The Final Curtain Call: The Last Performances Of Iconic Bands
Good things don’t last forever, and that includes even the greatest bands of all time. Bands stop performing for various reasons, and some call it quits much earlier in their careers than others. While the Rolling Stones are still rocking, Led Zeppelin played their last show in 1980.
Some of these iconic bands have lost key members like Nirvana, while on the flip side, other bandmates could no longer stand to work together, and broke-up. How many of these bands did you see perform live before their last show?
The band R.E.M had fans believing it was their last show three separate times. The last performance featuring the full band was in 2007, at their induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The band played a full concert again in 2008, in Mexico City, but without drummer Bill Berry. Fans believed this would be the last act for R.E.M, as they told the audience that it would be their last performance for “a long time”. But in March 2008, they took the stage again, for the final time, playing at Carnegie Hall alongside rock icon Patti Smith.
Led Zeppelin proved that they were going to do their own thing, regardless of what their fans begged of them. You could argue that their last real show was in 1980, but they came together in 2007 for a “reunion concert” that ended up breaking the hearts of fans as they got a taste and nothing more. The band refused to play more shows.
Although there was a recording of the final performance, Celebration Day wasn’t even released until 2012. While Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones are open for touring, Robert Plant isn’t on board.
The last time that the legendary Pink Floyd took the stage altogether for a performance was in London in 2011. Before that, the band hadn’t played together since 2005 at Live 8. During their last show, David Gilmour performed “Comfortably Numb” and “Outside the Wall” with founding member and drummer Nick Mason joining the band for the song.
Although their shows would no doubt sell out, David Gilmour doesn’t want to tour and Richard Wright sadly passed away in 2008. This Roger Waters, who is still touring solo.
This is one of the sad entries on this list of last performances. Although he only lived to be 27-years-old, Jimi Hendrix is a legend. The last show he played was in West Germany on the Isle of Fehmarn for the German Love and Peace Festival.
There are only a few videos of Jimi’s last performance, and they’ve been edited together to make the most of it. Less than two weeks after his last performance, Jimi passed away on September 18, 1970, in Kensington, London.
Young R&B artist Aaliyah gave her last performance on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno in 2001 at the age of 22. She signed her first record deal at the age of 12 and had already made a name for herself, selling three million copies of her debut album.
A month after her last performance, Aaliyah was on her way back from the Bahamas where was had filmed her music video for her hit song, “Rock the Boat.” The small twin-engine Cessna aircraft that they were on was overloaded with passengers and baggage and tragically crashed. She and eight others were killed on August 25, 2001.
The Talking Heads
The story of the band the Talking Heads is like an on-again-off-again relationship. The band hadn’t toured together as a group since 1983 during their Stop Making Sense tour. In 1991, they broke up. Then, three of the four members continued to play together under the name the Heads, excluding David Byrne.
They even poked fun at their decision, naming their 1996 album, No Talking. Of course, Byrne was upset and even threatened to sue his former bandmates. However, they all made amends, reunited, and played together in 2002 as they were inducted into the Rock and roll Hall of Fame. Their last show consisted of a three-song set with the entire group.
Chris Cornell’s Last Show
Tragically, guitarist and lead singer of Soundgarden, Chris Cornell played his last show on the day of his death. On May 18, 2017, Cornell performed with the band at the Fox Theater in downtown Detroit. Later that night, his bodyguard found him dead in his room from an apparent suicide by hanging.
Cornell’s death shocked everyone. His widow, Vicky Karayiannis, said, “When we spoke after the show, I noticed he was slurring his words; he was different. When he told me he may have taken an extra Ativan or two, I contacted security and asked that they check on him.” But it was too late.
Although Black Sabbath hadn’t released a studio album in Never Say Die! in 1978, the band continued touring. Of course, their favorite stop was Ozzfest, which they performed in from 1997 until 2005.
Fans watched their final live performance in their hometown of Birmingham on February 4, 2017. The group last played together when they were inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame when they played their song “Paranoid”.
