Crosby was a founding member of the Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash, two influential rock bands of the 1960s.
LOS ANGELES – David Crosby, the brash rocker who went from baby-faced harmony singer in the Byrds to mustachioed hippie superstar and resident troubadour in Crosby, Stills, Nash & (sometimes) Young has died at age 81, multiple media outlets reported Thursday.
The New York Times reported, based on a text message from Crosby’s sister-in-law, that the musician died Wednesday night. Several media outlets, citing anonymous sources, reported Crosby’s death; The Associated Press was unable to confirm Crosby’s death, despite calls and messages to multiple representatives and Crosby’s widow.
Crosby had a liver transplant in 1994 after decades of drug use and survived diabetes, hepatitis C and heart surgery in his 70s.
Although he wrote only a handful of well-known songs, the witty and always cocky Crosby was at the forefront of the cultural revolution of the ’60s and ’70s — whether triumphant with Stephen Stills or Graham Nash and Neil Young on the stage of Woodstock, testifying on behalf of a hirsute generation in his anthem “Almost Cut My Hair” or mourning the assassination of Robert Kennedy in “Long Time Gone.”
He was the founder and center of the Los Angeles rock community, which later produced artists such as the Eagles and Jackson Browne. He was the twinkly-eyed hippie patriarch, the inspiration for Dennis Hopper’s long-haired stoner in Easy Rider. He advocated peace, but was an unrepentant garrulous man engaged in a personal war and admitted that many of the musicians he worked with no longer spoke to him.
“Crosby was a colorful and unpredictable character, wore the cloak of Mandrake the Magician, didn’t get along with many people, and had a beautiful voice—an architect of harmony,” Bob Dylan wrote in his 2004 memoir, Chronicles: Volume One. .”
Crosby’s drug use left him bloated, broken and alienated. He got rid of addiction in 1985 and 1986 during a year’s imprisonment in Texas on drug and weapons charges. The sentence was eventually overturned.
“I’ve always said I picked up the guitar as a shortcut to sex, and after my first hookup I was convinced that if everyone smoked dope, the war would be over,” Crosby said in his 1988 autobiography, Long Gone. co-written with Carl Gottlieb. “I was right about the sex. I was wrong when it came to drugs.’
He lived years longer than he even expected and experienced a creative renaissance in his 70s, releasing several solo albums while collaborating with others, including his son James Raymond, who became a favorite songwriting partner.
“Most guys my age would do covers or duets on old stuff,” he told Rolling Stone in 2013, shortly before “Croz” was released. “It’s not going to be a big hit. Nineteen copies are likely to be sold. I don’t think the kids will dig it, but I’m not doing it for them. I do it for myself. I have things like that that I have to get off my chest.”
In 2019, Crosby was featured in the documentary David Crosby: Remember My Name produced by Cameron Crowe.
While his solo career flourished, his seemingly life-long relationship with Nash fell apart. Crosby was angered by Nash’s 2013 memoir Wild Stories (which he called weepy and dishonest), and their relationship descended into an ugly public feud, with Nash and Crosby agreeing on one thing: Crosby, Stills and Nash were done. The election of Donald Trump as US President did lead Crosby to suggest that he was open to a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young protest tour, but his old bandmates refused to take it back.
Crosby rose to stardom in the mid-1960s with the nascent folk-rock group The Byrds, known for hits like “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and “Mr. Drummer man.” Refined and baby-faced at the time, he contributed the harmonies that were a key part of the Beatles’ groundbreaking blend of Dylan. Crosby was one of the first American stars to become close to The Beatles and helped introduce George Harrison to Eastern music.
Troubled relationships with his bandmates forced Crosby out of The Byrds and into a new group. The first meeting between Crosby, Stills and Nash is part of rock folklore: Stills and Crosby were at Joni Mitchell’s house in 1968 (Styles claimed they were at Mama Cass’s), working on the ballad “You Don’t Have to Cry” , when Nash suggested starting over. Nash’s towering harmonies added a layer of magic to Stills’ rough bottom and Crosby’s soft middle, and a supergroup was born.
