Death of a Rock'n'Roll Legend

Michael Clarke

Photo courtesy of Lisa Law Productions

In Loving Memory
AKA Michael Clarke
June 3, 1946 to December 19, 1993



Still missing your smile, your eyes, your touch, and hearing the sound of your voice saying, "Just remember, I love you." You will remain forever in my heart, in the memories of your families and friends, in the music you created with The Byrds, and in your paintings.

Your Soulmate,



You loved Christmas more than any other time of the year. How perfect that God would call you "Home" for Christmas with His Son Jesus. The Christ of Christmas and our Savior and Lord. It was too soon for those who love you, but you are forever in our hearts. We miss you, dear Michael.

Your Mother Suzy and Sisters, Judi and Debbie, and Son, Zachary


Michael James Dick was born in Spokane, Washington, and it was no surprise that he was both musically and artistically talented, having a father who was an artist and a mother who was a musician.

At the age of 17 he left home hitch-hiking to California to fulfill his dream of becoming a rock star. In 1963 he met Chris Hillman, Gene Clark, David Crosby and Roger McGuinn, and he changed his name to Michael Clarke when they formed the Byrds. The rest is history.

Following the success of the Byrds hits, "Mr. Tambourine Man," "Turn, Turn, Turn," and "Eight Miles High," Michael decided to go into semi-retirement and moved to Hawaii. It was there on the island of Maui that he met and married his first wife, Robin, and they had a son, Zachary. Michael couldn't stay away from music and came out of retirement to join the Flying Burrito Brothers. Following his short stay with that band, he and his friend Rick Roberts formed Firefall, the group that produced the hit songs "You Are The Woman I've Always Dreamed Of" and "Just Remember I Love You." Five years later Michael left to play drums with the Jerry Jeff Walker band.

In 1984 Michael and his dear friend Gene Clark decided to reactivate the Byrds and began touring the nation. In 1991 all of the original members of the Byrds were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and it was shortly after that Gene Clark died. The band continued touring together until a month before Michael's death and on December 31st, 1993 they played a tribute concert to Michael in Tierra Verde, Florida not far from his home on Treasure Island, Florida.

In October 1992 Michael's artwork was exhibited for the first time at the opening of "Image Makers Rock 'n' Roll Art Expo." This exhibition of original artworks created by famous musicians is currently still touring the nation. You can view some of Michael's paintings on the internet by visiting the website

Michael died before the completion of the book "MUSICIANS AS ARTISTS" by Dick Gautier and Jim McMullan, in which his artwork is featured. When asked by Dick to tell his story in the book, Michael wrote "In between hotels, motels, clubs, theaters, restaurants, cabs, limos, planes, divorces, and lawsuits I like to paint. After all, it saves on psychiatrist's bills and keeps me, for the most part, from curling up in a fetal position.

I like to paint outside on the bay or by the ocean (and catch supper at the same time). The land and seascapes inspire me to be a part of nature, to be with the breeze, the overwhelming sky, the burning sun, the chain saws, leaf-blowers, and police sirens. I find that biting gnats, attack seagulls, and lightning enhance the environment. (Infinitely safer than touring, trust me.)

I love to paint the desert. I love the colors and to watch life thriving despite itself.

Writing has always been a fantasy of mine but music and painting come first.

My father was an artist and my mother was, and still is, a fine jazz piano player. So I guess it was meant to be. My grandmother played piano at the old movie houses for the silents.

But what all this has to do with me I don't know just yet."

[Quotation from Musician's As Artists by Dick Gautier and Jim McMullan.]

Michael's legacy is not only in his music and art, but in his wish to share the details of his tragic and untimely death from cirrosis of the liver at the age of 47 as the result of an addiction to alcohol which started at the age of 14.

It was his dying wish to go on national television so that all the children across the nation could see what happens to you when you start abusing alcohol in your teens. He said, "I want to tell them to say no to alcohol, it's the most deadly drug of all! I want to tell them to get high on life through music and art."

I co-founded this organization as a way to fulfill my promise to Michael to get his lifesaving message to all kids to prevent them from suffering the way he did. 

Susan Paul
Campaign For Alcohol Free Kids

Dear Young Friends,

Michael Clarke You don't know me, but I am in the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame. I was the drummer for "The Byrds." We were almost as popular as "The Beatles." Back in the 60's everyone knew who we were. Your parents will remember, I was a famous rock 'n roll superstar. My band performed for millions all over the world. Our songs, "Mr. Tambourine Man," "Eight Miles High" and "Turn, Turn, Turn" are still played constantly on the radio. Our concerts were often sold out. I made a lot of money and had everything going for me including a problem I want to share with you. I was a drunk. Alcohol killed me on December 19,1993 when I was only 47 years old. It's embarrassing to have to share with you my stupidity that resulted in my death. But you need to know that what happened to me can happen to you. Honest to God, it can. Dying of alcoholism is not an easy death. You have a right to know the truth. Really, you need to know the whole truth.

