become the worst day of my life,” she says, referring to the canceled concert over Zoom (with translation help from her dad, Julius), “and suddenly it became the best day of my life.” Once outside, Hawkins scanned the crowd looking for the young drummer. After addressing the fans, announcing that Foo Fighters would surely return to Asunción, he posed for a photo with the girl, crouching next to her and flashing the sort of warm, toothy smile that established him as one of the most beloved drummers in rock. But multiple friends tell Rolling Stone that he felt conflicted about being on the road. Three days later, he was dead — an official cause of death is still unknown.
In the month and a half since Hawkins’ death, Rolling Stone has interviewed 20 people, including several of the drummer’s best friends, about his career, legacy, and outlook near the end of his life. Prior to Foo Fighters’ supersized post-pandemic comeback — which kicked off last June with vax-mandatory gigs in L.A. and New York’s Madison Square Garden — Hawkins felt hesitant about returning to the road and wasn’t sure he’d be able to remain a full-time member if they continued to tour at this pace, these friends say. Even though he kept himself in decent shape, according to his friends, he felt vexed by the physicality required to play nearly three-hour concerts night after night. (Rolling Stone repeatedly asked Hawkins’ family members and bandmates for interviews for this story. Hawkins’ family declined to comment. Foo Fighters and their management did not want to be interviewed. But through a representative, they dispute Hawkins’ friends’ characterizations of how he was feeling.)
“He had a heart-to-heart with Dave and, yeah, he told me that he ‘couldn’t fucking do it anymore’ — those were his words,” says Pearl Jam drummer Matt Cameron, a close friend of Hawkins’ for decades who recorded music with him recently under the banner Nighttime Boogie Association, one of Hawkins’ many side projects. “So I guess they did come to some understanding, but it just seems like the touring schedule got even crazier after that.” (A rep for Foo Fighters denies that Hawkins ever raised these issues, saying “No, there was never a ‘heart-to-heart’ — or any sort of meeting on this topic — with Dave and [Silva Artist Management].”)
“Honestly, I think he was just so tired,” Hawkins’ longtime friend and former boss, singer Sass Jordan, says. “Tired of the whole game.”
“The fact that he finally spoke to Dave and really told him that he couldn’t do this and that he wouldn’t do it anymore, that was freeing for him,” a colleague and friend of Hawkins’, who asked to remain anonymous, says. “That took fucking balls. That did take a year of working up the guts to do.” While Hawkins’ friends are adamant that he wanted a change, exactly how big a shift Hawkins asked for is a matter of some dispute. A rep for Foo Fighters says, “He never ‘informed Dave and [management]’ of anything at all like that.”
Even though friends say Hawkins told Grohl and Foo Fighters’ management he wanted to scale back, they believe he agreed to continue touring with them to be a team player. “[A band like that] is a big machine [with] a lot of people on the payroll,” Cameron says. “So you’ve got to really be cognizant of the business side of something when it’s that big and that has inherent pressure, just like any business.”
The anonymous friend, who requested that Rolling Stone use the pronoun “they” to describe them, claims that Hawkins was being pressured to play more shows. “He said, ‘I’m just gonna do a couple,'” they say, adding that they believe Hawkins didn’t know fully how many shows he was expected to play. Foo Fighters staged roughly 40 shows last year, and already had nearly 60 more on the books for 2022.
When Hawkins learned that the group had added a one-off March date in Australia, the anonymous friend says that Hawkins was so upset he called them to vent about it. He told the friend he was given assurances the band would have a lighter schedule going forward. “And he had every reason to believe that would happen,” they say. “He wanted to believe it.” (The Foo Fighters’ rep says Hawkins never indicated he was upset about the Australian date and denies that he expressed any misgivings about the tour schedule, saying there was “definitely no limit” on the number of concerts Hawkins agreed to play. Moreover, the rep says, “The touring schedule had been established and in place for well over a year.”)
“He tried to keep up,” Cameron says. “He just did whatever it took to keep up, and in the end he couldn’t keep up.”
Hawkins told Rolling Stone last June that he was struggling. “I’m really nervous about tonight,” he said on the day of the group’s first comeback show in June. “I have major stage fright — major, major, major. Like, today is, like, I’m in hell right now.”
Beyond talking through his feelings of stage fright, the drummer also expressed that he was “trying really hard to figure out how to continue to keep the intensity of a young man in a 50-year-old’s body, which is very difficult.”
The situation escalated last December when multiple friends say Hawkins lost consciousness on board a plane in Chicago, though news reports from the time described him anonymously as “a member of Foo Fighters.” “He just said he was exhausted and collapsed, and they had to pump him full of IVs and stuff,” his friend, Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, says. “He was dehydrated and all kinds of stuff.” (If Hawkins did lose consciousness on the plane, it’s unclear how or why it happened. When asked if Foo Fighters had comment on accounts that Taylor had lost consciousness on the plane, a rep said, “This is not true.”) After the incident, Smith says, Hawkins told him, “I can’t do it like this anymore.”
