The first time I heard Avicii was seven years ago. In the shower. I remember feeling the water, then the music. It hit me with a rush, filling up my body with every beat, pulsing inside me to the point where I couldn’t distinguish between the rhythm and my own heartbeat.
I began dancing on the slippery wet white porcelain, not caring if I slipped and fell. My body had to MOVE, caution be damned:
That’s what inspired music does. It makes you fucking FEEL something. In the din and drudgery of day-to-day life, amidst the struggles and suffering, uncertainty and unknowns, music makes you feel. Connected to yourself, connected to others, connected to Life and to Spirit and this whole goddamn gorgeous, uncontrollable, inexplicable universe.
At some point, this creator of music struggled with his own connection and his own relationship with Life. At some point, maybe you have too.
This is an in-depth look at Avicii’s life, death, and search for meaning as we all continue the search for and creation of our own.
The Life of The Boy Who Became Avicii
Growing up, Tim Bergling was a timid kid whose acne outbreaks made him even more shy and withdrawn. As both an introvert and an empath, he was terrified to speak in front of people, extremely sensitive, and ultimately discovered an outlet for expression, feeling, and connection in a way that felt good and made sense through music.
When he was a 16-year-old high school sophomore, Tim began making remixes in his family home in Stockholm, Sweden. Safely shielded behind a screen name where nobody would judge him by his age or his complexion, he began sharing his mixes in electronic dance music forums.
Two years later, a manager stumbled across one of his postings online. Struck by the raw talent, he invited the 18-year-old out to coffee. Tim had no clue about the business and just wanted to have the chance to DJ in a club instead of his bedroom, but his new manager had a bigger vision in mind for him.
An interview with teenage Tim Bergling:
“Bromance” blew up in 2010, followed by “LE7ELS” in 2011:
Less than a year after that, Avicii was onstage alongside Madonna.
The kid who began by messing around with music in his teenage bedroom “hoping to have a chance to play a gig in a real club,” whose first-ever gig as a DJ was playing to forty students at a high school prom, was now, five years later, commanding $250,000 and up for one night of work to perform in front of thousands. In 2013, he generated $20 million in earnings, followed by $28 million in 2014. His talent was unique, his gifts undeniable.
He couldn’t say “no.”
With immense success came immense stress, pressure, and overwhelm. Avicii may have been invincible onstage, but Tim Bergling didn’t know how to say “no.” He didn’t know how to say “no” to pushy promoters who wanted him to keep touring past the point of exhaustion.
“When I started touring I was eighteen years old. I was straight out of high school, I had shows every single day. I completely overdid it.” -Avicii
He didn’t know how to say “no” to the drinks that were shoved into his hands, to the people, to the partying, to the lifestyle.
“I looked at myself like, “Fuck, you should’ve really stood up for yourself more there. Come on, Tim!” Why didn’t I stop the ship earlier?” -Avicii
All he wanted to do was make music, but everyone wanted a piece of him to break off and keep for themselves. Wanting to please, wanting to be accepted, and wanting to fit into an industry that pushes hard and promotes more, more, more, Tim kept saying “yes, yes, yes.”
The problem is, too much of anything will drown you.
“It’s very easy to become too attached to partying. You become lonely and get anxieties. It becomes toxic.” -Avicii
The signs began, softly at first, as they always do. If you ignore them, they become louder. They whisper, they speak, they shout, and finally, they scream.
January 2012, Age 22: Avicii Hospitalized in New York for 11 Days
Tim is hospitalized in New York City with acute pancreatitis, a consequence of heavy drinking. He remains in the hospital for 11 days.
March 2013, Age 23: Avicii Hospitalized in Australia
Tim is hospitalized again for similar symptoms while on tour in Australia. Doctors urge him to have his gallbladder removed, but he declines.
March 28, 2014, Age 24: Avicii Hospitalized in Miami
Tim is scheduled to be the headliner at the Ultra music festival in Miami. One day before what would have been his third performance in a row, he is again hospitalized with excruciating pain, fever, nausea, and other symptoms of acute pancreatitis. In the hospital, he learns that not only had his acute pancreatitis returned, but his appendix has burst. Both his gall bladder and his appendix have to be removed. Months of scheduled events are canceled so he can recover.
Five years earlier, Avicii released the song “Alcoholic” with the darkly, unapologetically aware lyrics, “Call it what you wanna call it, I’m a fucking alcoholic.”