“The Man in Black”, Johnny Cash is an absolute legend of rock and roll, rockabilly, blues, and folk. He was also head-over-heels in love with his wife of 35-years, June Carter. When she passed away on May 15, 2003, Cash was heartbroken. Traveling through rural Virginia, Cash gave his last life performances a month after her death, dedicating his songs to her.
Cash said, “The spirit of June Carter overshadows me tonight with the love she had for me and the love I have for her […] We connect somewhere between here and heaven. She came down for a short visit, I guess, from heaven to visit with me tonight to give me courage and inspiration like she always has.” Cash passed away a few months later on September 12, 2003.
Creedence Clearwater Revival
After the band Creedence Clearwater Revival broke up in 1971-1972, they rarely played together again. A few exceptions were made, including Tom Fogerty’s wedding on October 19, 1980, and their 20th El Cerrito High School reunion in 1983, which they played without Tom Fogerty under their original band name, The Blue Velvets.
CCR was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, but John refused to play with either Cook and Clifford. In a 2011 interview with Calgary Herald, John says he may be willing to play with them again. However, Clifford later said in 2017, “It would have been great 20, 25 years ago. It’s way too late now.”
The Beatles had arguably the best final performance of all time. The entire show only lasted 42 minutes before it was shut down by police, but that makes it even more memorable. On a typical workday in busy London, the iconic band went on the roof of the Apple office building to play a surprise show.
Once they started playing, pedestrians and workers from surrounding office buildings gathered in the street to listen to a free performance by one of the most iconic bands of all time. Although police shut it down within an hour, footage from the final performance was pieced together to create the documentary Let it Be.
At the height of their popularity in 1986, the Police broke up. There were rumors about Sting re-joining the band to go on tour, but after a long time waiting, it didn’t seem like it was going to happen. However, each bandmate spun-off on their own solo career.
Finally, after more than two decades of waiting, news broke that the band was getting back together to play “Roxanne” at the 49th Annual Grammy Awards in 2007. They played their final performance together at Madison Square Garden on August 7, 2008.
Towards the end of the band’s career, The Doors’ performances had the reputation of being less-than-good with Jim Morrison being almost completely out of his mind. That was the case for their last show on December 12, 1970, at the Warehouse in New Orleans.
Jim Morrison was particularly out of control that night, messing up even the simplest song and deliberately ruining other songs. However, three months after the release on L.A. Woman in the spring of 1971, he was found dead in his bathtub in Paris from what appeared to be an overdose on alcohol and heroin.
The final performance where all of the original members of the band Lynyrd Skynyrd played was on October 20, 1977. The concert was in South Carolina, at the Greenville Memorial Auditorium, two days after their album Street Survivors was released.
After the show, the band boarded a chartered plane to travel to Baton Rouge, Lousiana for their next show. The plane ran out of fuel and crashed into a heavily forested area of Mississippi. Lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, and backing vocalist Cassie Gaines were all killed. The remaining bandmembers took a hiatus to grieve their loss, before reuniting in 1987 with Ronnie’s younger brother Johnny stepping in as the lead singer.
Fans of the bands on this list probably wish that all of the groups had called it quits in the same way that The Band did. The members knew that they didn’t want to tour as a group together anymore, and so they decided to go out with a bang.
The Band played their last show on Thanksgiving day, November 25, 1976, at the Winterland in San Francisco. They made sure that their close friends were in attendance, as well as musicians Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, and Muddy Waters. Footage of the performance taken by Martin Scorcese was released in The Last Waltz.
Another tragic example of a band’s last performance is Nirvana. Many believe that their last performance was on MTV’s Unplugged, but really, their last live performance was on March 1, 1994, the band unknowingly played their last concert at Terminal 1 in Munich, Germany.
Kurt Cobain was suffering from bronchitis and laryngitis, and his doctor recommended that he take a break from music until he was healthy. He didn’t follow his doctor’s advice, however, and continued to perform. After Nirvana played in Munich, they returned back to the U.S. Cobain was discovered dead in his Seattle home on April 8, 1994.