Following the cancellation of Asunciónico, the band had moved on to Bogotá, Colombia, where they were supposed to headline a night of the Estéreo Picnic festival on March 25. Hawkins was in a good mood that day, according to his friend, producer Andrew Watt, who had been working with Hawkins on Ozzy Osbourne’s upcoming new album. “I got, like, a bunch of calls from him,” the producer says. “I couldn’t answer; I was in the studio, but we were texting back and forth and it was just like normal shit. He’s like, ‘You’re a fucking dickwad. You just pressed the fuck-you button. You didn’t even let it ring.’ And then he started sending me stuff. He’d always send me music he was working on. The last text I have from him is a piece of music that’s just drums. He just sent me this fucking unbelievable drum beat and was like, ‘Make something out of this with one of your artists. This would be awesome. It’s funky and groovy and, like, check this out.'”
Foo Fighters had been staying at the Four Seasons when, at 7:40 p.m., paramedics arrived at the hotel responding to a request to aid a guest suffering from chest pain; that guest was later identified as Hawkins. By the time the medical professionals arrived, they were unable to revive the drummer. He was pronounced dead at the hotel.
A preliminary autopsy yielded only question marks. A urine toxicology report found the presence of marijuana, antidepressants, benzodiazepines, and opioids in his system. Forensic doctors reportedly claimed Hawkins’ heart weighed at least 600 grams, about double the normal size, and that it could have collapsed without the aid of the drugs. Results of any official autopsy are not yet public.
Although Hawkins had survived a heroin overdose more than two decades earlier that left him in a coma, his friends believe he wasn’t using hard drugs recreationally at the time of his death. “Since [his overdose], he never wanted Dave to worry about that again,” says Chad “Yeti” Ward, Hawkins’ drum tech from 2005 to 2019, who parted ways with Foo Fighters over a dispute with management but nevertheless stayed close with Hawkins. Last year, Hawkins told Kerrang! he had swapped the place drugs held in his life with mountain biking. And after the plane incident, Smith says Hawkins started biking less to avoid overexerting his heart.
Because Hawkins seemed so outwardly vibrant, his death shocked the world. Since 1997, he had served as Grohl’s foil in Foo Fighters, replicating the former Nirvana stickman’s Olympic-level drumming while emerging as a star in his own right, as he flawlessly impersonated Freddie Mercury’s challenging vocal runs on Queen covers. Before Foo Fighters, he cut his teeth backing blues rocker Sass Jordan and Alanis Morissette, and during his time with the band, he explored his full capabilities in side projects including Taylor Hawkins and the Coattail Riders, the Birds of Satan, and the covers group Chevy Metal. His goal, it appeared, was to be the consummate rock star.
But while he recorded and performed with several of the artists he idolized (Queen, Led Zeppelin, Jane’s Addiction), he likely never fully understood the impact he had on others around the world. Everyone from Paul McCartney to First Lady Jill Biden shared words of condolence for Foo Fighters and the drummer’s family — widow Alison and the couple’s three children, Oliver, Annabelle, and Everleigh. A handful of his friends and peers, including Smith, Watt, and Travis Barker got hawk tattoos that matched the one on Hawkins’ left shoulder. And down in Paraguay, Emma Sofía Peralta is crushed that she’ll never see Hawkins live, but their brief encounter has inspired her to focus more on drumming. She’s even received an invitation to jam with one of the most popular groups in the country. “Taylor gave us something to believe in,” she wrote on Instagram.
When the Chili Peppers played Jazz Fest in New Orleans on May 1, filling in for the Foos at the last minute, Smith led the entire crowd, which included Dave Grohl, in an extended “We love Taylor” chant. He received tributes worthy of a hero, but the mysteries surrounding Hawkins’ death left his friends wondering how his life ended so prematurely.
From the moment Hawkins joined Foo Fighters, he faced enormous pressure. Not only was the group fronted by one of the greatest drummers of a generation, he was also replacing William Goldsmith, who left the band after Grohl deemed his contributions to 1997’s The Colour and the Shape unusable. Grohl had shelved Goldsmith’s tracks, opting to play the parts himself, a cautionary tale that chilled Hawkins to his core.
“I was so scared when we went to go do [the third Foos album] Nothing Left to Lose,” Hawkins recalled of his first recorded contributions to the band in a 2021 Rolling Stone interview. “I had red-light fever so bad. … At one point I just said to Dave, ‘Listen, dude, I just don’t think I can do this.’ … I was just so scared.”
