The Buddy Holly Curse

I don’t think you could definitely say that there is a curse associated with 1950s rock-n-roller Buddy Holly; you could probably safely karaoke “Peggy Sue” or “That’ll Be the Day” and not wind up dead the next day. (Note the  definitely and probably. Those adverbs clear me of any liability if you sing any of his songs and get stabbed by a crazed karaoke hater.) However, there have been a number of unfortunate incidents associated with Holly, so let’s sprinkle a ring of salt around us and get started, shall we?

I suppose some background is in order. Buddy Holly was born Charles Holley, on September 7, 1936, in Lubbock, Texas. I spent almost two years in Lubbock. It’s dusty, windy, and full of dirt. There’s a Buddy Holly statue in a park, and you can see his grave in, uh, a graveyard. Buddy was his longtime nickname; Decca Records, who first signed him, misspelled his last name, and it stuck.

Holly and his band, the Crickets, started actively recording in 1957. Despite the busy schedule, Holly found time to marry Maria Santiago in June 1958. (He saved time by proposing on their first date.) He was also offered a spot in the Winter Dance Party, a 3-week tour across the midwestern United States that opened on January 23, 1959. (I have been to the Midwest, and as I experienced, it is extremely friggin’ cold that time of year.)

Shortly into the tour, Holly’s drummer, Carl Bunch, had to leave the Party, because he suffered frostbite on his feet. Add to that the Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson, “Chantilly Lace”) and Ritchie Valens (“La Bamba”, Lou Diamond Phillips) coming down with colds, the tour bus constantly breaking down, and it was a pretty miserable experience. You can’t blame Buddy for thinking “Fuck this” and chartering a plane to take him from the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, to their next stop.

Richardson and Valens, though, weren’t supposed to be on the plane. Waylon Jennings (the guy who sang the Dukes of Hazzard theme) gave his seat to Richardson, and Valens won his through a coin flip with Tommy Allsup, a member of Holly’s backing band.

On February 3, 1959, the plane went up, and then came back down shortly after take-off, about 5 miles from the airport. There was a snowstorm, and the pilot wasn’t qualified to fly by instruments only, something he neglected to tell his passengers.

And here’s where the curse, or maybe just the unfortunate happenings associated with Buddy Holly, begins.

Singer Eddie Cochran (“Summertime Blues”) was supposed to be with the Winter Dance Party, but he dropped out shortly before it started. On April 17, 1960, Cochran was in a car wreck while driving to London’s Heathrow Airport. His two passengers lived, but Cochran was thrown from the car and died the next day of massive head injuries. The last single released by Cochran before his death? “Three Steps to Heaven”, a song backed by Holly’s old band the Crickets.

Singer Ronnie Smith stepped in to replace Holly for the rest of the Dance Party. On October 25, 1962, he hanged himself in a hospital bathroom; he’d been committed to a state hospital in Texas for drug abuse.

The original Crickets decided to draft a new singer; 17 year-old David Box sang with them for a few years, recording the song “Peggy Sue Got Married” (thus the title of the Kathleen Turner/Nicolas Cage ’80s movie) before moving on to a solo career. On October 23, 1964, the Cessna plane he was riding in crashed, killing him and the pilot. He was 22, the same age as Holly when his crash occurred.

Bobby Fuller idolized Buddy Holly; he sent a demo record to Holly’s parents, who forwarded it to their son’s former producer. Fuller and his band, the Bobby Fuller Four, were signed and recorded some songs, including “I Fought the Law”, which was written by one of the Crickets.  On July 18, 1966, Fuller was found dead in his car, which was parked in front of his house. He’d been severely beaten and drenched in gasoline. Fuller reportedly had been in trouble with local mobsters, due to his dalliances with a mob dame. The police ruled his death a suicide. (Because, you know, if you want to do yourself in, punching yourself in the face and then pouring gasoline over yourself–and you gotta make sure to swallow some of it–is the best way to go.) Fuller’s connection with the Holly curse, beyond the Cricket-penned song? He recorded “Love’s Made a Fool of You” right before his death, a song that had been written by Holly.

All right, so, a few unfortunate occurrences, but this is rock-n-roll, baby. You pick up a guitar or a set of drum sticks with the knowledge that you may die young. Plane crashes, car crashes, drugs, drinking, suiciding. Blame it on Robert Johnson and his deal with the devil at the crossroads.

But now we come to Hollywood. The movies, I meant. But still, check that out. Hollywood. Buddy Holly.

In 1978, Gary Busey was not the addled, could-be-your-weird-uncle-who-does-PCP-and-makes-his-own-moonshine-in-his-toilet guy we know today. Back then, he was a singer turned actor, with an okay resemblance to Holly. Thus, he was cast in The Buddy Holly Story, a biopic covering the singer’s life from Lubbock to that plane in Iowa.

