Ringo Starr and Dave Grohl are opening up about the deaths of their friends and bandmates in a candid new interview for Rolling Stone.
As part of the mag’s “Musicians On Musicians” issue, Starr and Grohl sat down together to discuss how the deaths of the Beatles’ John Lennon and George Harrison and Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain affected them.
Starr recalls the moment he found out Lennon had been murdered in New York City in 1980.
“When John went, I was in the Bahamas. I was getting a phone call from my stepkids in L.A. saying, ‘Something’s happened to John.’ And then they called and said, ‘John’s dead.’ And I didn’t know what to do,” he says. “And I still well up that some bastard shot him. But I just said, ‘We’ve got to get a plane.’ We got a plane to New York, and you don’t know what you can do.”
At a loss for how to react, Starr says Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono asked him to keep their young son, Sean Lennon, distracted.
“Yoko just said, ‘Well, you just play with Sean. Keep Sean busy.’ And that’s what we did. That’s what you think: What do you do now?” he tells Grohl.
Grohl, too, knows first-hand the pain of losing a bandmate and friend.
“I realized when Kurt died that there’s no right or wrong way to grieve. It takes funny turns. You’ll be numb. You’ll remember the good things, then you’ll turn and remember some dark times,” Grohl says. “And it’s also difficult when one of your friends or someone that you’re very close to, in real life, has become something more than a human being to others. So you sit in an interview and someone asks you these questions that are really emotional that you’d never ask another stranger.”
On Cobain’s death, Starr adds: “I don’t know the end story, and it’s not about him, and we lose a lot of people in our business early. And you think, How harsh must it have been? I mean, ‘Why don’t you call me?’ You never know.”
The Beatles drummer tears up recalling Harrison’s final days leading up to his 2001 death from lung cancer.
“I’m such an old crybaby,” Starr says. “He’s laying there very ill — not long. And I’ve got to go to Boston because my daughter’s having an operation. And so I said, ‘Well, you know, I’ve got to go, George,’ and he says, ‘Do you want me to come with you?’ You know, he’s dying in a bit: ‘Do you want me to come with you?’ How many people say great things like that to you, really give themselves?”
For Grohl, part of his healing process involved focusing on music after the 1994 death of Cobain.
“I stayed away from music for a while. I wouldn’t even turn on the radio. And then I eventually realized that music was the one thing that actually made me feel better. And music was gonna help me through that,” Grohl adds. “’How’d you feel when your brother died?’ ‘How’d you feel when your family member died?’ It’s just not something that you’d meet someone and say. So it was tough for a while, but I realized that it was important for me to continue with life, and the thing that saved my life was music. More than a few times before that, my life was saved by playing music.”