Hive Five: Death Cheatin’ Musicians

Waylon Jennings performs in 1979. Photo: Getty Images

Tonight, horror fans across the country will flock to see Final Destination 5, the latest film in a series based on a simple idea: you can’t cheat death. Survive a freak bridge collapse, this latest installment suggests, and the Grim Reaper will catch up with you later on and kill you while you’re doing gymnastics or undergoing Lasik surgery. Luckily, these movies are pure fiction, and as rock history teaches us, you can cheat death. Here are five people who did just that.

1. Waylon Jennings

According to legend, a lost coin toss cost Jennings his spot on the Beechcraft Bonanza that crashed in Clearlake, Iowa, on February 3, 1959, killing the Big Bopper, Buddy Holly and Richie Valens, as well as the pilot. In fact, the future country great — who lived to be 64 — willingly gave up his seat, since the flu-stricken Bopper was too ill to spend the night on a frigid tour bus. The coin-flip story isn’t total bunk, however. Guitarist Tommy Allsup would have boarded the ill-fated plane had Valens not called “heads.” In 1979, Allsup marked the 20th anniversary of “The Day the Music Died” by opening “Tommy’s Heads Up Saloon.”

2. Rick Allen

Def Leppard’s timekeeper ended 1984 on a grim note, crashing his Corvette in the English countryside while en route to a New Year’s Eve party. Allen was thrown from the vehicle, and while he was lucky to have survived, the accident cost him his left arm. He eventually recovered and, with the help of a custom-designed electronic drum kit, finished recording the band’s fourth album, 1987’s Hysteria, which went on to sell more than 20 million copies. He’s been going strong ever since, challenging dudes who play air drums at Def Leppard shows to learn a one-arm technique.

3. James Alexander and Ben Cauley

The December 1967 plane crash that killed soul legend Otis Redding also claimed four members of his backing band, the Bar-Kays. Trumpeter Ben Cauley managed to survive the plunge into Wisconsin’s icy Lake Monona, while bassist James Alexander escaped injury, having taken another flight. Following the tragedy, Alexander and Cauley rebuilt the group and performed alongside such notable singers as Isaac Hayes. Cauley left the group in 1971 but cemented his reputation as a survivor years later, when he overcame a devastating 1989 stroke and continued making music. His new band, the Bo-Keys, dropped its sophomore album, Got to Get Back, in June. Alexander went on to play bass on Hayes’ Shaft theme, among other notable recordings, and he’s also the father of Jazze Pha, a hip-hop producer known for his work with Nelly, the Notorious B.I.G., and Aaliyah, among others.

4. Travis Barker

Just before midnight on September 19, 2008, hours after performing together in South Carolina, blink-182 drummer Travis Barker and good friend DJ AM, AKA Adam Goldstein, survived a Learjet crash that killed four people. Lending some credence to the Final Destination theory of fate, DJ AM died less than a year later of an accidental drug overdose. Although Barker suffered second- and third-degree burns over much of his body, he made a Rick Allen-like recovery and reunited with his estranged Blink brethren in the summer of 2009. The trio toured the United States and Europe and began work on a comeback album, Neighborhoods, which will finally see release next month.

5. 50 Cent

Curtis James Jackson III’s life story is like a gangsta-rap version of RoboCop or Steven Seagal’s Hard to Kill. In 2000, the New York drug-dealer-turned-rapper was shot nine times with a 9mm handgun. One bullet pierced his cheek, but rather than end his burgeoning hip-hop career, it gave him the slight vocal slur that would become his trademark. “After I got shot nine times at close range and didn’t die, I started to think that I must have a purpose in life,” he wrote in his 2005 autobiography, From Pieces to Weight. That purpose: making piles of cash. Fiddy’s 2003 breakthrough album, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, has sold more than 8 million copies, and in addition to releasing several successful follow-ups, he’s hawked consumer goods—including clothing, Vitamin Water, body spray and condoms — written a novel, launched his own book line, and appeared in numerous feature films, turning himself into something more powerful than man or machine: a brand.

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