He garnered an Academy Award nomination for his role, and did all the singing in the movie. But somehow, his career just never took off. And in 1988, he got in a near-fatal motorcycle wreck and fractured his skull, because helmets are for pussies. And now we have quotes like:

“Imagine the peace symbol.  The peace symbol has three pieces in it.  One piece
is emotion, that’s your body.  Another piece has spirit in it, that’s your
fuel.  Another piece has intellect in it and that’s your steering wheel.  You
can never overdo the fuel that goes into the body, which is the emotions and the
steering wheel to drive it.”

All right, but so what? An actor rides a bike without a helmet, and does it 10 years after that movie, and maybe he never became a big star, that might have something to do with cocaine, but there has to be more to it than that, right?

Excellent point. Want to guess what happened to Robert Gittler, The Buddy Holly Story‘s screenwriter?

He killed himself right before the film was released.

As I mentioned earlier, not conclusive stuff. Nothing happened to Don McLean (“American Pie”, come on, you’ve heard it) or Madonna, when she made that demon miscarriage of a remake.

Still, though, don’t think I’ll be singing “That’ll Be the Day” aloud anytime soon.

Terrific Trivia Time! Holly’s song “That’ll Be the Day” was inspired by John Wayne, who said the line several times in The Searchers (1956).

And if I wanted to blow y’all’s minds, I could add that Natalie Wood played the abducted girl, the object of John Wayne’s character’s obsessed hunt, in The Searchers. And we all know what happened to Natalie Wood. Either she was the victim of the Holly curse, or the Rebel Without a Cause curse . . .

84 thoughts on “The Buddy Holly Curse

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  1. Perhaps Holly’s spirit is doing something (I try to keep an open mind about ghosts and the like). He may even be upset about his death and is getting back at anyone who tries to make a name off his death. Of course, that doesn’t explain why nothing happened to Don McLean, but maybe he has something protecting him, though what I have no idea.

      1. but what if I hear one of her songs and they make me want to express myself–oh no! I’ve become familiar with Madonna’s work! I have only 4 minutes to stop this and save the world–oh s**t.

  2. Fascinating! I love Buddy Holly and knew about his untimely death but not about the supposed “curse.” Just last week, at pub trivia, we had to name several artists who were killed in a plane crash, and I was astounded at how many there were. So maybe it’s just a rock n’ roll curse of living fast and dying young. Still not gonna take any chances. I’ll stick to Frankie Valli at karaoke!

  3. wow that was awesome. Especially the part about making your own moonshine in the toilet.

    Gary Busey had a big hit (?) with “Lets get Harry” that no one saw and his big line was “I’ll have you on a stick”

  4. Take any famous person and look around, their ‘life’ is littered with suicides and car crashes.

    Rebel Without a Cause – the 3 stars in it died violently (James Dean, Sal Mineo, Natalie Wood)

    But I love this kind of trivia – great blog!

    If you want to see bad luck following someone? Take a look Roman Polanski’s life – Sharon Tate’s just for starters then throw in Jerzy Kozinsky and a pile of other people, all violent deaths. The guy is a walking curse.

    And congratulations on being freshly pressed.

    1. Good point about Roman Polanski . . . I suppose you could argue that the Beach Boys were a bigger threat, as Manson supposedly sent his followers to kill Dennis Wilson for not taking him seriously music-wise . . . Roman Polanski had bought the house from Wilson, something Manson didn’t know.

      1. I’ve always heard that the home Sharon tate and roman Polanski shared was bought from terry Melcher, doris day’s son, who was living with Candace bergin. He was working with the beach boys and was interested in manson’s music, but not that interested. Manson wouldn’t leave him alone about it and Melcher happened to move out of the house at about that time. Manson visited and was told Melcher didn’t live there anymore, but he believed he was getting the run around and decided to make one last visit…

      2. I think I remember reading that in Helter Skelter (it’s been a while) . . . Charles Manson was a nut job.

  5. Excellent, excellent post. I am a lifelong Buddy Holly fan, and his story is tragic. What a loss. They still do a Winter Dance Party tribute at the Surf Ballroom in Clearlake. I am from Nebraska and have some older friends who attend every year. They say the place is still haunted. Very Halloweeny–thank you! Congrats on being Freshly Pressed as well.

    1. I’m from the Beaumont Texas area, where the Big Bopper was from, and a few years ago his son mounted some sort of Winter Dance Party tribute. The Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens impersonators were very good, and his son did a passable job as his father. Which looks weird, now that I wrote it out.

      1. We have a young man in Omaha named Billy McGuigan who has a fabulous tribute band. They do a Beatles show (which my husband and I attended on our first date) and he also does a frighteningly good Buddy Holly,…this one I’ve never seen. I think it’s great that these performers are kept alive in spirit by imitators who do it in the spirit of honoring and remembering. I just read your post on Gacy. I’m hooked. Thanks! I have a macabre fascination with monsters (of the human kind). The way their minds work is just so terribly foreign to me. Can I still find your post on serial killers no one has heard of? I bet I’ve heard of a few. My kids think I’m an expert on the subject-which adults find creepy (cuz it is) but kids seem to think it’s badass that their mom knows who Albert Fish and HH Holmes are. Ha ha…kids!

