Tragic Details About Gwen Stefani

The following article references suicide.

For years, Gwen Stefani has proven she's more than "Just A Girl." First noticed in 1995 as part of No Doubt, an Orange County band that brought their own dose of ska to the punk scene, she's since put that Betty Boop vocal to good use, expanding into pop and electronic dance territory, and even flirting for a bit with worldbeat with the group and as a high-profile solo act. What's more, Stefani's been a coy proponent of female empowerment in works like "The Climb," "Hollaback Girl," and the signature "Just A Girl."

Similarly, she's been willing to shed that rosy exterior to heighten personal issues from relationship fallout ("Breakin' Up" and "Don't Speak") to the negative trappings of success ("Don't Get It Twisted" and "Settle Down"). But you'll also find plenty of tragedy in her songs, culled from calamity after calamity Stefani has faced throughout her career. It might make for some provoking tune-smithing fodder, but those catastrophes prove that not even status as one of the most revered recording artists of this still-young century could grant her immunity. If anything, the tragedies and difficult moments Stefani has weathered have made her more appreciative of her standing. As she once said to Seth Meyers, "It's just beautiful to look at the wake of songs and how they've just touched everyone."

A founding member of No Doubt died

Early on in No Doubt's history, tragedy struck. When the band began in 1986, John Spence was the original lead singer, with Eric Stefani on keyboard and Gwen Stefani relegated to contributing background choruses. Per Interview, Spence not only fronted the band, he was the group's heart and soul who even came up with the act's moniker.

"He was the inspiration for the whole band," said Eric to People (via Interview). In turn, Spence asked his sister to join the outfit. Needing an outlet for her introversion, she climbed aboard as a backup singer. "I was like the chubby girl that kind of all of a sudden grew over the summer and like, got really into music, and was like 'this is what I'm gonna look like,'" she said to Howard Stern. "My older brother was already there, so I was just friends with him. I was a Bambi, I was very passive." 

The band's momentum in Orange County grew until they were sideswiped by news that Spence had killed himself a year later. "It was such an unbelievable, out of nowhere, thing to happen," Gwen recalled to Stern. Wanting the band to continue, Gwen opted to share lead vocals with trumpeter Alan Meade. When he eventually left, Gwen assumed all the fronting duties, a personnel change that would permanently alter No Doubt's course.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Heartbreak and the bandmate

Being a wallflower during high school, Gwen Stefani didn't likely date much if at all. Becoming a background vocalist in No Doubt did wonders for her demeanor, especially when the act started to garner a local following. It also led to another development in her own evolution: her first serious relationship when she hooked up with Tony Kanal, the group's bass player. This was a huge no-no when it came to band policy. "At first, we kind of had to hide that we were together, because no one like, was supposed to go out with me in the band," said Stefani to Howard Stern. "When John died, that was when it was like everyone kind of found out."

The couple faced a steep learning curve while balancing a romantic and working relationship. It was a lot to juggle after No Doubt signed with Interscope in 1991, dropping two albums within four years, and touring relentlessly to support those outings. But in 1994, with the band still on an upswing, Kanal broke it off with Stefani. 

According to The Guardian, the split devastated Stefani and nearly ended the band. Eventually, she would use the experience to write the lyrics to "Don't Speak," still one of No Doubt's biggest hits. But first, yet another incident disrupted their momentum.

Gwen Stefani's brother up and quit No Doubt

No Doubt faced another internal blow when Eric Stefani, the group's founding member and creative rudder, quit the band in 1994. Per Rolling Stone, "Eric didn't want people telling him how his songs should be," which proved to be an issue when they were working with the label.

"My brother, he's very eccentric and not good at criticism in that sense, he was just so frustrated," said Gwen Stefani to Variety, recalling the head-butting behind the scenes while co-writing "Don't Speak." Perplexed, Eric left the band for an animation job on "The Simpsons." The departure stunned his sister. "My brother, when he was quitting, that was just like the worst thing that could ever happen to me," she shared with Howard Stern

But her brother's exit and her split from Kanal somehow generated enough energy for Gwen to get creative. "All of a sudden, out of nowhere, I start writing songs," she added. "I don't know how to write them, I don't know where they're coming from, I don't play an instrument. That's where I finally found that passive girl was gone. It was like I found a focus and I found a power." Gwen stepped up and contributed heavily to their next outing, ironically titled "Tragic Kingdom." Released in 1995, it broke the band wide open, selling more than 13 million copies.

