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Legendary singer-songwriter David Crosby dies at 81

The '60s folk-rock pioneer was a founding member of the Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
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David Crosby, the legendary singer-songwriter and founding member of the Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, has died, a source close to the musician confirmed Thursday. He was 81.

Details of his death weren't immediately clear.

Crosby's former bandmate, Graham Nash, recalled the two-time Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee as "fearless in life and in music."

Pop group The Byrds (l to r): Chris Hillman; Dave Crosby; Mike Clark; Jim McGuinn; and Gene Clark. (Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
The Byrds, from left: Chris Hillman, Dave Crosby, Mike Clark, Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark, in 1965.Hulton-Deutsch Collection / Corbis via Getty Images file

In a Facebook post, Nash also recalled the focus on their sometimes-volatile relationship — Crosby lashed out at him publicly as recently as two years ago in an interview with The Guardian — but he said the "pure joy" of making music with Crosby was what mattered most.

"He leaves behind a tremendous void as far as sheer personality and talent in this world," Nash said. "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."

Another former band member, Stephen Stills, also recalled the times he and Crosby butted heads, saying in a statement from his manager that such conflict left them "numb skulls."

"I was happy to be at peace with him," he said. "He was without question a giant of a musician, and his harmonic sensibilities were nothing short of genius." 

Crosby’s final release, “Live at the Capitol Theater,” came out last month. In an interview with the site ultimateclassicrock.com, he described the performance captured in the recording as “magical.”

Crosby, Stills and Nash posing backstage at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco on November 23 1991 (L-R): David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash.
David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash in 1991.Clayton Call / Redferns file

Crosby, who was born in Los Angeles, joined the Byrds in 1964. They scored their first hit with Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.”

Crosby, Stills & Nash — later known as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young when Neil Young joined — was founded in 1968, the year after Crosby left the Byrds. The band went on to release a series of hits with “Marrakesh Express,” “Just a Song Before I Go,” “Woodstock” and others.

The band’s album “Looking Forward” was released in 1999.

Crosby was inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame twice — once in 1991 with the Byrds and again six years later with Crosby, Stills & Nash.

In last month's interview, he said he was no longer touring because of tendinitis in both hands.

Crosby underwent a liver transplant in 1994 after decades of drug use and survived diabetes, hepatitis C and heart surgery in his 70s.

Previous drug use left him bloated, broke and alienated. He kicked the addiction in 1985 and 1986 during a year’s prison stretch in Texas on drug and weapons charges. The conviction eventually was overturned.

David Crosby And Graham Nash Perform In Amsterdam
David Crosby in Amsterdam in 1976.Gijsbert Hanekroot / Redferns via Getty Images file

“I’ve always said that I picked up the guitar as a shortcut to sex and after my first joint I was sure that if everyone smoked dope there’d be an end to war,” Crosby said in his 1988 autobiography, “Long Time 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 even he expected, and in his 70s he enjoyed a creative renaissance, issuing several solo albums while collaborating with others, including his son James Raymond, who became a favorite songwriting partner.

“Most guys my age would have done a covers record or duets on old material,” he told Rolling Stone in 2013, shortly before “Croz” was released. “This won’t be a huge hit. It’ll probably sell nineteen copies. I don’t think kids are gonna dig it, but I’m not making it for them. I’m making it for me. I have this stuff that I need to get off my chest.”

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 Associated Press of Raymond in 1998. “I was too immature to parent anybody, and too irresponsible.”

In 2000, Melissa Etheridge revealed that Crosby was the father of the two children she shared with then-partner, Julie Cypher. 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. “If, you know, in due time, at a distance, they’re proud of who their genetic dad is, that’s great,” he said.