Although Elvis Presley’s health was rapidly declining, he continued to perform. The King had suffered two barbiturates overdoses, with one even sending him into a coma. However, he continued to take the pills, prescribed by a doctor and struggled to take the stage at his sold-out performances.
By early 1977 his performances were short, and it was clear that Elvis was drugged up. Some days, he couldn’t even get out of his hotel bed and had to cancel the show entirely. Elvis’ last performance was June 26, 1977, in Indianapolis, Indiana. On August 16, 1977, he was found dead in his bathroom.
Cream is one of the bands whose last performance wasn’t the greatest, and they’re willing to admit that. The band performed two shows together at the Royal Albert Hall in 1968, both of them selling out. Cream didn’t play together again until 1993 when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. After that performance, they played together once more at Madison Square Garden in New York in 2005. However, they weren’t proud of that performance.
In an interview, Eric Clapton said, “In many ways, I wish we had left it at the Albert Hall […] But the offer we were made was too good to refuse . . . We sounded small and tiny . . . For me, the heart had gone out of it, and also a certain amount of animosity had crept back in.”
John Lennon’s last performance in front of a live audience was during a television special for entertainment company Lew Grade. However, he also played on November 28, 1974, appearing as a special guest at an Elton John concert in Madison Square Garden.
After that, Lennon took a hiatus from touring and performing to spend time with his son, born in 1975. He didn’t get a chance to perform songs from his comeback album, Double Fantasy, as Lennon was assassinated on December 8, 1980.
Another final performance that leaves fans wanting more. Motörhead was on their 40th-anniversary tour when Lemmy Kilmister’s health became more problematic. The band canceled several shows, and took a break after Lemmy was having a hard time breathing, due to cancer.
The band’s final gig was on December 11, 2015, in Berlin. Lemmy passed away just weeks after the performance, on December 28, 2015. He was adamant about playing his heart out on stage with the band as long as he possibly could.
Another iconic musician who died in a plane crash is Otis Redding. At just 26-years-old, Redding’s last performance was on December 9, 1967, in Cleveland, Ohio. There Redding and his band the Bar-Keys performed for Cleveland’s Upbeat television show, as well as two performances at Leo’s Casino.
Their next show was in Madison, Wisconsin the following day. Although there were heavy rain and fog, Redding and his band boarded his Beechcraft H18 Airplane. There was only one survivor when the plane crashed four miles from its destination. More than 4,500 people attended Redding’s funeral.
The Sex Pistols
The Sex Pistols were originally a four-man band, consisting of Johnny Rotten, Steve Jones, Paul Cook, and Glen Matlock. In early 1977, the band kicked out Matlock, their bassist, supposedly because he liked The Beatles too much and “went on too long about Paul McCartney.” That’s when Sid Vicious was added to the band, even though he had no bass guitar experience. He brought a lot of problems, as he was unpredictable and violent.
They went on tour in January 1978 but it was so bad the band broke up after just two weeks. The last show was on January 14, 1978, in San Francisco. Vicious was accused of stabbing and killing his girlfriend Nancy Spungen on October 12, 1978. He was found dead of a heroin overdose on February 1, 1979.
The last time that Journey toured with all of its original members was in 1986, but their last performance was in 1991, at an all-star concert in San Francisco, honoring Bill Graham. After recording the 1996 album, Trial By Fire, lead singer Steve Perry left Journey. A degenerative bone condition was causing him great pain, and he could no longer perform.
Steve Augeri took his spot in 1998, followed by Arnel Pineda in 2006, when the band went on tour with Def Leppard. In 2016, four of the five original members (missing Steve Perry) reunited in 2016 for a performance.
Queen is one of the bands that fans wanted to tour forever. The British rock band, formed in London in 1970, was one of the most influential music groups of all time, with Freddie Mercury on lead vocals. They toured all around the world in the 1980s but was forced to call it quits when Mercury was diagnosed with AIDS.