Gwen Stefani's split from Gavin Rossdale

Shortly after her breakup with Tony Kanal, Gwen Stefani met and eventually hooked up with Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale. When the two eventually married in 2002 and became parents four years later, Stefani, already enjoying a lucrative solo career, seemed aware that family life involving a baby and two working musicians wasn't going to be so breezy. "All these years we've been together we always had to like live in different countries, be on tour, and be separated," she said to Jimmy Kimmel shortly after giving birth to her first child, "but with the baby now, it's gonna be tough."

Two more children and several hits later, the marriage hit rock bottom in 2015. While there were plenty of rumors about what happened, Stefani was tight-lipped over what caused the split. "What I will tell you is that I was married for a long time and now I'm not," she said to Ryan Seacrest. "And it was like it's a shock."

She found relief from that shock when she bonded with country singer Blake Shelton, her colleague on the show "The Voice," which she joined in 2014. One day, Shelton sadly revealed to the judges and crew his marriage with singer Miranda Lambert was over. Stefani later related her struggle to Shelton and the two connected immediately. "We just started this friendship, which was just unbelievable that God would put us in a position to have each other at the moment," she said to Howard Stern

Celebs have called out Gwen Stefani

Gwen Stefani has done some things that don't sit right with other public figures. Take rocker Courtney Love, who, in a 2004 Seventeen article, retorted, "I'm not interested in being the cheerleader. I'm not interested in being Gwen Stefani." As Stefani told Billboard, she made "Hollaback Girl" with Pharrell after she was "bullied" and "called a cheerleader" by a certain someone.

Some of the callouts have added to an important conversation. In 2005, comedian Margaret Cho touched on Stefani's controversial Harajuku Girls era and appropriation of Japanese culture. "I want to like them, and I want to think they are great, but I am not sure if I can," wrote Cho in her blog. "I mean, racial stereotypes are really cute sometimes, and I don't want to bum everyone out by pointing out the minstrel show." In the aforementioned Billboard feature, Stefani said she feels "a little defensive when people [call it culture appropriation], because if we didn't allow each other to share our cultures, what would we be?"

In 2016, tabloids like Inquisitr ran with rumors of a feud between Stefani and Blake Shelton's ex-wife Miranda Lambert, who supposedly called the No Doubt singer a "homewrecker" after she struck up a romance with "The Voice" veteran. What's more, a source claimed to In Touch that Lambert was "tired of Gwen incessantly gushing about her romance with Blake." Of course, this is all tittle-tattle, but the two sure don't seem to be on the friendliest of terms. 

She's been involved in lawsuits

Gwen Stefani's faced some legal troubles throughout her career. TMZ reported a fan sued the singer after breaking her leg in a crowd rush during a 2016 Stefani concert in Charlotte, North Carolina. Suing for damages, the injured spectator claimed Stefani negligently triggered the stampede when she encouraged the audience to move closer to the stage. The case was settled out of court in 2019.

A year earlier, TMZ reported that a hairdresser tried to sue Stefani and co-songwriter Pharrell Williams for $25 million, claiming their 2014 hit "Spark the Fire" stole lines from a song he wrote years earlier called "Who's Got My Lighter?" He claimed, in 1998, he played the song for Stefani while working on her hair. Per The Hollywood Reporter, the judge declared the two songs weren't similar and dismissed the case. 

In 1997, a scuffle between indie label Trauma and distributor Interscope involved Stefani's band No Doubt. According to the Los Angeles Times, Trauma sued Interscope when the latter claimed the band was part of its roster, robbing the smaller company of a major revenue stream. In a settlement, Trauma received $3 million, but lost the band. The Los Angeles Times also reported on a lawsuit No Doubt won against video games creator Activision who altered the band's images in a game called "Band Hero," turning "members into a virtual karaoke circus act."