He’d been preparing for that moment since his childhood. Oliver Taylor Hawkins was born Feb. 17, 1972, the youngest of three siblings, in Fort Worth, Texas. His father, Terry, had the “stony coldness, typical of a Seventies man,” Hawkins once said, while mother Elizabeth “was full of love, sweetness, and tenderness, and the total opposite of my dad.” Elizabeth nurtured his musical side and would encourage his drumming. She also took him to see Queen for his first rock concert, in 1982. “I told [her], ‘I’ll play that stadium one day,'” he recalled. “She looked at me with eyes that matched my ambition.”
The Hawkins family relocated to Laguna Beach, California, where Taylor made a friend in Jon Davison, who has since become the lead singer for Yes thanks to Hawkins’ recommendation. “I have this vivid memory of Taylor calling me when we were 10 and expressing with such personality and excitement about discovering the album The Game, by Queen,” Davison says. “From that moment on, he became completely enamored with their drummer, Roger Taylor. Not long after, he convinced his parents to buy him a drum set.”
In addition to Queen, Hawkins became obsessed with Rush, Yes, Genesis, Black Sabbath, and the Police, and tried to learn the drum parts to his favorite songs. He played in a series of cover bands with Davison throughout junior high and high school, caring about virtually nothing besides surfing and music. He dreamed of performing on the Sunset Strip, though he had no interest in the hair-metal bands that dominated the scene, focusing instead on the burgeoning alternative-rock movement. “I dreamed about being out with Jane’s Addiction,” he told Rolling Stone last year.
He moved to Venice Beach after high school and briefly enrolled at Santa Monica College, but he took a job at an instrument store and gigged with what he later called a “Jane’s Addiction rip-off band” called Sylvia. His life changed forever when guitarist Stevie Salas wandered into one of their gigs at Club Lingerie. Salas had been hired to back Sass Jordan on a European arena tour opening for Aerosmith, and they had a short window of time to find a drummer.
“I just showed up at Club Lingerie, and there was this kind of crappy band playing,” Salas says of Sylvia. “But I kept looking at the drummer and thinking, ‘He’s got this unique, weird look. Something is interesting about him.’ I wanted a kid that really understood alternative and punk music.”
Hawkins was only 22. He’d never played anything bigger than a club, but he embraced the opportunity. “He auditioned, and he played like a maniac,” Salas says. “He had this energy that was on another level. He would start a song at like 95 beats per minute, and maybe he’d end it up at 130 beats per minute.”
Salas was unsure about taking a chance on a kid who couldn’t yet keep a reliable tempo, but Jordan wanted to give him a shot. “You could just tell he was a star,” she says. “I knew it the second he walked in the room. When somebody exudes that much love and that much light, you’re just drawn to them. I was like, ‘We can work with this guy. He’d be so awesome to have on the road.'”
“He was just the epitome of a California surfer dude,” Jordan guitarist Nick Lashley adds. “Blond, tanned, fit, and lean. Just this incredible energy, enthusiasm, passion for music and drums. He was pretty much always only dressed in his surfer shorts that were hanging halfway down his butt all the time.”
Jordan opened up for Steve Perry in late 1994, and Hawkins caught the eye of Perry’s manager, Scott Welch, who was working with a 20-year-old Canadian named Alanis Morissette who was hitting the road that summer in support of her upcoming album, Jagged Little Pill. Hawkins had the right look and feel, so he got the gig and managed to bring Lashley along for the ride, which wound up being an 18-month world tour behind one of the most successful albums of the Nineties.
Morissette and producer Glen Ballard had used drum loops on a few of the album’s biggest songs, but Hawkins brought them to life onstage. “With Taylor on drums, [her music] became a whole different thing,” Lashley says. “It really became a rock-band vibe and that worked. It really worked with the spirit of Alanis’ songs and the message.”
“He was, like, a ‘beach guy’ on the drums, a bit of a Jeff Spicoli situation,” Jesse Tobias, who played guitar on the Alanis tour, recalls. “But he was just so nice and a very affectionate guy, which at the time was not something that was common. Everybody was too cool for school.”
When it came to rooming with Hawkins, the drummer’s Spicoli tendencies were new to self-professed “clean freak” Tobias, but the two musicians soon learned they had enough in common that Hawkins’ messiness didn’t matter. “I would find dirty socks everywhere and old board shorts on the floor,” he says. “But we were kids, and that tour was very debaucherous. So we saw it all and went through it all. But he was a great roommate, other than throwing shit everywhere all the time. And the other thing was, I loved music; I never watched television, or anything, and he was the same way. We would always put on different [albums] that we’d find going out. I remember we first heard the first Supergrass record, and we were bouncing off the walls to that.”
