Chris Bell died at 27 years and 349 days old, on December 27, 1978. Bell was a singer, songwriter, and guitarist who is most widely known for his work with the seminal power-pop group, Big Star.
On the 27th of December (date purely coincidental) Chris Bell was driving home from his manager’s job at one of his father’s Memphis restaurants, in the early morning hours after midnight. His Triumph TR-7 sports car left the road and crashed head-on into a wooden utility pole. He died instantaneously and was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident.
Bell was known to be depressed and had made several suicide attempts in the years leading up to his death. He and Alex Chilton, of the Box Tops, had formed a band called Big Star featuring a new, highly modern sound, and the group had high hopes for some commercial success. It was not to be, however, and after the failure of #1 Record, their first album, Bell quit Big Star to go solo.
His solo career was equally unrewarding, and, after cutting tracks in England with an engineer who had worked with the Beatles, his idols, he returned to Memphis. He gave up his dreams of pop stardom and went to work for his father, who owned a chain of eateries in the Memphis area. Whether Bell meant to do himself in or not is a matter for conjecture, but his acquaintances at the time were aware of his despondency and dissatisfaction with his situation, and it would not have been complete fantasy to imagine him crashing his car on purpose.
Chris Bell’s funeral took place the next day after he died, on December 28. Coincidentally, the date of his interment was also the date of the birthday of his former close friend and band mate Alex Chilton. Bell’s work with Chilton in Big Star and as a solo artist remain highly influential to this day and have attained cult status as legendary creations. His melding of British power-pop and Memphis rock and roll were a model for bands like REM and many others. Bell is buried in the Memphis Funeral Home and Memorial Gardens cemetery in Bartlett, Tennessee.
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