U2 is one of the most popular and iconic bands in the soft rock genre and arguably of all time. Their lead singer Bono has helped them reach superstar status.
Getting to the top didn’t come without falls. They’ve lost tour managers, roadies, and other members that also became friends. Bono has lost his mother and father and had a few brushes with death of his own. The band has also helped the world deal with major tragedies such as the losses from Hurricane Katrina and September 11th.
Keep watching to learn about the tragic deaths that shaped the U2 band members forever.
One Tree Hill appeared on the soundtrack of the 1987 film The Joshua Tree. Like most of the band’s works, it was devoted to a personal tragedy that they suffered.
Bono met Greg Caroll on U2’s first trip to Auckland, New Zealand on their Unforgettable Fire tour in 1984. Jet lag was keeping him awake, so he went on a tour of the city with some locals. Greg, a Maori man, was one of them and also a roadie for the tour. They went up to One Tree Hill, one of the city’s most spiritually significant volcanic peaks.
Greg already had a few years of experience with roadie work, and Bono was impressed. He asked him to come to them with Australia and become a permanent member. They went from there to the US and even to the famous Live Aid. You can see him handing Bono the mic after he interacts with the crowd.
By the time they ended that tour in Dublin, Greg became Bono’s personal assistant and a close friend to him and his wife Ali Hewson. He researched locations for the next album, The Joshua Treat, and wanted to direct and produce videos and films.
Greg Caroll died at the age of 26 in a motorcycle accident in Dublin on the 3rd of July, 1986. He was riding Bono’s bike to his house when a car hit him, killing him instantly.
U2 drummer Larry Mullen Jr. said “his death really rocked us” and that it was the “first time anyone in our working circle had been killed.” Bono was in Texas to sing with Willie Nelson but flew to Ireland when he heard the news. Greg’s body was flown back to New Zealand, and he attended the funeral, singing Let it Be and Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door in his honor.
Bono used writing One Tree Hill to handle his grief and could only give one take. The lyrics “The moon is up and over One Tree Hill / We see the sun go down in your eyes” reference the night they met on the hill.
The song became the ninth track on the Joshua Tree album. It reached #1 in Australia and New Zealand. Bono was too emotional to play it live until the third leg of the Joshua Tree tour.
Dennis Sheehan died at the age of 68 on May 27, 2015. He was found dead in his room at the Sunset Marquis hotel 12 hours after an apparent heart attack.
He grew up in Ireland and England and learned to play guitar. He went around Europe until he got his first tour-managing job at 19 with a Jamaican band called Jimmy Jones and Vagabonds.
He eventually landed jobs with major acts such as Led Zepplin and Iggy Pop. He’d been working with U2 for 33 years at the time of his death.
New manager Guy Oseary said he feels a “sense of family and unity” with the band and that “Dennis’ spirit is with us every day, every minute.” One crewmember said that Dennis was the “heart and soul of the operation.” Bono said he was a family member and a legend in the music business who’ll be irreplaceable.
The band led an afternoon prayer circle on May 27. Bono even did a rendition of the rarely played song 40 in his honor. They knew it would be difficult to move on without him.
Fans went to social media to call the tour “cursed,” but the band didn’t listen. Despite all the tragedy, they still raked in an impressive amount of money from it. Guy Harley Oseasery has now taken up the reigns to keep the show going.
Bono’s Mom and Dad
Bono told the Hollywood reporter Awards Chater podcats that music and his band saved him after his mother’s death. His mother, Iris Hewson, died of a cerebral aneurysm at her father’s funeral on September 10, 1974. Bono was only 14.
He’s written several songs dedicated to her, including Mofo, Out of Control, Lemon, I Will Follow, and Tomorrow.
Unlike most other songwrtiers, Bono doesn’t always try to write from his own point of view in songs. For instance, in All I Want is You, he writes from the point of view of his partner.