After more than a year of solid touring, playing the same Jagged Little Pill songs ad nauseam as Morissette’s sets grew longer as she leveled up from clubs to amphitheaters, the singer and her band began exploring ways to loosen up the set.
Looking back, Tobias calls Hawkins the Alanis Morissette band’s “secret weapon.” “He would just play better and better,” Tobias says of the transition from clubs to arenas to stadiums. “It was mind-blowing. He just had this charisma that I usually associate with guitar players, where their tone is in their hands. There’s just something about their physical presence along with the way they play, and he definitely had that.”
“We started goofing around,” Lashley says. “Some nights we’d do ‘We Will Rock You’ with Taylor on lead vocals and Alanis on drums. He had a really good Freddie Mercury impersonation.”
Behind the scenes, according to Sass Jordan, Hawkins dealt with the monotony of touring in less healthy ways. “There was a crew member my manager put on our tour that wasn’t a good influence on Taylor,” she says. “He took that guy with him on the Alanis Morissette tour, and they got into some real trouble with him because there were some substance-abuse issues.”
Morissette played several of the same festivals as Foo Fighters throughout 1995 and 1996, leading to many backstage encounters between Hawkins and Grohl, who spent long nights together smoking cigarettes and geeking out about their favorite bands. “Our chemistry was so obvious,” Grohl wrote in his 2021 memoir, The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music. “Even Alanis herself once asked him, ‘What are you going to do when Dave asks you to be his drummer?'”
That moment came in 1997. The Foos were playing mostly clubs and theaters at this point, and Morissette was at the pinnacle of her success. Grohl presumed recruiting Hawkins was a long shot. “I thought he would never leave Alanis’ band,” he told Entertainment Weekly last year. “At the time, they were packing stadiums around the world. And what, he’s going to jump in our red Dodge van and play the fucking Viper Room again?”
But playing with the Foos was a chance for Hawkins to become more than a hired gun for a pop star and join a real group. “It seemed like he was made for that band,” Tobias says. “Just from the physicality to loving all different kinds of music and just how he was playing for one of the best drummers in the world. The fact that [Dave] trusted Taylor to run that engine says a lot. And I don’t think any of that was wasted on him. I think he was well aware that it was a huge honor and was going to knock it out of the park no matter what.”
Even when Hawkins was playing drum parts that Grohl had originally recorded, he performed them with a hyperactive energy all his own. He could channel Grohl’s powerhouse pummel but added a limber deftness that reflected his appreciation for busier, more meticulous drummers like Rush’s Neil Peart and the Police’s Stewart Copeland. When he played a drum solo, often on a riser towering 15 feet in the air on Foo Fighters’ later tours, he improvised, giving each city a unique performance.
“It was never my goal to sound like Dave,” Hawkins told Rolling Stone last year. “I mean, as much as I love his drumming and totally wish I had some of the skill set that he has as a drummer, just that behind-the-beat, giant thing that he does — no one could play Nirvana the way he plays Nirvana. And like I said, when I have to play his songs from the first two [Foo Fighters] records, it just doesn’t sound like him, and that’s fine.”
Playing with the Foos was also a chance for Hawkins to prove himself in the studio, something he hadn’t had the chance to do with Jordan or Morissette. He didn’t quite anticipate how difficult it would be. “One time he called me, and he said, ‘You know how much pressure it is?'” Salas says. “He was like, ‘Do you know how I fucking feel when I’m sitting there struggling, trying to get a track, and I just know that Dave can put the guitar down and come sit on my drums and do it in one take?'”
He ultimately played drums on half of 1999’s There Is Nothing Left to Lose, and when they returned to the studio to cut One by One three years later, Grohl trusted him enough to play on every single track. On 2005’s In Your Honor, Hawkins even got to sing lead vocals on a song, “Cold Day in the Sun.” Hawkins would contribute greatly to Foo Fighters for the next 20 years, even if his role in the actual songwriting process remained minimal. “Foo Fighters is very much Dave’s band,” Hawkins said last year. “A lot of times, when we make a Foo Fighters record, Dave has demos that are pretty close to what he wants to hear. We just go in and fill in the blanks.”
That doesn’t mean Hawkins didn’t add a unique element to the Foos’ songs separate from what Grohl could have simply added on his own. “Taylor sometimes played parts that were a little looser, maybe wilder,” producer Butch Vig says. “He’d try to sneak fills into songs. Sometimes I would let him go, and Dave would let him go, but other times we’d rein him in. He knew that his drumming had to fit in the context of a Foo Fighters song.”
