Death stalked the Allman family

Gregg Allman was surrounded by death

Death stalked the Allman family

Header photo: Gregg (left) and Duane Allman

Death stalked the Allman family.

It began on December 26, 1949, in Norfolk, Virginia. Gregg’s father Willis Allman was a Second Lieutenant at Fort Story, a military base in Virginia. He and a fellow officer, Lt. Robert Buchanan, offered to drive a stranger home from a bar.

Driving along in the car the man pulled a gun and ordered them to stop the car and get out. He marched them into a field. Willis Allman made a grab for the gun as Buchanan ran for help. As he ran toward a farmhouse he heard two shots.

Death stalked the Allman family
Lt. Willis Allman

Willis had been shot dead and robbed of $4.85. He was 31. A 26-year-old man was later arrested and charged with murder.


Gregg’s older brother Duane was killed in a motorcycle crash on October 29, 1971, in Macon, Georgia, at the age of 24.

Duane was riding his Harley Sportster at high speed and approaching an intersection when a flatbed truck stopped suddenly in the intersection. Duane swerved sharply to the left to avoid a collision but struck the back of the truck and was thrown from the motorcycle.

The Harley reportedly “bounced into the air, landed on Allman and skidded another 90 feet with Duane pinned underneath.” He was alive when he was taken to a hospital and underwent emergency surgery. He died several hours later from massive internal injuries.


Death stalked the Allman family
Berry Oakley crash site.

In a grim coincidence, a year later, on November 11, 1972, Allman Brothers Band member Berry Oakley died after crashing his motorcycle just three blocks from where Duane was killed.

He also was still alive when he was rushed into emergency surgery at a nearby hospital, but died of his injuries several hours later. Berry was also 24.

Berry Oakley

Before Duane’s death, the band was riding the high and lows of sudden success and wealth. Each of them struggled with heavy addictions to heroin and cocaine.

They all made a pact to quit heroin, but cocaine kept running around in their brain, to paraphrase Jackson Browne’s ‘Cocaine, runnin’ all ’round my brain…’

Death stalked the Allman family
The Allman Brothers Band


Gregg never forgave himself for the last time he and Duane talked — or rather, argued over cocaine. Gregg had taken some of his brother’s supply, but when Duane confronted him about it, Gregg lied and said he never took any.

In his memoir, ‘My Cross to Bear,’ Gregg wrote: “I have thought of that lie every day of my life. I told him that lie, and he told me that he was sorry and that he loved me.”


“When I got over being angry, I prayed to him to forgive me. Not that I got over it. I don’t know what getting over it means. I don’t stand around crying anymore, but I think about him every day of my life. I talk to my brother in the morning, and he answers me at night. I’ve opened myself to his death and accepted it, and I think that’s the grieving process at work.”

Gregg battled several health issues during the last years of his life. In 2007, he was diagnosed with hepatitis C which he said he got from a dirty tattoo needle. The following year three tumors were discovered in his liver and he went on a waiting list for a transplant, undergoing a successful transplant in 2010.


On the 45th anniversary of Duane’s death, Gregg cancelled a concert because of “serious health issues.” 

He died at his home in Richmond Hill, Georgia, on May 27, 2017, due to complications from liver cancer. Among the hundreds of mourners at his funeral were once-estranged bandmate Dickey Betts, his ex-wife Cher (one of seven), and former President Jimmy Carter. Most of the mourners wore blue jeans as Gregg had requested.

Gregg Allman was buried at Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon, beside his brother Duane, and fellow band member Berry Oakley.

The Allman Brothers Band perform ‘One Way Out’ at Fillmore East in New York in 1971.

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