One of the more recent, Your Song Saved My Life, was released on November 3, 2021. It also appeared in the soundtrack of the film Sing 2 in which Bono voiced Clay Calloway. He didn’t have his mother specifically in mind when writing it. He wanted it to fit the character who was closed off from the world because of grief. For him, the song opened up a new chasm of grief.
He also says that he doesn’t have many specific memories of his mother because she died when he was so young. Many of his songs are an attempt to retrieve memories.
Bono’s father also died of cancer at the age of 75 in August of 2001. He made sure to travel between concerts to see him in his last days. On his first show after losing his father, he thanked him for giving him a voice, calling him a “fine tenor.”
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Addressing Tragedies with Performances
U2 has often used songs to address tragedies within their own circle, such as lost band or family members. They’ve also used music on a more global scale for larger tragedies.
Playing With the Eagles of Death Metal
U2 gave an encore at the Accor Hotels Arena. They welcomed a band that had recently experienced a traumatic event; Eagles of Death Metal.
The band was onstage on November 13 when a major shooting occurred at Paris’ Bataclan concert hall. Terrorists shot and killed 90 people. The Eagles narrowly escaped, and they only spoke about it afterward in a somber interview with Vice Magazine.
U2 was scheduled to perform two shows in the same arena on that fateful day, but they were postponed when France declared a state of emergency. Bono, The Edge, Larry Mullen Jr, and Adam Clayton all vowed they’d return as soon as it was safe. They did three weeks later.
When U2 did, they did it in an extraordinary fashion. They addressed the Eagles as their “brothers” and said they’d like to give them the stage they were robbed of. Both bands joined in singing People Have the Power, but then the rockers gave up the stage entirely. They raised funds for the victims and had a memorial outside Bataclan the next day and the Eagles expressed their gratitude over Facebook.
September 11 Half-Time Show
U2 had addressed tragedy through performances before. They were set to perform at the half-time of the 2022 Superbowl, the first one since the September 11 attacks.
Sports writer Les Carpenter had seen a concert where they’d projected the names of the victims on the ceiling. NFL officials suggested they do a similar show for the Superbowl. U2 agreed.
The names appeared on a massive screen, and Irish-born Bono opened his jacket to show off its American flag lining. It was just as powerful of a performance and a great half-time show.
Green Day Pre-Game Show
Another Super Bowl performance with Green Day four years later addressed the losses from Hurricane Katrina. It was a pre-game show, and the song list was meant to track the progression of the tragedy.
The performance began with Green Day’s Wake Me Up When September Ends, moved to House of the Rising Sun, went into the Scottish theme The Saints are Coming, and ended with U2’s Beautiful Day.
The set list worked because it didn’t fail to address the tragedy of the incident but also didn’t dwell on it. It progressed from honoring the losses to being hopeful that the city could repair itself and that humanity could move on.
Bono’s Health Scares and Brush with Death
Bono also nearly experienced tragedy himself. He says he almost died while making the band’s latest album Songs of Experience which coincidentally deals with the theme of mortality.
He told Rolling Stone that he had a biopsy for throat cancer in 2000 that was negative.
That was followed by a bicycle crash in 2014 that nearly left him with at least a:
- Facial fracture
- Three fractures of the left shoulder
- Fracture of the left and right shoulder blades
They were severe enough to require surgery and eight weeks of rehab. He refers to it as a “comic tragedy,” mainly because he can’t remember it.
Bono also had an even more severe near-death experience between Christmas and New Years’ Day of 2016 that he doesn’t want to talk about. It’s just known to the world as a “brush with mortality.”
Health issues are also the reason Bono wears sunglasses on stage. He’s had them since U2’s 1992 tour. They began as a part of his stage persona but then became a necessity.
He needs them because he suffers from glaucoma. He thought he had perfect vision for years, but then the doctor asked if he saw strange rings around lights. These were signs of glaucoma, so he wears glasses to protect his eyes from glaring stage lights.
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