During his early years in the band, Hawkins was living a rock & roll lifestyle. He had been experimenting with drugs since his earliest days on the road, but in August 2001, when he was 29, Hawkins overdosed on heroin at a U.K. festival, putting him in a two-week coma. Grohl was by his side in a London hospital the whole time. When Hawkins came to, he jokingly told Grohl to “fuck off.” Recovery was difficult; Hawkins had trouble reading, and he developed a strange tic, according to Chad Smith. But as he processed what he’d gone through, he attempted to improve himself.
“I took it too far,” Hawkins said in 2002, “but thank God I did take it too far, and I didn’t fuckin’ croak, and I’m here to know how retarded I was and how lame my life had become. I was just becoming a clichéd rock idiot. But I wouldn’t take any of it away — none of the times I got high, not even the overdose. Because I learned so much about myself through the whole thing.”
Prior to the OD, Hawkins said Grohl knew he was using “and would always let me know he wasn’t stoked about it.” Afterward, Hawkins cut back on smoking and started eating healthier and exercising. “If Taylor was even going to have a beer once in a while, it wouldn’t be until well after the show was over,” Yeti says. “He would never want to do that in front of Dave, because he would never want Dave to have to worry about the past.”
“He liked to say, ‘I took my extended nap,’ and that’s some scary shit obviously,” Smith says. “He had his demons, like anybody else, and you just overdo it one night and these things happen.”
After the overdose, Hawkins worked to correct the course of his life. In 2005, he married Alison and formed the side project the Coattail Riders. He recorded his own music with the group and took it on the road. The Foos had graduated to arenas by this point thanks to hits like “Learn to Fly,” “Best of You,” and “Times Like These,” but the Coattail Riders stuck to tiny under-the-radar club gigs. “We went all over the country in a Winnebago,” Coattail Riders guitarist Gannin Arnold says. “We’d go to truck stops and buy tapes like Ratt’s Out of the Cellar. He’d be breaking down Ratt songs as we drove down the highway. Taylor just lived and breathed music.”
“We watched a lot of Rush videos,” Coattail Riders guitarist Nate Wood adds. “And then we’d debate things like [jazz-fusion drummer] Billy Cobham versus Neil Peart or any other silly, ridiculous conversation about drums or music.”
“He straight-up told me stadiums and clubs were his favorite shows to play,” Yeti says. “He’s like, ‘I hate amphitheaters and I hate arenas, but I love clubs, and I love stadiums.'”
Yeti started teching for Hawkins in 2005 and formed an immediate bond with the drummer. “He was extremely funny, very lighthearted, very ADHD,” he says. “I mean, he literally is pinging up the walls a lot.” Yeti believes Hawkins had so many side projects because it was a chance to be in control. “There’s nobody to answer but himself,” he says. “He has 100 percent of the creativity to himself. I remember when he started writing the first Coattail Riders album, he wasn’t that great on guitar, but he could get his ideas together enough to show somebody who could play guitar really well and they could help him finish it. Every time he would play me Coattail Riders stuff, I could see in his eyes just how happy he was. He loved writing his own music.”
“Do not call Taylor Hawkins a ‘drummer,'” Watt says. “He was a musician. He was amazing at the guitar, amazing at the piano, he understood bass. Some of my favorite moments with him in the studio were when he was producing me. We would record these Ozzy songs together, and we would get the drum track down. … My guitar solos that I did, he would sit there with me and go through and have ideas. And it would almost be like, if I could impress him and he could think it’s cool, then I knew I did it good enough because he had such amazing taste. He was my teacher, man.”
He also had fun meeting his favorite musicians. “He was always Mister Fanboy, but that was part of his shtick,” Stewart Copeland, Hawkins’ idol from the Police, told Rolling Stone after Hawkins’ death. “‘OK, OK, Taylor, calm down!’ … He was 50 years old going on eight.”
“Multiple times in London, me and Taylor in the middle of the night walked to Freddie [Mercury’s] house and just sat outside the gate,” Yeti says. “That was his hero.”
“What I loved about him is he wasn’t afraid to say he was a fan,” says Perry Farrell, the Jane’s Addiction frontman whom Hawkins idolized and later befriended. “There are a lot of men that are afraid to say that because they might be envious of the other guy’s talent. They don’t want to give him any light. Taylor did not have that problem at all. If he thought you were great, he would talk about it. It was a very endearing, child-like quality he had.”
One night in London in 2010, Hawkins convinced Queen’s Brian May and Roger Taylor to join the Coattail Riders for an encore of super-obscure Queen songs they’d never done live. “Taylor was just so excited to have them do that,” Wood says. “He was like, ‘I love these songs, so I would love it if you guys would…’ But anyway, that was just another day in the life of Taylor. He was just the kind of guy that could just make that shit happen because everybody loved him so much.”
