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Tragic story of Depeche Mode: Drugs, plane crashes and mental health battles

Bruno Cooke May 27, 2022
depeche mode tragedies

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The untimely death of Depeche Mode’s Andrew Fletcher, reported yesterday, has shocked the band’s fans and followers. It is the latest in a string of tragedies to befall the band – Depeche Mode’s members have, in the past, had to deal with plane crashes, heroin addiction, bladder cancer and mental health issues.

***WARNING: this article contains references to suicide, drug use and mental illness***

Lead vocalist Dave Gahan suffered onstage heart attack during ‘most debauched rock n roll tour ever’

Lead vocalist Dave Gahan suffered a heart attack onstage in 1993. He was addicted to heroin at the time, reports The Washington Post.

SetList reports that during Depeche Mode’s New Orleans Lakefront Arena show on 8 October 1993, Gahan suffered a heart attack while performing the last song.

“I literally couldn’t hear anything,” he recalled, as quoted by Jonathan Miller in his book Stripped.

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Photo by Anthony Pidgeon/Redferns

“Something was going on – I couldn’t breathe. And the other guys were like, ‘We’ve got to do an encore!’ So Martin and Alan decided to go back and do a song, and the only song they could do off-the-cuff was Death’s Door!”

That same year, Gahan attempted suicide by cutting his wrists, as reported by the Seattle Times.

Q Magazine later named Depeche Mode’s 1993 tour The Most Debauched Rock And Roll Tour Ever.

In 1994 Depeche Mode’s keyboardist Alan Wilder narrowly escaped death when a jet fighter crashed

On 1 September 1994, an RAF Tornado fighter crashed into a hillside near Lochearhead, Perthshire, in Scotland.

The two airmen on board died while the collision caused debris to scatter across the A85 where Alan Wilder was driving his convertible.

“As I approached a sharp bend in the road,” Wilder said in a statement shortly afterwards, “the sound of the Tornado appeared behind me.”

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Photo by Jim Dyson/Getty Images

“The underside of the aircraft was no more than 50 feet above me. To my astonishment, the plane had crashed beside the road into the glen about 200 yards ahead.”

The impact left a crater 20 yards across.

“Had I been ten seconds further into my journey,” Wilder reflected, “I would surely have been killed.”

Dave Gahan discovered he had bladder cancer in 2009 but was on stage three weeks later

As reported by The Wall Street Journal, in May 2009 Depeche Mode’s tour “lurched to a stop in Greece”. 

Dave Gahan had a malignant tumour in his bladder. However, the Journal writes that after “immediate surgery” he was “back on stage with the band in three weeks”.

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Gahan continued periodic cancer treatment for the rest of the tour, which ranked in Pollstar’s top 10 international tours of that year.

Finally, Grunge reported in its rundown of the real life tragedies to befall Depeche Mode that Andy Fletcher, who died this week, checked himself into a hospital in England in 1993 after suffering a nervous breakdown.

Those paying tribute to the late keyboardist and Depeche Mode co-founder include the Pet Shop Boys and radio presenter Terry Christian:

If you are affected by any issues raised in the article or would like someone to speak to, please call the Samaritans for free on 116 123. You can also email them at [email protected] or visit samaritans.org to find your nearest branch in the UK. In the US, please visit Samaritans USA for more information.

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Bruno is a novelist, amateur screenwriter and journalist with interests in digital media, storytelling, film and politics. He’s lived in France, China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, but returned to the UK for a degree (and because of the pandemic) in 2020. His articles have appeared in Groundviews, Forge Press and The Friday Poem, and most are readable on Medium or onurbicycle.com.