Though far from a product of the 1980s, David Bowie certainly made an indelible mark on the decade: he had a bunch of hit singles, including “China Girl,” “Modern Love,” “Blue Jean,” and “Let’s Dance” (which went to Number 1); he performed at Live Aid in 1985, and then released one of the songs he sang at the event, “Dancing in the Streets” (with Mick Jagger); heck, even Peter Schilling’s song “Major Tom (Coming Home)” is an homage to Bowie’s “Space Oddity.”
So, yeah . . . Bowie is definitely an honorary 80s guy, and his recent death got me thinking about all the 80s performers who have shuffled off this mortal coil. Of course, there are the obvious ones: Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Laura Branigan, Falco, Michael Hutchence. But then there are the un-obvious ones, performers whose deaths have sort of flown under the radar (or, at least, under my radar).
Case in point: just recently, I learned about the death of Jermaine Stewart, the One-Hit Wonder responsible for 1986’s “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off.” Sadly, he died of liver cancer, reportedly caused by AIDS. He was only 39.
But here’s the thing: that was in 1997 — almost twenty years ago! How is it that I’m just hearing about this now? I weirdly want to blame someone for this, which I know makes no sense. What can I say? I suffer from serious pop-culture FOMO. (That’s “Fear of Missing Out,” btw . . . which is “by the way,” by the way!)
With that in mind, here is a list of nine other performers from the 1980s whose deaths somehow eluded me. You may have known they had died, but I had no idea. (And again, thanks for giving me the heads-up, Non-Existent Person Who’s Supposed to Alert Me Whenever a Beloved 80s Icon Dies!)
Van Stephenson (11/4/53-4/8/01)
This is the guy who sang the 1984 song “Modern Day Delilah,” a tribute to the biblical villainess who cut Samson’s hair. Largely forgotten, the song is probably best remembered for its near-constant cosmetology puns (e.g. “she’ll cut you to the quick”, “blonds have more fun”). Stephenson died in 2001 from melanoma.
Dan Hartman (12/8/50-3/22/94)
Fun fact: The singer responsible for 1984’s “I Can Dream About You” also co-wrote James Brown’s “Living in America.” Decidedly NOT-Fun Fact: Hartman died of a brain tumor caused by AIDS, way back in 1994.
Jimi Jamison (8/23/51-9/1/14)
The former lead singer of Survivor could not survive the battle with his demons: coroners reported that drugs — particularly meth — contributed to a fatal brain stroke in 2014. And here’s something else I learned recently: Jamison was not the “Eye of the Tiger” Guy. The band replaced that original lead singer with Jamison, who was the “High on You”/ “Search Is Over”/ “I Can’t Hold Back” Guy (and, as I also recently learned, The Guy Who Wrote the Theme to Baywatch).
Izora Armstead (?- 9/16/2004)
As one-half of the duo The Weather Girls, Armstead stormed into the pop-culture consciousness with 1982’s “It’s Raining Men.” She died of heart failure in 2004, perhaps at the age of 62. (She was apparently very dodgy about her age.)
Teena Marie (3/5/56-12/26/10)
I’m cheating here, because I did know about the passing of Teena Marie — whose song “Lovergirl” reached #4 in 1984. I just didn’t know how she died . . . and now that I know, I wish I didn’t, because it’s quite tragic. Apparently, back in 2004, she suffered a concussion after a large picture frame fell on her head while she was sleeping in a hotel room. The blow caused seizures that would plague her for the rest of her life . . . and would ultimately kill her. Can you believe that? How many rock stars suffer Death by Picture Frame?
Paul Young (6/17/47-7/15/2000)
No, not the Paul Young who sang “Every Time You Go Away,” but the Paul Young who was a lead singer with Mike + the Mechanics. And no, not the guy who sang “Silent Running” and “Living Years” (that was Paul Carrack, who also sang Squeeze’s “Tempted”), but the guy who sang “All I Need Is a Miracle” and “Taken In.” Got it? Anyway, this Paul Young died of a heart attack, at the age of 53.
June Pointer (11/30/53-4/11/06)
It is sadly fitting that the youngest Pointer Sister sang lead vocals on “Jump (For My Love),” because her life definitely had its ups and downs. Even when the Pointer Sisters were enjoying their greatest commercial success in the early 80s, June was battling cocaine addiction. She allegedly started taking drugs when she was just a teenager, and she could never break the spell; ultimately, her addiction led to her sisters ousting her from the band in 2000. She died not from a drug overdose, though, but from cancer, which had infected her breasts, liver, pancreas, lungs — basically, all over. She was only 52.
Greg Ham (9/27/53-4/19/12)
Not exactly a household name, but Mr. Ham made at least two essential contributions to 80s music: as a former member of Men at Work, Ham played the saxophone solo for “Who Can It Be Now?” AND the flute for “Down Under.” How awesome is that? Sadly, though, controversy hangs over his “Down Under” solo, which was deemed too similar to a 1934 nursery rhyme named “Kookaburra.” Ham always claimed he didn’t deliberately copy the song, but the Australian courts still ruled against the band. Apparently, the whole plagiarism ordeal devastated Ham, who started drinking heavily and abusing heroin in the aftermath of the decision, according to Australian papers. Eventually, Greg Ham died of a heart attack in Melbourne.
Gary Garcia (7/28/48-11/17/11)
Who is he? Well, he is none other than one half of the band Buckner and Garcia, the duo who took their song “Pac-Man Fever” all the way to Number 9 on the Billboard charts back in 1982. And even though the song’s time in the spotlight lasted about as long as the “edible period” of the blue ghosts during the later levels of a Pac-Man game, the song still has an important legacy. In fact, if you think about it, “Pac-Man Fever” sums up in one package two signature aspects of the 80s: One-Hit Wonders and video game obsessions.
In his song “Modern Love,” David Bowie says, “I never wave bye bye,” and that’s the way I feel about the 80s. So, to all the 80s performers who have died — both the obvious and un-obvious ones — thanks for doing your part, however small, to make the decade so memorable and un-bye-bye-able.