Whitesnake Guitarist Bernie Marsden Dies At 72

The founding guitarist for the iconic hair metal band co-wrote hits like “Here I Go Again.”
bernie marsden plays les paul guitar
In this undated photo, Bernie Marsden performs live onstage.Fin Costello

Bernie Marsden, the original guitarist for monumentally popular 1980s metal band Whitesnake, died Thursday night at age 72. The news was first announced by former bandmate and Whitesnake lead singer David Coverdale, and was confirmed by a statement from his family. He was 72.

Marsden was born in 1951 in Buckingham, England, and by his mid-20s he'd been the member of numerous notable bands, including UFO and Paice Ashton Lord. According to a 2020 interview with Louder, it wasn't until 1978 that he found international fame, founding Whitesnake (initially called “David Coverdale’s Whitesnake”) with guitarist Micky Moody and Coverdale, who had recently left the band Deep Purple. 

“There are certain moments in your career that feel like turning points,” Marsden said of playing live with Whitesnake.  “I was watching everything going on as I was playing, thinking to myself: ‘This is the band that you always dreamed you would be in.’”

Marsden remained a member of Whitesnake until 1982, co-writing some of the band's best-known hits. such as “Fool for You Loving" and “Here I Go Again." The latter song, arguably Whitesnake's most recognizable hit, was recut for the band's 1987 album Whitesnake, released after Marsden had left the band.

Speaking with Louder, Marsden said that it took less than a day to write the song, which hit #1 on the singles chart in the U.S. and remained in the top 10 for weeks. “It took maybe two hours,” Marsden said. “It all came together pretty quickly. And when I played it to David he got really excited. He went to his room and rewrote and rearranged the lyrics. I had no problem with that at all, because that’s how we were writing in those days, fifty-fifty.”

After his time with Whitesnake, Marsden launched a number of solo projects and collaborated with luminaries including, as noted by Guitar World, “Robert Plant, Paul Weller, Jon Lord, Ringo Starr, Rory Gallagher, Jack Bruce and Warren Haynes.” He also wrote an autobiography, entitled Where’s My Guitar: An Inside Story of British Rock and Roll, that was published in 2017.

His most recent album, Trios, was released in August 2022, Billboard notes. That same year, Marsden underwent surgery, and experienced some health setbacks including “acute dehydration,” he said in a statement posted to social media last August. The challenges prompted him to cancel a tour planned for late 2022, and it appears he did not return to the road.

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On Friday, Coverdale announced Marsden's passing, describing him as “a genuinely funny, gifted man.” Shortly thereafter, Marsden's family confirmed his passing via Instagram. “Bernie died peacefully on Thursday evening with his wife, Fran, and daughters, Charlotte and Olivia, by his side," the post read. “Bernie never lost his passion for music, writing and recording new songs until the end.”

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When asked in 2020 about his success, Marsden suggested that having loyal fans was just as important to a musician as skill or serendipity. “I think if you’ve got the talent, luck will fall your way,” Marsden told Louder. “All I’ve ever tried to do is play a show with as much honesty as I can, because without the people who put their hands in their pockets and come to gigs, there’s nothing left.”