She was 'shaken' by the death of a Voice contestant

Being a panelist on "The Voice" provides a lot of perks for celebrity musicians like Gwen Stefani. A hot TV show usually means income stability for at least a couple seasons and provides a philanthropic benefit of imparting valuable advice to unknown upstarts. But on extremely rare occasions, participants have to contend with a great deal of grief.

Such was the case of the 2016 shooting death of Christina Grimmie, a third-place finalist in the sixth season of "The Voice." She was killed while signing autographs after a concert in Orlando, per Billboard. Stefani, who didn't join "The Voice" until Season 7, never knew the singer, but Grimmie was no stranger to Stefani's beau, Blake Shelton, who's been a show panelist from the start. "I'm stunned and disgusted and heartbroken that we lost that sweet little girl," he tweeted. "Keeping @TheRealGrimmie family in my heart and mind."

When Access asked her about the tragedy, Stefani said, "Everybody, you know, is shaken. It's just a shock and... it makes me feel totally vulnerable." 

Her songwriting partner died of cancer

Michael James Ryan, aka Busbee, was a Grammy-nominated producer who helmed recording studios on projects involving the likes of Pink, Shakira, and Keith Urban. A friend of Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani, Ryan co-produced the No Doubt frontwoman's 2017 holiday album, "You Make It Feel Like Christmas." In September 2019, he died of brain cancer. The tragedy hit Stefani and Shelton hard. "Beyond broken today," Stefani wrote on Instagram. "Shattered. @blakeshelton thank u for introducing me to this legend- we r going to miss our friend see u up there Busbee. #Genius #ILOVEUANDUKNOWIT." Shelton also publicly mourned the loss, tweeting, "I absolutely can't accept the loss of mine and Gwen's friend Michael (Busbee)..Too much to say for social media."

Ahead of the release of "You Make It Feel Like Christmas," Stefani sang the producer's praises and got into why she loved working with him. "The thing that's cool about him is that he has no genre boundaries," she said to Entertainment Weekly. "He was like, 'It needs to be raw and punk and sort of classical at the same time!'"

Stefani hoped the creative tandem would continue, a feeling she related in a social media entry a year after Ryan's death. "He was going to be my future partner in crime in writing songs, but he went to heaven," she posted on Instagram.

Gwen Stefani tested positive for COVID

At a 2021 engagement at Las Vegas' Zappos Theatre, Gwen Stefani revealed why she had to call off some of her residency shows back in February 2020. According to MSN, she told the crowd, "I was the first one to have COVID, in case you wondered. ... Just because I can't touch you, I'm still breathing your air right now, so that's the risk that I'm taking because I love you guys."

She may not have been the first, but she would have been near the top of the list, as her diagnosis was made nearly a month before the World Health Organization had declared a pandemic and weeks before health protocols were put in place. In January 2020, The New York Times reported four people had already died from the infection in the United States. Two years later, that number had swelled to more than 950,000. According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, as of March 2022, over 6 million people have died from the coronavirus worldwide.

No Doubt's longtime head of security died

Curtis Garrett was someone literally close to Gwen Stefani because he had to be. He was No Doubt's personal security guard, and he wasn't merely hired out of the blue to protect the group at the odd engagement here and there. The two had actually enjoyed a lengthy history together, ever since he became security head of No Doubt's 2002 tour in support of their "Rock Steady" album.

When Garrett suddenly died in 2021, Stefani, who was two months away from marrying Blake Shelton, was understandably grief-stricken. She took to her Instagram account to pay tribute to the bodyguard with a photo of the man, adding, "Curtis I love you and I'll see you up there." No Doubt bassist Tony Kanal also recalled the security head they called "Big C" with fondness. "He was a gracious and gentle man with a never ending smile and infectious laugh," he wrote. "I would sometimes watch him instruct that nights security team on how he wanted the audience treated: with care, kindness and respect."