David Crosby, iconic folk rock singer-songwriter, dead at age 81

David Crosby, the influential singer-songwriter who cofounded The Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash, has died, his publicist confirmed to CBS News. He was 81. News of Crosby’s death was first reported by Variety.

Crosby’s iconic career spanned seven decades. He wrote or cowrote several fan favorites with each of his bands, including “Eight Miles High” for The Byrds, “Wooden Ships” for Crosby, Stills & Nash, and “Almost Cut My Hair” for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the iteration of CSN that included Neil Young. 

California Saga 2 Benefit Concert
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member David Crosby, founding member of The Byrds and Crosby, Stills and Nash, performs onstage during the California Saga 2 Benefit at Ace Hotel on July 03, 2019 in Los Angeles, California.

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He released eight solo albums, two of which — 1971’s “If I Could Only Remember My Name” and 2014’s “Croz” — entered the Billboard 100 charts.

Crosby first earned success with the Byrds in 1965 when the band scored a No. 1 hit with its cover of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.” But in 1967, amid rising tension between Crosby and his fellow bandmates, including anger over his appearance onstage with Buffalo Springfield at the Monterey Pop Festival, he was dismissed from the Byrds. 

He soon joined up with Buffalo Springfield’s Stephen Stills and the Hollies’ Graham Nash to form CSN. The group’s self-titled debut was well received, earning favorable reviews and reaching number six on the Billboard charts. Two of the album’s singles, “Marrakesh Express” and “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” also entered the Top 40 charts. The trio also earned the Grammy Award for best new artist in 1970.

Neil Young, who Crosby had filled in for at the Monterey Pop Festival, joined the band in 1969 — prompting them to change the group’s name to CSNY. Their second-ever live performance was famously at the Woodstock music festival in 1969. Crosby announced to the crowd, which has been estimated to have been as large as 500,000 people, “This is our second gig.” Stills followed that up by informing the audience, “We’re scared s—less.”

The group released the album “Deja Vu” in 1970, which reached number one on the Billboard pop chart and spawned three more Top 40 hits.

Crosby Stills And Nash At Big Sur
Crosby, Stills and Nash and Young (L-R David Crosby, Graham Nash and Stephen Stills) perform onstage at the Big Sur Folk Festival held at the Esalen Institue on September 15, 1969 in Big Sur, California.

Getty Images

In May 2021, Crosby, Stills and Nash spoke to “CBS Sunday Morning” ahead of a 50th anniversary expanded release of “Déjà Vu.” 

Crosby said the band began to record the album following the death of his girlfriend, Christine Hinton, in a car crash. 

“I was in terrible shape,” Crosby said. “I was damn near destroyed. I’m just really lucky we were making that record, because it gave me a raison d’être.”

“It’s what kept me alive,” he added. 

Several former bandmates wrote touching tributes to Crosby following his death.

“It is with a deep and profound sadness that I learned that my friend David Crosby has passed.” Nash wrote Thursday on Facebook, “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, the sound we discovered with one another, and the deep friendship we shared over all these many long years. David was fearless in life and in music. He leaves behind a tremendous void as far as sheer personality and talent in this world. He spoke his mind, his heart, and his passion through his beautiful music and leaves an incredible legacy. These are the things that matter most. My heart is truly with his wife, Jan, his son, Django, and all of the people he has touched in this world.”

In a statement Thursday, Stills wrote, “I read a quote in this morning’s paper attributed to composer Gustav Mahler that stopped me for a moment: ‘Death has, on placid cat’s paws, entered the room.’

“I shoulda known something was up. David and I butted heads a lot over time, but they were mostly glancing blows, yet still left us 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.

“The glue that held us together as our vocals soared, like Icarus, towards the sun.I am deeply saddened at his passing and shall miss him beyond measure.”  

Despite several attempts, neither CSN nor CSNY would record another studio album together until 1977’s “CSN,” which would reach number two on the Billboard Pop chart. Crosby would continue recording with Nash, however, and the duo released three albums in the 1970s, “Graham Nash David Crosby,” “Wind on the Water” and “Whistling Down the Wire,” all three of which were certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America. The final Crosby & Nash album, the self-titled “Crosby & Nash,” was released in 2004.

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young would continue to reunite in various configurations for the next several decades, putting out studio albums and touring, including a full-fledged reunion of all four members for a short tour in 1974 that Crosby would end up referring to as the “Doom Tour.”

In recent years, Crosby toured often, and candidly answered questions on Twitter with a blend of affection and exasperation, whether commenting on rock star peers or assessing the quality of a fan’s marijuana joint. He loved sailing and his greatest regret, besides hard drugs, was selling his 74-foot boat because of money problems. Among the songs completed on the boat was the classic “Wooden Ships,” co-written with Stills and Jefferson Airplane’s Paul Kantner.  

Crosby was born David Van Cortlandt Crosby on Aug. 14, 1941, in Los Angeles. His father was Oscar-winning cinematographer Floyd Crosby of “High Noon” fame. The family, including his mother, Aliph, and brother, Floyd Jr., later moved to Santa Barbara.

Crosby was exposed early to classical, folk and jazz music. In his autobiography, Crosby said that as a child he used to harmonize as his mother sang, his father played mandolin and his brother played guitar.

“When rock ‘n’ roll came in during that era and the Age of Elvis possessed America, I wasn’t into it,” he recalled.

His brother taught him to play guitar and, still in his teens, he began performing in Santa Barbara clubs. He moved to Los Angeles to study acting in 1960 but abandoned the idea and became a folk singer, working around the country before joining The Byrds. Like so many folk performers, Crosby was dazzled by the Beatles’ 1964 movie “A Hard Day’s Night” and decided to become a rock star.

Crosby married longtime girlfriend Jan Dance in 1987. The couple had a son, Django, in 1995. Crosby also had a daughter, Donovan, with Debbie Donovan. Shortly after he underwent the liver transplant, Crosby was reunited with Raymond, who had been placed for adoption in 1961. Raymond, Crosby and Jeff Pevar later performed together in a group called CPR.

“I regretted losing him many times,” Crosby told the AP of Raymond in 1998. “I was too immature to parent anybody, and too irresponsible.”

Crosby is also the biological father of singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge’s children whom she shares with her now ex-partner Julie Cypher, she revealed in 2000. Cypher carried the children Crosby fathered by artificial insemination, Etheridge told Rolling Stone. One son, Beckett, died in 2020.

Crosby didn’t help raise the children but said, “If, you know, in due time, at a distance, they’re proud of who their genetic dad is, that’s great.”  

Etheridge on Thursday wrote on Facebook that she was “grieving the loss of my friend and Bailey’s biological father, David. 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. A true treasure.”

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