Cliff Burton died on September 27, 1986 12-miles north of Ljungby in Sweden. The world started to get word of his death days after; I heard on September 29th, which was a Monday. This was in the pre-internet era and news travelled a lot slower than it does now.
Cliff was killed when Metallica’s tour bus lost control and tipped on its side. He was killed in what could be considered a series of ironic fate-driven events: he happened to win the “nicest” bunk in a game of cards that night, the window happened to have a broken latch, and he happened to fall out of the bus as it tipped on its side.
There’s speculation that he was still alive after the crash but while trying to lift the bus with a crane, it fell and killed him at that moment. The driver disappeared shortly after and was never seen or heard from again.
This was a terrible terrible tragedy and I personally think the beginning of the fade of the thrash metal scene in San Francisco; the musical equivalent of losing a project linchpin at a critical, defining moment.
Without his stubborn drive, energy, and charisma, the life force that fed the music scene in San Francisco changed; it became less supercharged as creativity languished for many years after. It seemed less invincible.
The spot where Cliff died is 12-miles north of Ljungby in Sweden; there’s a memorial stone that fans recently put on the side of the road to denote the spot. From Stockholm, the memorial is a 4-hour drive South. From Copenhagen, it is a 2-hour drive North.
Back in California, hidden behind the playground at Marshall Elementary in Castro Valley where he and his family lived, there is another memorial to Cliff, his brother Scott, and others who were students or teachers at the school.
In 1975, 16-year old Scott died of a brain aneurism and some have said that his death was the catalyst behind Cliff’s desire to be a musician.
I visited the site to pay my respects. Cliff’s memorial stone was clear and free of debris while others were covered with tree foliage. It was not lost on me that even 28-years after Cliff’s death people still come to the site to remember him.
RIP Cliff. As the stone says: Thank you for your beautiful music.
There is no grave. Cliff Burton was cremated and his ashes scattered in a private location near Maxwell Ranch. The location is fairly obscure, difficult to find, and dangerous during certain times of the year.
The photos below of Cliff and the band come from magazines that were sold between 1985 and 1986.