Hoon was born in Lafayette, Indiana and raised in nearby Dayton, Indiana with his half-sister, Anna, and half-brother, Tim. He reportedly began using his middle name, Shannon, to avoid confusion with his father, who was also named Richard. In high school, he played football, wrestled, and was a pole vaulter. Shannon's musical influences included the Grateful Dead, The Beatles, John Lennon, and Bob Dylan. After graduating from McCutcheon High School in 1985, Hoon joined a local glam metal band named Styff Kytten, which also featured guitarist Michael Kelsey. He took on the role of frontman and lead singer of the band. It was around this time that he wrote his first song and called it "Change." He was also a member of the Lafayette band Mank Rage, along with David Lank and Darren Mickler, during this time.
In 1985, Hoon, 18, left Indiana for Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, he met musicians Brad Smith and Rogers Stevens at a party. Smith and Stevens saw Hoon perform his song "Change" acoustically and invited Hoon to play with them. Christopher Thorn and Glen Graham were then brought into the fold, and by 1990 the five musicians decided to form Blind Melon. The band was possibly named for a term Smith's father used to describe the neighborhood stoners; or for Blind Melon Chitlin, a character from a Cheech & Chong album. In 1990, the new bandmates produced a four-song demo tape and subsequently signed a $500,000 recording contract with Capitol Records.
In Los Angeles, Hoon befriended his sister Anna's high school friend, Axl Rose. Rose invited Hoon to join him in the studio, where his band Guns N' Roses were recording their albums Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II (both released in 1991). Hoon sang backing vocals on several of the tracks, including "The Garden" and "Don't Cry." Rose also invited Hoon to appear in the video for "Don't Cry."
In 1992, Blind Melon released their self-titled debut album produced by Pearl Jam producer Rick Parashar. Blind Melon began touring to promote the album, supporting and opening for acts like Ozzy Osbourne, Guns N' Roses, and Soundgarden over the course of 1992–1993. In the summer of 1992, the video for the album track "No Rain" was released as a single. The video for "No Rain" focused on a theme of the "normal" crowd versus the lonely outcast. It featured a young girl, played by Heather DeLoach, in a bee costume, tap dancing to unappreciative audiences, who finally finds an entire crowd of people similarly dressed who welcome her. The video is often referred to as the 'Bee Girl'. Blind Melon went multi-platinum.
Hoon and Blind Melon spent the next two years touring. In 1993, Hoon was arrested for indecent exposure after he disrobed onstage and urinated on a fan at a show in Vancouver.
In 1994, Blind Melon appeared at Woodstock '94 where Hoon, allegedly high on LSD, went onstage wearing his girlfriend's white dress.
After taking a hiatus from touring, Blind Melon returned to the studio to record the album Soup in New Orleans. Soup was released in 1995.
On July 11, 1995, Hoon and his girlfriend, Lisa Crouse, had a daughter named Nico Blue. Before the birth of his daughter, Hoon entered rehab again. In August, Blind Melon planned to tour to support their album Soup, so Hoon allowed a drug counselor to accompany him on the road. The counselor, unable to keep Hoon from relapsing, was dismissed days before Hoon's death.
After a disappointing performance in Houston on October 20, Hoon launched himself into an all-night drug binge. The next day, Saturday, October 21, 1995, Blind Melon was scheduled to play a show in New Orleans at Tipitina's. The band's sound engineer, Lyle Eaves, went to the tour bus to awaken Hoon for a sound check, but Hoon was unresponsive. An ambulance arrived, and Hoon was pronounced dead at the scene, at the age of 28. The cause of death was attributed to a cocaine overdose.
Hoon was buried at Dayton Cemetery in Dayton, Indiana. His grave is inscribed with a line from Blind Melon's song "Change", the first song he wrote:
On November 12, 1996, Blind Melon released their final album featuring Hoon, Nico, as a tribute to him with all proceeds going to his daughter and to programs helping musicians deal with drug problems. The band also released a video called Letters From A Porcupine that was nominated for 'Best Long Form Music Video' at the Grammy Awards on February 25, 1997.
On September 17, 2008, the book A Devil on One Shoulder and an Angel on the Other: The Story of Shannon Hoon and Blind Melon by Greg Prato was published.