Legendary US musician David Crosby has died aged 81 after a “long illness”.
The singer, guitarist and songwriter was part of the original lineup of the Byrds and appeared on their first five albums, including the 1965 hit cover of Bob Dylan’s Mr Tambourine Man.
He also co-founded the folk rock supergroup Crosby, Stills & Nash along with fellow musicians Stephen Stills and Graham Nash. They later added Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young to the lineup.
In a statement to Variety, his widow Jan Dance said: “It is with great sadness after a long illness, that our beloved David (Croz) Crosby has passed away. He was lovingly surrounded by his wife and soulmate Jan and son Django.
“Although he is no longer here with us, his humanity and kind soul will continue to guide and inspire us. His legacy will continue to live on through his legendary music. Peace, love, and harmony to all who knew David and those he touched.
“We will miss him dearly. At this time, we respectfully and kindly ask for privacy as we grieve and try to deal with our profound loss. Thank you for the love and prayers.”
In a statement posted to his website, Young paid tribute to “the soul of CSNY”. “David’s voice and energy were at the heart of our band. His great songs stood for what we believed in and it was always fun and exciting when we got to play together,” he wrote. “We had so many great times, especially in the early years. Crosby was a very supportive friend in my early life, as we bit off big pieces of our experience together. David was the catalyst of many things.”
In a tribute shared on Instagram, Nash wrote of his “profound sadness” at hearing the news.
“I know people tend to focus on how volatile our relationship has been at times, but what has always mattered to David and me more than anything was the pure joy of the music we created together,” Nash wrote. “He leaves behind a tremendous void.”
In a statement to Billboard, Stills wrote: “David and I butted heads a lot over time, but they were mostly glancing blows, yet still left us [with] numb skulls. I was happy to be at peace with him. He was without question a giant of a musician, and his harmonic sensibilities were nothing short of genius … I am deeply saddened at his passing and shall miss him beyond measure.”
Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys wrote that he was “heartbroken” and “at a loss for words”.
The son of Oscar-winning cinematographer Floyd Crosby, David pursued a career in music after dropping out of school in Los Angeles.
He joined the Byrds in 1964 before being dismissed from the band three years later. In the 2019 documentary Remember My Name, Byrds member Roger McGuinn described Crosby and his on-stage political rants as “insufferable”, with fellow band member Chris Hillman saying he harboured a superiority complex.
In 1968, Crosby met Stills and the pair started jamming together. They were soon joined by Nash to form the trio Crosby, Stills & Nash, selling millions of copies of their first two albums: their self-titled debut in 1969, and – joined by Neil Young – Déjà Vu the following year.
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young disbanded in 2016 after years of rivalry and tension. In a 2021 interview with the Guardian, Crosby described Nash as “definitely my enemy” and Young as “the most self-centred, self-obsessed, selfish person I know”.
Crosby discovered Joni Mitchell playing in a Florida club in 1967 and helped her secure a record deal before producing her first album, Song to a Seagull. The pair were romantically involved. He recently described Mitchell as “the best singer-songwriter … I don’t think anybody comes close”.
Crosby’s first solo album, If I Could Only Remember My Name, came out in 1971. He released more solo records through the 80s and 90s, before a 20-year break followed by a prolific late-life period, with five projects released since 2014.
His most recent, For Free, was produced and co-written with James Raymond, a son who was given up for adoption by his mother and who Crosby did not know he had until Raymond was 30. Raymond had been a musician for 20 years before he discovered who his father was, and tracked him down. The pair also released albums with the Lighthouse Band.
“He gave me a chance to earn my way into his life … by making music with him,” Crosby told the Guardian. “Imagine how I feel about my son being that good a writer. I wear it like a garland of flowers on my head. It’s just fucking wonderful.”
Other biological children include a daughter and a son conceived, through Crosby’s sperm donation, by Julie Cypher – the then-partner of musician Melissa Etheridge. Of the two children, the daughter, Bailey Jean Cypher, survives. On Twitter on Thursday, Etheridge posted she was grieving the loss of Crosby. “He gave me the gift of family. I will forever be grateful to him, Django, and Jan. His music and legacy will inspire many generations to come.”
In 1983, Crosby was convicted of possession of cocaine and a loaded pistol. He fled California to Florida after being released on bail, eventually turning himself into police in December 1985. He served five months of his five-year sentence before being released on parole. This jail sentence was how he got clean. “If you see somebody who’s doing heroin, they’re in pain,” he said in 2021. “I haven’t had a hard drug near me in 35 to 40 years. I’m very glad I got past it.”
In the same interview, Crosby admitted that – after surviving many years of alcohol, cocaine and heroin addictions – he “expected to be dead” at 30. “My skin is like tissue paper, man. It tears or bruises. It’s just part of being old.”
Eight months ago Crosby agreed to be interviewed at a high school in Colorado. He made headlines after answering a student’s question about whether he would tour again, replying: “No. I’m not, because I’m 80.” He also pointed to his age to explain his recent spate of solo albums: “I’m 80 years old so I’m gonna die fairly soon. That’s how that works. And so I’m trying really hard to crank out as much music as I possibly can, as long as it’s really good.”
Crosby was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame twice and five albums to which he contributed were included in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
• This article was amended on 20 January 2023. Bailey Cypher is a biological daughter, not son, of David Crosby.