Abstract Background Hormone-refractory prostate cancer (HRPC) is characterized by poor response to chemotherapy and high mortality, particularly among African American men when compared to other racial/ethnic groups. It is generally accepted that docetaxel, the standard of care for chemotherapy of HRPC, primarily exerts tumor cell death by inducing mitotic catastrophe and caspase-dependent apoptosis following inhibition of microtubule depolymerization. However, there is a gap in our knowledge of mechanistic events underlying docetaxel-induced caspase-independent cell death, and the genes that antagonize this process. This knowledge is important for circumventing HRPC chemoresistance and reducing disparities in prostate cancer mortality. Results We investigated mechanistic events associated with docetaxel-induced death in HRPC cell lines using various approaches that distinguish caspase-dependent from caspase-independent cell death. Docetaxel induced both mitotic catastrophe and caspase-dependent apoptosis at various concentrations. However, caspase activity was not essential for docetaxel-induced cytotoxicity since cell death associated with lysosomal membrane permeabilization still occurred in the presence of caspase inhibitors. Partial inhibition of docetaxel-induced cytotoxicity was observed after inhibition of cathepsin B, but not inhibition of cathepsins D and L, suggesting that docetaxel induces caspase-independent, lysosomal cell death. Simultaneous inhibition of caspases and cathepsin B dramatically reduced docetaxel-induced cell death. Ectopic expression of lens epithelium-derived growth factor p75 (LEDGF/p75), a stress survival autoantigen and transcription co-activator, attenuated docetaxel-induced lysosomal destabilization and cell death. Interestingly, LEDGF/p75 overexpression did not protect cells against DTX-induced mitotic catastrophe, and against apoptosis induced by tumor necrosis factor related apoptosis inducing ligand (TRAIL), suggesting selectivity in its pro-survival activity. Conclusion These results underscore the ability of docetaxel to induce concomitantly caspase-dependent and independent death pathways in prostate cancer cells. The results also point to LEDGF/p75 as a potential contributor to cellular resistance to docetaxel-induced lysosomal destabilization and cell death, and an attractive candidate for molecular targeting in HRPC.