The world was shocked when Swedish DJ Avicii, real name Tim Bergling, suddenly died at the age of just 28. No cause of death was revealed. While Avicii’s fans grieved for the Wake Me Up singer, they also wondered what exactly had happened and why. Avicii’s family eventually released an ambiguous statement that answered some questions, but it also asked some extremely saddening ones.
Bergling, whose mother was Swedish actress Anki Lidén, was interested in music from a young age. And it was clear from the start that he was very, very good at it. In 2007, at the age of just 18, he was signed to the Dejfitts Plays label. He also chose a new name: Avicii, after Avīci, the level of the Buddhist afterlife where dead sinners go to pay off their karma.
Avicii was soon being invited to America to perform, and it became obvious to everyone he played for that his music was something new and different. In 2011 he released the track “Levels,” and multiple companies immediately bid for the rights to it. It became the DJ’s breakout song, being used in TV shows and at football games.
With each new track he released, Avicii became even more of a star. He raked in six-figure sums for every gig he performed and was constantly picking up awards. But it all seemed to take a terrible toll on him. In January 2012 he spent nearly two weeks in hospital with acute pancreatitis. It had been brought on by a lot of serious drinking.
“I used to party a lot. Everyone does in the beginning when they’re getting accustomed to this world,” Avicii told Time magazine in 2013. “I was drinking way too much, partying in general way too much. Then I got a pancreatitis attack, which is very rare. So that forced me to do a 180 and stop drinking.”
But unfortunately, it wasn’t as simple as that. Avicii had originally started drinking to combat his nervousness before going on stage, and it had gotten a hold on him. His problems continued. In March 2014, he canceled his appearance at the Ultra Music Festival because he needed to undergo gall bladder surgery.
His health problems got worse and worse. From September 2014 to September 2015, Avicii canceled several appearances and tours. He released a new song “Feeling Good,” but it was obvious his mental health was suffering. Finally, in March 2016 he released a statement saying that he planned to retire from live performances.
In September 2017 Avicii gave an illuminating interview to Rolling Stone. “It’s very easy to become too attached to partying,” he said. “You become lonely and get anxieties. It becomes toxic.” The interviewer asked him if he’d gone to other concerts since retiring. “No, not really. I’m still traumatized,” he answered. “But I’m sure I will again. I’ve started being able to listen to music again, getting a little bit of that joy back.”
But that never did happen. On April 20, 2018, Avicii was discovered dead in his hotel room in the town of Muscat, Oman. The cause of death wasn’t released, but tributes poured in from all over the world. Many musicians took to Twitter to pay their respects. “Devastating news about Avicii, a beautiful soul, passionate and extremely talented with so much more to do. My heart goes out to his family,” wrote Avicii’s fellow DJ Calvin Harris.
Sweden was especially hit hard by the loss of one of their biggest public figures. In Stockholm, Avicii’s home city, a big public gathering was held to remember him. Fans congregated in a square and held an impromptu dance music with his music. In the Netherlands, one church even paid tribute by playing Avicii’s hit “Without You” on its bells.
But Avicii’s family were, of course, affected most of all. They remained silent for six days, and in the meantime rumors flew. Anonymous “sources” spoke to TMZ about the DJ and divulged that Avicii’s alcohol problem had allegedly returned. TMZ also published a picture of Avicii in Oman with what looked like a drink in his hand.
On April 26 Avicii’s family released a statement. It seemed to confirm what everyone had feared. “Our beloved Tim was a seeker, a fragile artistic soul searching for answers to existential questions,” they said. “An over-achieving perfectionist who traveled and worked hard at a pace that led to extreme stress.”
“When he stopped touring, he wanted to find a balance in life to be happy and be able to do what he loved most – music. He really struggled with thoughts about Meaning, Life, Happiness,” the statement went on. The next part was the most upsetting. “He could not go on any longer. He wanted to find peace.” Although the family hadn’t outright said it, it seemed likely that Avicii’s death had been a suicide.
A few days later, TMZ published a report alleging the details. Avicii had indeed killed himself, it claimed. “Our sources say the method of death was a shard of glass that caused massive bleeding. Two sources tell us Avicii broke a bottle and used the glass to inflict the fatal wound. One of the sources says it was a wine bottle,” the website announced.
Some other media outlets considered that reporting the alleged suicide to such an extent was irresponsible. “The news of Avicii’s death is deeply painful and confusing for many. It’s shocking that someone with so much could be so sad,” wrote Jennifer Michael Hecht for Vox on May 5. “But shock is not a good excuse to throw ethics out the window when it comes to reporting his death.”
“Media contagion research shows a dose effect: the more exposure to media reporting of suicide, including the number of articles and the prominence of the death, the greater the copycat effect,” Hecht went on. “Changing the way a suicide is reported in the press can reduce suicides.” And many other people condemned TMZ’s reporting on the event.
One of the loudest voices was that of Talinda Bennington, widow of Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington, who took his own life in July 2017. “Please, please, DO NOT click on the TMZ article or any other about the private details of Avicii’s passing,” she wrote to her 271k Twitter followers on May 1.
Anna Shinoda, a friend of the Benningtons and wife of Chester’s bandmate Mike Shinoda, also spoke out. “If you want to be respectful of the person who has passed and their family and friends, step in front of your curiosity,” she wrote. “Your click on that page is your vote. Your click tells them that you want more articles like these.”
Avicii’s story is a heartbreakingly sad one. According to a source who spoke to Swedish site Stoppa Pressarna at the beginning of May, Avicii’s relatives had received a worrying phone call from him the day he died. They rushed to Oman to try and save him, but tragically arrived just a few hours too late.
If there’s anything good to be taken away from the tragedy, it’s that people are gradually becoming more aware of the warning signs for suicide. After the news about Avicii hit, many people came forward with their own stories about mental health. The message was clear in all of them: if you’re struggling, there are always people out there who can help. Although it was sadly too late for Avicii, there are others out there whom it might not be too late for.