Mercury gave his last performance, considered one of the band’s best, on August 9, 1986. There was a crowd of over 120,000 people at Cricket stadium in Knebworth, England. Mercury passed away on November 24, 1991.
Throughout his career, the legendary Frank Sinatra sold more than 150 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling musicians in history. He’s released an incredible number of albums and took of residency at various casinos in Las Vegas.
Sintra had a long career, as a singer, actor, and a producer. he played his final shows at age 70. His final concerts were the Fukuoka Dome, Japan, in December 1994, and February 25, 1995, in Palm Springs at the Desert Classic golf tournament. He died on May 14, 1998.
Tupac Shakur is another artist whose life was cut tragically short. He’s considered to be one of the greatest rap and hip hop artists of all time, as one of the voices of the West Coast. His songs raised awareness of ongoing social issues and the race and poverty problems that he witnessed in his community.
The last time that Tupac performed was on July 4, 1996, at the House of Blues in Los Angeles. Later that year, on September 7, 1996, Tupac was shot multiple times in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas. He later died from his injuries. The shooter has never been identified, although most believe that it was someone from the rival East Coast hip hop scene.
George Harrison didn’t play his last show with the Beatles. After the band played their last show on the Apple rooftop in London, Harrison, known as the “Quiet Beatle” continued playing music as a solo artist.
He wrote several of the Beatles hit songs, including “Within Without You,” “Here Comes the Sun”, and “Taxman”. The last time that Harrison performed was at Carl Perkins’ memorial service in Jackson, Tennessee, on January 23, 1998. Luckily, there’s a recording of his performance to hold on to.
Michael Jackson is an absolute legend. The King of Pop is one of the most influential artists in history, and his death was a tragedy that was mourned internationally. Jackson’s career started from a very young age as part of the Jackson 5, but it was his solo career that he is best known for.
Jackon’s last show was in Los Angeles on June 23, 2009. He was in the middle of filming his series of comeback concerts, This Is It, which followed him on tour. He died just two days after his final performance on June 25, 2009, at 50-years-old.
After Tupac Shakur died, Christopher Wallace was right there behind him. Better known as the Notorious B.I.G, or Biggie Smalls, the rapper was larger than life and was part of the East Coast rap scene, rivaling Tupac and the West Coasters.
Biggie played his last show in Los Angeles on March 7, 1997, at the 11th Annual Soul TrainMusic Awards. While still in LA, Biggie too was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting on March 9, 1997, at the young age of 24.
Whitney Houston is an icon and the most awarded female artist of all time. She’s one of the best-selling music artists, male or female, with over 200 million records sold internationally. While her talent and incredible performances were undeniable, Houston struggled in her personal life with drug use.
It eventually led to her demise, as she suffered from atherosclerotic heart disease and ingested several prescription medications that put her in a disheveled and erratic state the day of her death. Her final performance was on February 9, 2012, when she sang “Jesus Loves Me” with her friend Kelly Price, in Hollywood. Houston was found dead in her Beverly Hilton hotel room on February 11, 2012. The music world and beyond mourned her death the next day as the 2012 Grammy Awards took place.
Glenn Frey With The Eagles
The Eagles are still on tour today, but fans haven’t seen the original bandmembers perform together since July 29, 2015. The group was one of the most successful bands of the 1970s and named No. 75 on Rolling Stone’s ranking of 100 Greatest Bands of All Time.
Although founding member Glenn Frey was in poor health, his death came as a shock. Frey passed away on January 18, 2016, after suffering from several health issues. The remaining members performed a tribute to Frey at the 58th Annual Grammy Awards
Unfortunately, Janis Joplin is another member of the notorious 27 club. Her career was cut short, but she managed to accomplish a lot in the little time that she had. Joplin released three albums during her lifetime. After she passed away on October 4, 1970, her fourth album, Pearl, was released posthumously. It reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts.