Monumental moments like jamming with Queen, Arnold says, made it easier to enjoy scrappy club gigs like the one the Coattail Riders played during a Colorado blizzard when only a handful of people showed up. “There was a sushi place next door, and we took them all out to sushi,” the guitarist says. “And Taylor was so cool. He was hanging out with them, talking to them. That’s kind of who he was.”
As the years went by, Hawkins’ side projects grew to include the Birds of Satan, NHC with Jane’s Addiction members Dave Navarro and Chris Chaney, and the hard-rock cover band Chevy Metal. “He never wanted to sit home and chill,” Arnold says. “He always had a purpose when he got up in the morning. He wanted to start a new group, write a song, or go play in a cover band. He just had to create.”
Tobias, who now plays in Morrissey’s band, would sometimes run into Hawkins at the rehearsal space his band shared with Foo Fighters and Chevy Metal. “He’d never change,” he says. “He was just always the same, in shorts, usually no shoes, driving either his Camaro or his truck, and he’d walk into the office, and he’d be talking to David Coverdale, or something. This guy could fucking talk to anybody.”
Foo Fighters, however, remained at the center of his life. And while their peers in Pearl Jam and Radiohead slowed down as they reached middle age, leaving time for their members to focus on solo projects and family, Grohl ramped up. Foo Fighters played more than 200 concerts between 2017 and 2021 and were a constant presence at awards shows and special events. During downtime from the road, they worked on film projects like the Sonic Highways and Sound City documentaries as well as the 2022 zombie flick Studio 666.
The constant work allowed Hawkins to hone his craft and shake off the “red-light fever” that marked his early days in the band, even during the recording of Sonic Highways when an HBO camera crew was on hand to capture his every move. “I remember when we recorded ‘Something From Nothing,'” Vig says. “He was feeling lots of pressure because that’s a six-minute song and it’s really complicated. I was expecting that there would be quite a few takes of that song that day, and Taylor nailed it in one take. He was so fucking happy. He jumped up from the kit. He just took so much pride in being able to nail it.”
That confidence extended to the stage, and Grohl eventually slated a moment into nearly every show where they’d switch roles and Hawkins would front the band while Grohl drummed, often for cover songs like Queen’s “Somebody to Love.” At one memorable Wembley Stadium gig, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones joined the band for “Rock and Roll.” Hawkins sang lead, living out his ultimate childhood fantasy of fronting Led Zeppelin — before hopping behind the drums for “Ramble On.”
“I believe Taylor wanted to be great so bad, and I believe he never believed he was great,” Salas says. “I believe Taylor would sit down every day and think that he wasn’t good enough, and he would work and work and work at being great. I used to tell him, ‘Dude, you can relax now. Everything’s good.’ But I don’t believe that he ever really did relax and feel great about himself as a musician.”
Sass Jordan, who stayed close to Hawkins after he left her band for Morissette’s, texted him a couple of months before his death. “I told him I wanted to start an artists’ commune in Mexico where we can all just hang out on the beach and surf,” she says. “I told him he could bring his wife and kids and just hang out. He went, ‘That sounds utopian. I’m in.'”
He told her he wanted to see her when the Foos played Toronto in the summer, just one stop on an extensive tour that would keep the band on the road from February until Christmas, with periodic short breaks. “I said, ‘I’d love to see you. When is the date?'” Jordan recalls. “And he goes, ‘Oh, my fucking God. I can’t look at the goddamn tour schedule. It gives me anxiety.'”
There were 62 dates on the calendar for 2022 (about as many gigs as the band played in 2017 as well as 2018) throughout North America, South America, Europe, and Australia. He’d once again be living out of a suitcase for much of the year, leaving his family back home.
The Covid-19 pandemic forced the Foos off the road in early 2020. Hawkins used the respite to form NHC and cut an album’s worth of songs, though they released only a handful of tracks during Hawkins’ lifetime. NHC was one of a handful of side projects he was juggling at the same time. Meanwhile, Grohl was itching to get the band back on tour as soon as possible, starting with an intimate club show at the Canyon in Los Angeles on June 15, 2021. “I missed this shit so fucking much,” Grohl told the crowd that night. “You have no idea.”
When Rolling Stone interviewed Hawkins at his Los Angeles house the morning of that show, the drummer didn’t share his bandleader’s exuberance, likening his stage fright to being “in hell.” He also revealed that a doctor had told him he had sleep apnea and an enlarged heart. “Your heart’s big because you exercise a lot — it’s like a runner’s heart,” he said the doctor told him. Nevertheless, Hawkins proudly said, “I’m healthy.”
He told Cameron that morning that he was playing a gig that night, when few other bands were venturing out. “[Matt was] like, ‘You’re doing a show? Fuck. What the fuck?'” Hawkins recalled. “I’m like, ‘I don’t know. I’m scared, actually.’ I was feeling nice not doing anything. It’s nice being a loser for a year and a half.”