The Byrds

Don't stop reading my letter yet. What I am about to tell you is real serious. It is no lie. It is time for you to be told the facts of drinking too much beer, wine or distilled spirits. You need to know the facts about the horrible death I suffered and the excruciating pain and embarrassment I went through at the end. I did not die of too many drugs like coke or pot. I died of too much alcohol which is really the most lethal drug of all. Trust me, this is no jokel

When I died I weighed only about 75 pounds. I had been a great looking teen and handsome man who was 6'2" and my normal weight was 175 pounds. I was a real lady's man and women loved me when I was healthy, but right before I died I was a horrible mess. My face was unrecognizable to my family and friends. You would have shuddered from the sight of me, I looked like a walking skeleton. I was so weak, I couldn't even smile.


Ed Sullivan Performance 1965
The "Ed Sullivan Performance, 1965"


I started drinking alcohol when I was 14 years old and until two weeks before I died, I could hardly remember ever being sober again. Sometimes when I was drunk I was mean. I am sure some of my friends could no longer stand me. I am lucky I did not kill anyone driving drunk and wind up in prison. For years, I would drink a 2 litre bottle of vodka almost every day and while I was performing I would drink beer on stage in between songs. When I was young I did not care about what would happen when I got older and just kept drinking, but believe me, when you grow up you want to live a full life. I know I did, but I robbed myself of about 30 years that I could have had fun with my fame and money and I cheated my son out of having his father. Please believe me when I say, "I wish I had never taken the first drink. I wish I was alive today."

I got hooked, that's right hooked on alcohol. It is addictive just like crack cocaine and many people like myself find it impossible to stop. We are called "alcoholics." And for people who start and get hooked and cannot stop, it is a fatal disease and can lead to other serious problems like teenage pregnancy, child abuse, crime and premature accidental death. For a young person alcohol is an illegal drug. Alcohol is more harmful than all the other illegal drugs combined. I know you can get it easily; I did. But don't be stupid like me. Too many beers or other alcoholic beverages can ruin your life. If you get hooked you may not finish school and get a good job, you may lose your health and friends and family. I did other drugs too, but none like alcohol. Alcohol is so addictive that I warn you if you get hooked you may not be able to stop by yourself or even if you get help. It is that powerful.

The Byrds Right before I died, my liver disintegrated inside my body. You could see pieces of it breaking off in my guts with a special type of x-ray picture taken called a sonogram. When I died my liver was the size of a dime. My pancreas and kidneys were also affected by my drinking. Because I destroyed my liver with alcohol, my wastes had no way to leave my body and as a result my testicles swelled up to the size of a basketball. You can't even imagine how painful they were. It was like someone took a sledge hammer and hit them about 1000 times and wouldn't stop. My chest, stomach and legs swelled up so huge I was the size of a summa wrestler. I could hardly move. My eyes turned yellow and my skin was discolored from the toxic wastes in my body. I had to go to the hospital so the doctors could drain the poisonous fluid from my abdomen to keep me from exploding. They inserted a catheter into my bladder through my urethra to draw off the urine into a plastic bag attached to my leg with an elastic strap. I screamed with the pain. I lost all my dignity and there was nothing more they could do to save me, so they sent me home to face death.

All of my vital organs stopped functioning and my body started to shrivel from the inside. The pain was so unbearable that even the morphine they gave me didn't help. I couldn't eat and I felt nauseated all the time. They gave me suppositories for the nausea but they did no good at all. I knew I was soon going to die. Believe me when the end comes, it is not like you think. I didn't want to go. Two weeks later I died. Before I died I made my soulmate, Susan Paul, promise me to get this message to you. Please, please I say to you with tears in my eyes, say no to alcohol the worst drug of all and if you already have a problem with it, plead with your parents, your doctor or friends to get you help.

If you are drinking at your age you are abusing alcohol. Let me warn you that you face a crisis in your life. You might live to be 47 like me and then die a nightmarish death like I did, or you could be killed or disfigured today in an alcohol related crash. And if you drink too much alcohol in one sitting, alcohol poisoning will shut down your breathing and you will die.

Alcohol is a bad drug and a bad trip. Please think about what I have told you. Look what it did to me. It could happen to you too. So if you drink, stop! If you can't stop do everything in your power to get help. If you haven't started drinking yet, don't even take the first drink. My first drink eventually killed me. I don't want to see what happened to me happen to any of you. Trust me, you don't want to suffer like I did, really, it's no joke.


God Bless you all,

With all my love,
Michael Clarke
Drummer for The Byrds

The Byrds - Turn Turn Turn



Photo taken one hour before his death by his mother Suzi Dick
AKA Michael Clarke
Born June 3, 1946 Died December 19, 1993

This last photo of Michael was taken by his mother, Suzy Dick, just hours before his death. It was Michael's wish to let all children across the nation see what happened to him as the result of developing an addiction to alcohol as a teenager. He hoped that this might help them make the right choice and say no to alcohol.


A Note from Susan Paul
Co-Founder Alcohol Free Kids (

What you just read is true. Michael asked me to share his tragedy with you. This letter from the grave was written by investigative reporter Sandy Golden, who is the Leader of the Campaign for Alcohol Free Kids. Nothing will bring Michael back, but you can use his death to protect your life. That was his wish. Make the right choice with your life and say no to alcohol, the most lethal drug of all.