The Miami hospitalization was a screaming sign, demanding attention after so many subtler ones were ignored: It’s time to do something different, or else you’re going to die.
“I’m happy I got that hospital visit now, ’cause if not I probably would have still kept going and in a year or two years probably something way worse could have happened. Something that’s irreversible. This is not irreversible at all. It was just kind of a wake-up call.” -Avicii
In 2016, in a dramatic move hearing and heeding the loudest wake-up call, Avicii unexpectedly announced that he was going to retire from all live tours. Excerpts from his retirement letter are as follows:
Thank you for letting me fulfill so many of my dreams. I will be forever grateful to have experienced and accomplished all that I have with the help of the team around me and my beloved fans.
Thank you to every fan who has ever bought a ticket or snuck in, bought a song or downloaded it, commented on posts or hated at them. Its your thoughts and ideas about the music that helped me evolve and I do owe everything I have to you.
My path has been filled with success but it hasn’t come without its bumps. I’ve become an adult while growing as an artist, I’ve come to know myself better and realize that there’s so much I want to do with my life. I have strong interests in different areas but there’s so little time to explore them.
Two weeks ago, I took the time to drive across the U.S. with my friends and team, to just look and see and think about things in a new way. It really helped me realize that I needed to make the change that I’d been struggling with for a while.
My choices and career have never been driven by material things, although I’m grateful for all the opportunities and comforts my success has availed me. I know I am blessed to be able to travel all around the world and perform, but I have too little left for the life of a real person behind the artist.
I will never let go of music — I will continue to speak to my fans through it, but I’ve decided this 2016 run will be my last tour and last shows. Let’s make them go out with a bang!
One part of me can never say never, I could be back …but I won’t be right back.
“I have too little left for the life of a real person behind the artist.” -Tim Bergling/Avicii
And with that, Tim took drastic action with a bold attempt to save and reclaim his own life. He slowed his ass down from a whirlwind of airports, Red Bull, shows, drinks, and airport food to an entirely different pace sprinkled with animals, friends, adventures in nature, and plenty of studio time, documented on his Instagram.
After his last live show, Tim headed to Africa to celebrate his 27th birthday:
And onward to reminiscing about quality time with his parents, reading, and mastering Monopoly on an island:
From the islands, returning to his home in Los Angeles, to his beloved pup Liam, a day out riding rollercoasters, and making music:
“If you don’t like the road you’re walking, start paving another one.” -Avicii, quoting Dolly Parton
Tim’s 2017 unfolded with quiet Fridays in, flea market shopping, and more music-making:
After posting a tribute to his mother Anki Lidén for Mother’s Day, he celebrated Midsummer in Sweden with friends:
From Sweden, he flew onward to Peru to undergo a plant medicine journey in the Amazonian jungle:
Tim and his crew began their medicine journey with Kambo, also known as Sapo, during which poison is gently collected from an Amazonian tree frog and placed into small burned holes in the skin by a shaman — it is used for purging toxins, negative energy, and negative experiences from your body:
“To me it was something I had to do for my health (decision to quit touring). The scene was not for me. It was not the shows and not the music. It was always the other stuff surrounding it that never came naturally to me. I’m more of an introverted person in general. It was always very hard for me. I took on board too much negative energy, I think.” -Avicii
Kambo is sometimes done before an Ayahuasca plant medicine ceremony. Ayahuasca, also known as “Mama Aya,” is often sought out as a psychological or spiritually healing treatment:
While in Peru, Tim connected with furry new animal friends in the Amazon before flying back to LA to release his new EP including “Lonely Together:”
“I just feel happy. I feel free at this point. Like I have my private life back and focusing on myself for the first time in a long time. So far it has paid off tremendously in terms of well-being for me. I’m happier than I have been in a very, very long time. Stress-free more than I have been in a very long time. I can’t say I’m never going to have a show again. I just don’t think I’m going to go back to the touring life.” -Avicii
After the successful launch of his EP, Tim headed into the desert to Black Rock City just after his 28th birthday for Burning Man — not as a scheduled DJ in a camp’s lineup, but as an attendee:
He wrapped up 2017 camping in nature, “being home” in the studio, and with friends, wishing everyone a happy new year:
“The best days are yet to come.” -Avicii
Tim kicked off 2018 with quality time cuddling and hiking with his pup Liam:
And creating, mixing, and collaborating in “Studiomode:”
Tim’s last post on Instagram was taken as he walked across the watery steps of his home in the Hollywood Hills:
On April 14, a fan shared the following photo taken at the Muscat Hills Resort in Muscat, Oman:
On April 19, the last known photo of Tim Bergling was taken aboard a yacht off the Muscat coast:
The next day, he was dead.
