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Hearing Loss Is Plaguing a Generation of Rock Stars

But you haven’t heard the last of these legendary talents, who show us all how to cope


spinner image Bono flashing the peace sign with his fingers, Dave Grohl with an electric guitar smiling in front of a microphone and Roger Daltrey singing into a microphone
(Left to right) Bono, Dave Grohl and Roger Daltrey
Photo Collage: AARP; (Source: Getty Images(4))

Despite hearing damage caused by decades of unprotected exposure to high-volume concerts — a risk fans face too — many musicians are coping, even thriving.

Huey Lewis, 73, has not let severe hearing loss caused by Meniere’s disease stand in his way. He’s been active in shaping his newly opened Broadway musical, The Heart of Rock and Roll, and has another two songs in the Broadway show Back to the Future.

Don’t miss this: Huey Lewis Says Broadway Show Has Helped Him Cope With Hearing Loss, on AARP Members Only Access

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Other industrious musicians with noise-induced hearing problems include Bob Dylan, 82, Roger Daltry, 80, James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich of Metallica, both 60, Liam Gallagher, 51, of Oasis, Soul Asylum’s Dave Pirner, 60, John Densmore, 79, of The Doors and Mick Fleetwood, 76, of Fleetwood Mac. But that’s not stopping them from performing and continuing to be creative — some of them are on tour right now.

Don’t miss this: 25 Concert Tours You Can’t Afford to Miss This Summer

The problem is especially prevalent in the ranks of boomer rockers. The organization Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers estimates that 60 percent of inductees into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame are hearing impaired.

Video: 3 Surprising Things You Can Do to Prevent Hearing Loss

According to a German study that analyzed the health insurance records of seven million people from 2004 to 2008, working musicians are nearly four times more likely to suffer noise-induced hearing loss than those in any other profession. They were also 57 percent more likely to have tinnitus — ringing in the ears — brought on by their work.

But they keep working. Here’s a cross section of busy musicians with audio difficulties:

Paul Simon, 82, suddenly lost most of the hearing in his left ear while working on his 2023 album Seven Psalms. He thought he would never perform live again, but he recently said his improved condition could allow him to return to the stage.

Don’t miss this: Paul Simon Reveals How He Deals With Hearing Loss

Stephen Stills, 79, who has described himself as “completely deaf,” wears hearing aids in both ears. A doctor noted hearing loss in his right ear when Stills was 9, but it was long tours and endless hours in recording studios that led to a steep decline.

Dave Grohl, 55, announced in 2022 that his hearing was failing and that he had been lip-reading for 20 years. Widespread use of masks during the pandemic had made communication difficult, but the Foo Fighters front man didn’t slow the pace of his career.

Bono, 63, who ironically borrowed his stage name from a hearing aid store in Dublin, suffers from tinnitus. The U2 singer makes a reference to hearing loss in the song “Staring at the Sun.”

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Pete Townshend, 78, now nearly deaf, began losing his hearing in the ’70s. On The Who Tour 1989, he played guitar behind a glass partition.

Neil Young, 78, says his tinnitus began with the recording of his 1991 live album Weld, which is why he followed it with the mellower Harvest Moon.

spinner image Barbra Streisand singing into a microphone onstage
Barbra Streisand
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Barbra Streisand, 81, also a tinnitus victim, first had symptoms at age 9.

Eric Clapton, 79, blames his loss of hearing on cranking up the amps during his youth and regrets not heeding warnings to turn down the volume and wear earplugs.

spinner image Ozzy Osbourne posing for a portrait with his hands facing up in front of him
Ozzy Osbourne
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Ozzy Osbourne, 75, says his long career of playing excruciatingly loud metal music left him with a serious case of tinnitus.

Thomas Bangalter, 49, half of the electronic music duo Daft Punk, quit performing in small clubs to preserve what’s left of his hearing. He got tinnitus after years of exposure to loud music.

spinner image Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers signing into a microphone
Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers
Getty Images

Anthony Kiedis, 62, singer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, developed tinnitus during the band’s tour with Nirvana in the early ’90s.

Danny Elfman, 70, gave up performing live with his band Oingo Boingo when his hearing began to fade and turned to the studio, launching a career as a movie and TV composer (Batman, The Simpsons).

Electronica artist Moby, 58, got tinnitus after playing with punk bands and now wears earplugs consistently.

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Chris Martin, 47, of Coldplay has been struggling with tinnitus since 2002 but says the problem was arrested after he started wearing earplugs.

Long periods of exposure to sounds exceeding 85 decibels, the equivalent of busy street traffic, is considered risky. The pain threshold is 125 decibels. The average rock concert is 115 decibels, 10 decibels below a jackhammer or ambulance. The permissible exposure time before damage occurs at 115 decibels is three minutes, according to data from 3M Occupational Health and Environmental Safety Division. Sound systems in some arenas and stadiums can hit 140 decibels. That’s louder than a jet engine.

Music may be harmonious, exciting and dreamy, but it’s still noise.

“Noise can hurt you, even if it’s music,” says Kathy Peck, executive director of HEAR (Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers), a nonprofit she founded in 1988 with a San Francisco physician after both attended an exceptionally loud concert. “You don’t realize that the high or rush you’re getting from music can damage your hearing.”

Peck, a former bass player for the Bay Area all-female rock band The Contractions, experienced hearing damage while performing in 1984 and developed tinnitus. She launched HEAR with assistance from such musical luminaries as Townshend, Metallica drummer Ulrich and promoter Bill Graham, as well as MTV, medical organizations and music trade groups.

HEAR’s chief aim is to raise awareness among musicians and fans about the dangers of repeated exposure to loud music. Its website, hearnet.com, offers risk assessments, referral links and information about custom earplugs, which are far more effective in preventing damage and evenly conveying sound frequencies than conventional earplugs. As for the cotton or tissue you stuff into your ears? They cut sound by a mere seven decibels.

“It’s always a great idea to have hearing protection at a concert,” Peck says. “Cheap earplugs are good in a pinch, but customized earplugs stop the progression of hearing loss.”

HEAR is particularly concerned about teens “who think they’re invincible,” Peck says. But the organization also recognizes that huge numbers of older musicians and fans have not abandoned their passion for blaring rock.

“People in their 60s and 70s are still playing music and going to shows,” Peck says. “And so many of them are suffering mild to moderate hearing loss. It’s a wide problem. But it’s never too late to start protecting yourself.”

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