After the Canyon show, the Foos got back on the road faster than any other major rock act. They became the first group to play Madison Square Garden post-lockdown, on June 20, 2021, and then they headlined several of that year’s festivals, including Lollapalooza. Foos gigs were booked as far away as Fairbanks, Alaska, and Monterrey, Mexico. They were also handed the Global Icon Award at the MTV VMAs by Billie Eilish and were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by Paul McCartney. Near the end of the year, they started to promote their latest album, Medicine at Midnight, and a companion meta-horror movie they largely finished just before the pandemic, Studio 666. Hawkins’ friends say he told them he felt like the workload was daunting. “Taylor knew he didn’t have it in him,” his anonymous friend says. “And he was trying to deliver.”
“He was looking anorexic there for a while,” Yeti says. “Right before they left for South America [this year] he told me, ‘Man, Yeti, you’d be so proud of me. I got a trainer. I’m doing things right. I’ve gained 15 pounds already. I’m getting things back on track.’ He was definitely stressed out over the last couple years, because he definitely was showing it in his weight.”
“In the last few months, he was getting into lifting weights and drinking these electrolytes and was really trying to do things to help play at the level that he wanted to play at,” Smith says.
“You can see I’m doing everything in my power to put as much water in me tonight,” Hawkins told Rolling Stone the day of Foo Fighters’ L.A. comeback show. “Water and push-ups and lifting. I won’t be tired. My muscles will be tired, but I won’t be tired. I will be, because the adrenaline takes half of your energy away from you right away. And then it doesn’t necessarily give it back to you until maybe the second half of the show.”
Hawkins turned to Cameron for advice, since the Pearl Jam drummer faced similar pressures. “There’s only a handful of guys in our profession that still play this intense high-energy, Nineties rock music,” Cameron says. “We both had to strike that balance of ‘We never want to complain,’ but there are real, specific things about what we do that’s really fucking challenging and really difficult. … It’s like we have to be able to sort of run a marathon every time we hit the stage, just because the music sort of calls for that type of energy.”
But Pearl Jam took off all of 2019 and 2020. They played a scant four shows in 2021. In that same three-year span, the Foos did more than 70 concerts. “They were the first ones to go back at it super hard, and [Taylor and I] definitely had discussions about that,” Cameron says. “He was a little apprehensive, understandably, just because of all the Covid bullshit that was going on. So there was all these different factors that were weighing on him stepping back into the ring.”
On Nov. 23, 2021, NHC played their first official gig at the Troubadour in West Hollywood. Hawkins spent half of it behind the kit and half as the group’s frontman, wrapping up with a euphoric rendition of “Ziggy Stardust” with his 14-year-old son, Oliver, on drums.
That show wound up being his final performance apart from the Foos. Around 10 days later, Foo Fighters traveled to Las Vegas for a gig at the Park MGM and followed it up with dates in Sacramento and Fresno. They were supposed to play at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Dec. 12, but Hawkins collapsed on a plane in Chicago on the way there.
“That was one of the straws that broke the camel’s back,” Smith says. “After that, he had a real important heart-to-heart with Dave and the management. He said, ‘I can’t continue on this schedule, and so we’ve got to figure out something.'” (Again, the band and its management deny that Hawkins ever approached them with these concerns.)
The band took a scheduled break in January but revved up again in mid-February for a Los Angeles gig celebrating Studio 666 and a headlining slot at the Innings Festival in Tempe, Arizona. In early March, they flew to Geelong, Australia, for a one-off stadium show. One day, Grohl woke up to the news that the continent was reopening on Feb. 21. “At 5 o’clock in the morning, I text my manager and I go, ‘We need to go there next week to be the first band to go down,'” Grohl told talk-show host James Corden. “So, he’s like, ‘OK,’ and so [next] weekend we’re gonna go down there and play the first big show they’ve had in two years.”
A couple of weeks before the Australian trip, Hawkins turned 50. He celebrated with a small party at his house with about a dozen people. “We were all around the table and we all got up and told him how much we loved him and how much he meant to us,” Smith says, fighting back tears. “We all gave a little Taylor anecdote. I’m really glad we had that opportunity because he didn’t want to hear it. He was making little comments and little smart-ass stuff like he did. But I’m glad that his closest friends got to tell him how much he meant to us and what a beautiful person he was. I know he took it in.”
The guests at his birthday party were a small group of his closest friends who had each forged a unique bond with him. “He kept sending me these live videos of Genesis when Phil Collins was still the drummer,” Cameron says with a laugh, looking back at their final communications. “I admitted I wasn’t the biggest Genesis fan, so it became his goal to get me into them. He sent me a new video every day for two weeks straight. He’d be like, ‘Dude, you gotta check out the drum fill at 28:40.’ It was real specific stuff. He would take time out of his day to work on my inability to hear the greatness in Genesis.”