“It is with profound sorrow that we announce the loss of Tim Bergling, also known as Avicii. He was found dead in Muscat, Oman this Friday afternoon local time, April 20th. The family is devastated and we ask everyone to please respect their need for privacy in this difficult time. No further statements will be given.” -Avicii’s management
The Cause of Avicii’s Death
Tim Bergling’s family released the following message on April 26, 2018. A cause is not confirmed, although it is heartbreakingly insinuated:
“Stockholm, 26 April 2018
Our beloved Tim was a seeker, a fragile artistic soul searching for answers to existential questions.
An over-achieving perfectionist who travelled 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.
He could not go on any longer.
He wanted to find peace.
Tim was not made for the business machine he found himself in; he was a sensitive guy who loved his fans but shunned the spotlight.
Tim, you will forever be loved and sadly missed.
The person you were and your music will keep your memory alive.
We love you,
Our minds grasp for an explanation, for something it can latch onto to try and make sense of the senseless. We want to know the cause of his death so that we can have some sense of closure, understanding, and completion. As if knowing could fill the gaping void in the hearts of so many who were touched by his talent and moved by his music.
By fixating on what did or didn’t happen, we distract and distance ourselves from feeling and facing what did happen: Tim Bergling, the brilliant young artist who felt so deeply, whose happiest place was creating music from the powerful, healing, bliss-and-wonder-filled depths he was gifted direct access to, who helped us to find and feel those depths within ourselves, is gone.
He was 28 when he died. A shy Swedish boy thrust suddenly into the spotlight, unsure of who he was outside of his home of making music and told by the industry what he had to be in order to stay in it.
Avicii was a Black Star — an astronomical term for a star that shines so brightly, it burns out and dies, leaving its mass behind.
Ultimately, it is not about how he died. It is about how he lived, why it matters, and what we can do about it.
It is important to feel what you feel, which is what his music and his life were decided to — from joy to pain, grief, confusion, anger, fear, gratitude, longing, love. Feel it all, because you can.
Now you have a glimpse of how he lived, which is more important to remember than how he died. How in the last two years of his life, he tried hard to come back home to himself after being lost for too long.
Tim Bergling/Avicii spent his short 28 years on this earth following his truest calling— to make music from a place of curiosity, inspiration, playfulness, and joy— getting lost along the way with all that wasn’t who and what he was, and committing to finding his way back home again, with detours and wanderings along the journey.
So what’s the point?
The point is, we are all here to find and follow our callings as they show up and evolve. To hear and to honor the undeniable call to action to be, to live, to feel, to connect, to create — to tap into the collective consciousness generated through music and art and to wake the fuck up in our own lives when it comes to the preciousness of the limited time that we have here on this planet.
Waking up with breath is a gift.
With living comes a responsibility to tap into your own greatness, your own gifts, and your own Hero.
With living comes a responsibility to save your own life by whatever means possible.
With living comes a responsibility to have the courage to realize when you are off track and to summon the strength to get back onto your path, again and again and again.
With living comes a responsibility to reach out to others, because we are not meant to walk this path alone. A trusted family member. A therapist. A friend.
“Do you ever get the chance to be just Tim?”
“I don’t think I’ve had the chance to really sit back and look at what’s happened. It doesn’t feel real.” -Tim Bergling
You have time now, Tim. It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day. It’s a new life.
For you, and for us.
If reading this made you think, feel, or somehow connect with your aliveness, click here and I’ll keep you in the loop for more.
P.S. You can reach out to me anytime— as a therapist who has worked with artists, celebrities, musicians, athletes, politicians, execs, and people who are struggling with meaning/purpose, behavioral and/or chemical addictions, the pressure to be someone they are not, or the stress of having to keep it all together but are secretly falling apart inside because they’ve lost their way, I can help. Let’s connect and get you back in alignment with your heart and on your path home to your truest self. -Ivy Kwong LMFT, BareIvy.com