      2. Yes, the post should still be up . . . I didn’t think to include a link. I did it last October, if that helps. Should be tagged “serial killers” and/or “Halloween”.

  6. Fun stuff. And let’s not forget that Ritchie Valens and Bobby Fuller were both closely associated with record producer Bob Keane…who also was the guy who got Sam Cooke going in the 50s. And of course Cooke met his own untimely end. Does it ever stop?

  7. Interesting. I grew up in Clear Lake, Iowa, and the Buddy Holly thing is still a big deal there. They have a Winter Dance Party every year to commemorate it. People come from around the world for it. I grew up surrounded by the lore, but never heard of it referred to as a curse before.

    Random side note: my grandfather worked for the funeral home at the time and had to go help pick up the bodies. How’s that for notoriety?

  8. I visited Lubbock a few years ago after a snow storm forced me off the road. One of my time killing activities was a visit to the Buddy Holly Museum. Thanks for all the history, Have you considered working for the museum?

    1. I never visited the museum . . . I’ve been away from Lubbock for a while, so working there wouldn’t be feasible 🙂
      Don’t know how I missed the museum! I did once catch a glimpse of the real Peggy Sue, though.

  9. Some people might actually think, “Wow. There’s someone with too much time on their hands.” I, however, am not one of them and thank people like you for these connective threads linking people to each other. Six degrees of…oh, who cares. This was so much fun to read!

  10. The Curse that hits musicians at 27… 🙂 What I lament is the lost potential. Holly was a fabulous talent, and really only at the beginning of his career. Put it this way; if David Bowie had died at the same age and point in his career as as Holly was, all we’d remember him for (if we ever remembered him at all) was ‘The Laughing Gnome’. ‘Nuff said…

    1. No Ziggy Stardust . . . ’nuff said, indeed. I’ve been wanting to post on the 27 curse, but haven’t gotten around to it.

  11. Well, I don’t even know what to say…
    Sad that they die young, but as you said, one picks up a guitar or a set of drum sticks with the knowledge that one may die young.

  12. Wow… fascinating post! I’ve always liked Buddy Holly’s music, and I knew he died in a plane crash, however I had never connected any of the rest of the dots; you’ve really done your homework. Awesome post, and congrats on being Freshly Pressed!!

  13. Fascinating post.
    More music tragedy: In 1991, Country star Reba McEntire’s road manager and 7 of her band members, along with the plane’s crew, died in a crash following a performance in SanDiego, CA. Reba was planning to also be on that flight but her husband and manager convinced her to instead get some rest and fly the following day ( she was recovering from bronchitis).
    Congrats on being FP!

    1. Thanks! And yeah, I remember that . . . scary how close she came, and didn’t something similar happen with Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine?

      1. You have a great memory. Gloria broke her back in a near-fatal bus accident. After grueling PT, she returned to performing and even won grammys again.

  14. This is one awesome blog entry! I’m seriously old and love Buddy Holly. You did your research, bud, very nice. I truly enjoyed reading this one.

  15. to: The author
    Subject: Help


    Awwwww Shit! If you’re thinking about it – don’t! I know people that can help. Suicide is not the answer trust me. I tried it once with a garden hose, some Vaseline, toe nail clippers, and a frog. It landed me in a 7 year stitch that I’ve only just begun to limp out of.

    The best way would be to set a small fire in the corner of your room. Not a bonfire, but just a trashcan fire. tie a string to it that you can yank on just after you douse yourself with gasoline and kick the chair out from under your legs. This I assure is a foolproof technique.

    Don’t hate! I just figured you might as well get a head start now, since you’ve brought the wrath of the Holly curse upon yourself. Oh, and, by the way. Great post.

    1. Great song . . . their bassist killed himself a few years after that song came out. I thought about putting that in the blog, but changed my mind at the last minute.

  16. You’re kinda freaking me out. I feel like if I stand in the bathroom, look in the mirror, and say Buddy Holly three times fast, something bad is sure to happen. So, I’m won’t do that.

  17. I think his proposing on the first date over-legitimizes his right to sing puppy love pop. What a guy.

  18. “Oo-ee-oo I look Just like Buddy Holly”-Weezer.
    Another creepy co-inka-dink- I was ridin along in my automobile on Mafia 2 goin a lil
    faster than the virtual police found “legal” when all of the sudden Buddy Holly’s
    voice cracks over the radio with “Rave on”. Wrecked into on-coming traffic and died…

  19. I remember Holly’s death very well. I was walking in the halls of our high school with my cronies. A sophomore in high school. At that time, a lot of rock favorites toured so we had the opportunity to see them in person without spending a mint, like today. Our world fell apart that day, it just seemed impossible. Your blog of these deaths was a surprise. Thanks for sharing.

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