Smith usually spoke to Hawkins in the morning after Smith dropped off his kids at school. “He was an early riser,” he says. “And I found out later he’d call a lot of people. It was like, ‘Who got the ‘Coffee Hawk’ call this morning?'”
And even after logging a nearly quarter century as the drummer in one of the biggest bands on the planet and jamming with practically all of his heroes, including Rush, Queen, Paul McCartney, and Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, Hawkins always held on to the feeling of pure joy that rock music gave him as a teenager. “He wasn’t about the trappings of rock stardom or any of that shit,” Smith says. “He was just a kid from Laguna who knew that he found what he loved to do, and he worked hard at it, and he loved it, and he took it all the way to the top, but he never forgot who he was.”
A frequent topic whenever Hawkins spoke to Smith was his longstanding fear that he wasn’t a talented enough drummer for the Foos. “I’d say to him, ‘What the fuck are you talking about?'” recalls Smith. “‘You’re one of the best drummers.’ Then he’d turn to me and go, ‘It’s all hair and teeth.’ I’d laugh at that. But then he’d say, ‘Man, I hurt. My body hurts.'”
A few weeks after Hawkins turned 50, the band was off to Mexico and South America to start what would become Hawkins’ final tour. Five days before the drummer was found dead in his Bogotá hotel room, the Foos headlined Lollapalooza Argentina. “He’s the best fuckin’ drummer in the world,” Grohl told the crowd of Hawkins before handing him the mic to sing lead on Queen’s “Somebody to Love.” “We love him so much.”
“I fuckin’ love Dave Grohl, man,” Hawkins said from the stage. “I’d be delivering pizzas if it wasn’t for fuckin’ Dave Grohl.”
“They just fed off each other’s energy,” Vig says of Hawkins and Grohl’s dynamic. “They were like blood brothers, joined at the hip. And I think Taylor was Dave’s best friend, and vice versa. They would finish each other’s sentences, set each other up for jokes, and it was just so fun to be around them. They just loved each other’s company.”
Days after Hawkins’ death, the Foos canceled all shows for the near future. The band flew back to Los Angeles with one less member onboard than when it left. Paparazzi cameras captured Grohl sobbing and hugging Foos manager John Silva at the airport.
Meanwhile, Hawkins’ friends have been attempting to make sense of his death in the absence of any real answers. An early report suggested that Hawkins could have had heroin in his system and that a cocaine-like powder was found in his hotel room. Yeti believes resolutely that Hawkins was not using heroin or any other substance because he was supposed to play a concert that night. “Taylor never played fucked up in his life,” he says. “He always played sober as can be. That was a show day. So for somebody to say that he was doing drugs that day, that is just about the most false thing anybody could ever say about him.” Yeti also says that a Foo Fighters crew member he’s still friendly with told him there was no cocaine in Hawkins’ room.
“There’s so many questions about what the fuck happened in Bogotá,” Cameron says. “I don’t even know if I believe any of the toxicology reports coming out of that country in, all honesty, because it happened so quickly.”
Grohl had started Foo Fighters in 1995 as a way to escape the tragedy of Kurt Cobain’s death, and for 27 years the group was his refuge. It’s unclear if they’ll attempt to continue without Hawkins. “[Taylor] is kind of irreplaceable,” says Cameron. “It’s going to be weird [if they continue]. I don’t think anyone’s ready for that. Taylor was half their show.”
Sass Jordan feels the same way. “He was the face of the band in so many ways,” she says. “He made everybody around him look better. I cannot even conceive [of them carrying on]. And I would hate to be the drummer that’s supposed to step into Taylor’s shoes.”
Meanwhile, Hawkins’ friends expect his legacy to live on via the many as-yet-unreleased recordings he made. “One song we were working on right before he passed away is called ‘Condo in Redondo,’” says Cameron. “It’s a fantastic song that I really hope will see the light of day.”
“He recorded so much music,” Watt says. “There’s going to be more contributions of his out there in the world. And that’s all he would fucking want, man. He wanted people to hear his shit. He was so stoked.”
Nearly a month had passed since Hawkins died when Smith called up Rolling Stone to talk about him, but he was still barely able to comprehend that his friend was gone forever. By the end of the interview, he was sobbing so hard he could barely get the words out. “The best [people], sometimes they just burn bright and extra hard,” he said, choking back tears. “I really believe that the essence of who you are and the spirit that you have goes somewhere. I might sound New Age–y, or whatever, but it gives me some comfort knowing that he’s looking out for his family and all of his friends who love him. He’s spreading his light somewhere else.”
Additional reporting by: Jason Newman, Diego Ortiz.