David Crosby was a brilliant songwriter, singer and guitarist who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice for playing in his world-famous bands, the “Byrds” and “Crosby, Stills & Nash.” Five of his albums were named to Rolling Stone’s list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.”
On January 18, 2023 he died at age 81 with no cause given, but he could have died of many different conditions provoked by his incredibly unhealthful lifestyle that included excessive drinking and taking many recreational and prescribed drugs (marijuana, psychedelics, cocaine, heroin and more). He was afflicted with:
• hepatitis C that destroyed his liver, so he needed a liver transplant at age 53 in 1994
• diabetes that has multiple side effects including damage to his arteries
• blocked arteries leading to his heart that caused at least three heart attacks
He had multiple personal conflicts with his fellow musicians, and arrests for various drug and weapons offenses including nine months in a Texas prison.
Crosby was born in 1941 in Los Angeles, California, the son of wealthy New York society parents. His father was an Academy Award-winning cinematographer who was a relative of the Van Rensselaer family, and his mother came from the prominent Van Cortlandt family. His older brother, Ethan Crosby, taught him how to play the guitar. He got into all sorts of trouble in his early school years and changed schools several times. In high school, he starred in musicals including Gilbert & Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore, but he had to leave school because he was such a poor student.
His parents divorced in 1960, when he was 19. He went to Santa Barbara City College, but dropped out to play his guitar in night clubs. At age 22, he recorded his first solo record and joined a group that eventually became known as “The Byrds”. In 1965, they recorded “Mr. Tambourine Man” on Columbia Records and it became the top record in the United States and the United Kingdom. In 1966, the band’s best songwriter left the group because he couldn’t handle all the bickering and infighting, so Crosby became their chief songwriter. In 1967, Crosby was arguing with the other members of the band and was making political statements during concerts, and the other band members asked Crosby to leave the band.
Crosby, Stills & Nash to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
In 1968, at age 27, Crosby joined Stills and Nash, and the group’s first album included two Top 40 hit singles which made them a major success. Crosby wrote many of their hit songs. In 1969 Neil Young joined the group, and their first recording was number one on the Billboard 200 and ARIA Charts. At that time the band had all four of their names — Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young or CSNY.
On September 30, 1969, Crosby’s girlfriend Christine Hinton was killed in a car accident, and Crosby went into a major depression. He went on the most devastating concoction of recreational drugs of his life, and the group fell apart. Crosby tried playing with several other musicians and the group tried to reform in 1973, but the members were arguing even while they were performing. In 2016, Nash reported that Crosby, Stills & Nash would never perform again because of their poor relations with Crosby. Crosby continued to perform by himself and with others until 2021.
Cannabis, Politics and Other Activities
Crosby talked openly about his more than 50 years of using marijuana. “All those hit songs, every one of them, I wrote them all on cannabis.” He also said that Cannabidiol (CBD) helped him control his chronic shoulder pain. With a friend, he developed a craft cannabis brand called “MIGHTY CROZ,” and in 2018, he was invited to join the board of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
He frequently discussed controversial topics, including the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Vietnam War, and gun control. He was an avid sailor who sailed thousands of miles and said he had written many of his best songs aboard his 59′ Schooner, the Mayan.
In 1985, he was incarcerated in Texas for nine months for drunken driving, a hit-and-run accident, and possession of a concealed pistol and drugs. He was also arrested for driving into a fence and possessing a .45-caliber pistol and cocaine. In 2004 at age 63, he was charged with leaving marijuana, rolling papers, two knives, and a pistol in his baggage in a hotel room.
Family Connections and Health Issues
In 1962, when he was 21, Crosby had a son named James Raymond and placed him for adoption. They reconnected many years later, and in 1977, Raymond started to perform with his father as a member of CPR Band and eventually with the touring bands for Crosby, Stills & Nash. David’s older brother, Ethan, who taught him to play guitar and started his musical career with him, committed suicide in 1997.
David Crosby’s drug and alcohol problems damaged his liver, and hepatitis C destroyed it. In 1994, at age 53, he received a liver transplant. A damaged liver prevents your body from responding to insulin, so he became a diabetic and had to be treated with insulin. His disease also caused him to lose more than 50 pounds. He suffered at least three heart attacks and had eight stents put into arteries leading to his heart.
Fame Can Come With a Price
Don’t be envious of famous people. Crosby was brilliant and worked so hard that he resorted to drugs to get through long evening performances and nights of travel. I enjoy his music but do not find anything to admire in his lifestyle, his addictions or his inability to get along with the artists who supported him. Look elsewhere for role models for success.
David Van Cortlandt Crosby
August 14, 1941 – January 18, 2023