Their self-titled debut album was an instant success that helped redefine commercial music. The songs were longer and more personal than their previous solo releases, but still easily relatable to an audience with a more open lifestyle.
Their soulful harmonies and themes of peace and love became iconic for the late 1960s and early 1970s. Their version of Mitchell’s “Woodstock” became the theme for a documentary about the 1969 rock concert, which marked only the band’s second performance together. Crosby produced Mitchell’s first album, Song to a Seagull in 1968, and was her boyfriend for a while (as was Nash).
Now sporting the drooping bushy mustache that would forever define him, Crosby provided the harmonies and rhythm guitar, while his songs reflected his own volatile personality. They ranged from the hazy romanticism of “Guinevere,” to the spirituality of “Deja Vu,” to the operatic paranoia of “Almost Cut My Hair.”
Some critics have called the group meek and condescending.
“If you like living room rock, fireplace harmonies and just a taste of good old fashioned social consciousness, this is your band,” reports Rolling Stone, who nevertheless rarely misses an opportunity to write about the band.
But CSN, as they would soon be known, won a Grammy for Best New Artist and remained a global touring act and brand decades later.
The first album was a light, happy record, but the mood soured during the second album, “Deja Vu”. They joined the band Neil Young, who feuded with Stills while both were in Buffalo Springfield and continued to do so.
Everyone in the group was concerned: Nash and Mitchell had split up, along with Stills and singer Judy Collins. Meanwhile, Crosby was so shaken by the death of girlfriend Christine Hinton in a car crash that he lay on the studio floor sobbing.
With a rougher and less unified sound, the album was released in 1970 and was another commercial success. However, within two years, the quartet broke up, destined to constantly reunite and disband for the rest of his life.
They worked in all possible combinations – as solo artists, as duets, trios, and occasionally all four together. They played in stadiums and clubs. They are appeared at the Berlin Wall in 1989 as the Cold War was ending and emerged in 2011 during the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York.
In recent years, Crosby has frequently toured and candidly answered questions on Twitter with a mixture of affection and exasperation, commenting on his rock star peers or judging the quality of fans’ marijuana. He loved sailing, and more than anything other than hard drugs, he regretted selling his 74-foot boat because of money problems. Among the songs performed on the boat was the classic “Wooden Ships,” co-written with Paul Kantner of Stills and Jefferson Airplane.
Crosby was born David Van Cortlandt Crosby on August 14, 1941 in Los Angeles. His father was Oscar-winning cinematographer Floyd Crosby from the film Noon. The family, including his mother Alif and brother Floyd Jr., later moved to Santa Barbara.
Crosby was exposed to classical, folk and jazz music at an early age. In his autobiography, Crosby said that as a child he would harmonize while his mother sang, his father played the mandolin, and his brother played the guitar.
“When rock ‘n’ roll came out in that era and the Elvis era took over America, I wasn’t into it,” he recalled.
His brother taught him to play the guitar, and as a teenager he began performing in clubs in Santa Barbara. 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 many folk artists, Crosby was enthralled by the Beatles’ 1964 film A Hard Day’s Night and decided to become a rock star.
Crosby married long-time friend Jan Duns in 1987. The couple had a son, Django, in 1995. Crosby also had a daughter, Donovan, with Debbie Donovan. Shortly after the liver transplant, Crosby was reunited with Raymond, who was put up 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 AP Raymond in 1998. “I was too immature to educate anyone, and too irresponsible.”
In 2000, Melissa Etheridge revealed that Crosby was the father of two children she shared with then-partner Julie Cypher. Cypher gave birth to Crosby’s children, who were born through artificial insemination, Etheridge told Rolling Stone. one son Beckett died in 2020.
Crosby didn’t help raise the children, but said, “If, you know, at some point in time, at a distance, they’re proud of who their genetic father is, that’s great.”
AP National Writer Hillel Itali reported from New York.