Joplin’s last performance was at Harvard Stadium in Boston. The show on August 7, 1970, was sold out. With so much life to live, Joplin sadly passed away after an accidental heroin overdose.
Stevie Ray Vaughn
Musician Stevie Ray Vaughn is regarded as one of the best guitarists to have ever lived. He was influential int he revitalization of the blues in the 1980s and he’s never been forgotten. Vaughn’s life was also cut short, by a horrific accident in 1990.
Vaughn played his last show with his band Double Trouble on August 27, 1990, at the Alpine Valley Musical Theater in Wisconsin. While many bands take charter planes to travel on tour, Vaughn and some others boarded a helicopter to travel from Wisconsin to Chicago. Tragically, the helicopter crashed, and Vaughn passed away the same day as his last performance.
The “King of Blues”, Riley B. King was a touring machine. The legendary blues singer, songwriter, electric guitarist, and record producer would perform an average of 200 concerts each year. In 1956, B.B. King even outdid himself with 342 shows.
King wasn’t feeling well during his last performance at the House of Blues in Chicago on October 3, 2014. He even had to stop the show early. The following spring, on May 14, 2015, King passed away at the age of 89.
One of the founding members of the Rolling Stones, Brian Jones couldn’t get past his drug and alcohol problems to stay apart of the band. Although he was extremely talented and could play a wide variety of instruments, the other members of the group were getting fed up with his antics and would soon be out of patience.
All-together, the Rolling Stones last performed on December 11, 1968, for the “Rock and Roll Circus” television special. The crew was unhappy with the result and the segment never aired. Jones was then fired from the band and drowned in his pool on July 3, 1969.
David Bowie played his last scheduled performance in 2004 at the Hurricane Festival in Sheessel, Germany during his European tour. After his performance, he felt an uncomfortable pinch in his shoulder. He went to the doctor where they found that Bowie had an actuely blocked artery.
Afterward, the icon was in poor health, and couldn’t continue touring. He made a few brief appearances, including a collaboration with Alicia Keys in November 2006. Bowie passed away at the age of 69 on January 10, 2016.
Ella Fitzgerald started her career in 1934 when she created a name for herself by winning a competition at the Harlem Apollo Theatre. Nicknamed “The First Lady of Song” she had enormous talent and played alongside other great artists including Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie, and Louis Armstong.
Fitzgerald performed at Carnegie Hall in New York for the 26th time on June 27, 1991. She wasn’t feeling well and sat down during what would be her final performance. Fitzgerald passed away in her Beverly Hills home in 1996 after battling diabetes.
Although he played in several bands, Jerry Garcia is most remembered as Grateful Dead’s lead guitarist and partial vocalist. He founded the psychedelic jam band and performed with them for thirty years.
Throughout his life, Garcia experimented with drugs and was a heavy user. It caused problems in both his personal life and his career. His last performance was with the Grateful Dead in Chicago at Soldier Field on July 9, 1995. Garcia passed away after suffering a heart attack on August 9, 1995.
Thankfully, Paul Simon’s last performance was due to his decision to retire. After reading through this list, it’s a blessing to have an iconic musician step out of the stoplight by his own decision. Simon hinted at retiring before his last performance, although fans weren’t exactly certain when his last performance would be.
In an interview with the New York Times, Simon said, “Showbiz doesn’t hold any interest for me … I am going to see what happens if I let go. Then I’m going to see, who am I? Or am I just this person that was defined by what I did?” After his Stranger, Stranger tour, Simon called it quits. His last performance was on September 24, 2018.
Ronnie James Dio
Fans of metal know exactly how talented Ronnie James Dio was. He helped form some of the greatest metal groups of all time, including Black Sabbath, Elf, Heaven & Hell, and Rainbow. He’s even credited with inventing the devil horns hand gesture, which has become an iconic symbol of rock and roll.
Dio played his last show with the group Heaven & Hell on August 29, 2009. After battling stomach cancer, he passed away on May 16, 2010.