David Crosby, Legendary Singer and ’60s Counterculture Icon, Has Died

David Crosby, one of the most successful and prolific musicians of all time, passed away peacefully at 81 surrounded by family.

By Jonathan Klotz | Published

David Crosby, the legendary frontman for The Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, has passed away at the age of 81. Deadline broke the news from his wife of 35 years, Jan. The Hall of Fame musician, inducted twice, had been sick for years following a decades long battle with liver issues.

The prolific songwriter started with The Byrds in 1964, joining up with Jim McGuinn, Gene Clark, Michael Clark, and Chris Hillman, as the groundbreaking band that pioneered the folk-rock genre. Their first hit, “Mr. Tambourine Man” made it to the top spot of the Billboard Hot 100, an immediate success that the band never eclipsed despite a string of successful albums and singles. 3 years later, David Crosby’s outspoken political views, focused at the time on JFK assassination conspiracy theories, fueled tension among The Byrds, leading Crosby to leave the group.

In 1969, David Crosby joined Graham Nash and Stephen Stills to form Crosby, Stills & Nash, with their self-titled debut album an immediate hit on the then-new FM radio format. Two top-40 hits came from the initial album and Neil Young soon joined the group, just in time for the group to perform at Woodstock. Despite the group marking Crosby’s second hit collaboration with a lasting impact on music, internal tension soon ripped CSNY apart.

David Crosby continued performing and making music throughout the 70’s and 80’s, but he also remained politically outspoken, specifically speaking out against the Vietnam War. A pacifist his entire life, Crosby would frequently use his time on stage in between songs to promote his viewpoints. Though this may have bothered his bandmates, legions of fans enjoyed what the singer had to say, making him a face of the anti-war movement popular among the Hippies of the time period.

In 1985, after serving time in prison for drug-related charges, David Crosby picked up where he left off by collaborating with other artists on yet another series of successful albums. Primarily working with Phil Collins during the “In The Air Tonight” singer’s heyday, Crosby also sang on the Indigo Girls hit “Rites of Passage” album in 1992. While he never again reached the heights of his early work with The Byrds and CSNY, the counterculture icon also never stopped working and making music.

David Crosby performing at an Occupy Wall Street rally in 2011

A liver transplant in the mid-90’s only briefly slowed down David Crosby, and at the turn of the century he started performing with his son, James Raymond and guitarist Jeff Pevar as CPR. Raymond was given up for adoption by Crosby and Celia Crawford Ferguson in 1962, but the two reunited, and up until the legend’s retirement, both were often on stage performing together.

Also during the 90’s, David Crosby branched out into acting with a recurring part on The John Larroquette Show and bit parts on Roseanne, Ellen, and the films Hook, Backdraft, and Thunderheart. Playing himself, Crosby also appeared twice on The Simpsons, in “Marge in Chains” and “Homer’s Barbershop Quartet.”

In defiance of his failing health over the past decade, David Crosby continued his 50 years of advocacy for marijuana. Saying that he wrote all of his songs while high on cannabis, Crosby developed his own brand, MIGHTY CROZ. In recognition of his service, the singer was invited in 2018 to join NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws).

David Crosby’s contributions to music, marijuana, and American culture will continue to impact our society long after his passing. An icon of the 60’s and 70’s, Crosby remained outspoken throughout his life, sticking with his morals and personal beliefs no matter which way the wider culture was going at the time. At the end, according to the woman he called his “soulmate,” the legendary songwriter passed away peacefully around the people he loved the most.