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DEATH Frontman Chuck Schuldiner Dies Aged 34
December 13th, 2001

Chuck Schuldiner

Death vocalist and guitarist Chuck Schuldiner died on December 13th, 2001 following a lengthy battle with pontine glioma, a rare type of brain tumour. The musician was 34 years old.

Charles Michael Schuldiner was born on May 13th, 1967, the youngest of three children. Both of Schuldiner’s parents were teachers. He began playing guitar at the age of nine following the death of 16-year-old brother Frank, his parents purchasing him a guitar in the hope it would help him deal with his grief.

Schuldiner formed Mantas in his native Florida during late 1983, the trio rounded out by guitarist Rick “Rozz” DeLillo and drummer / vocalist Barney “Kam” Lee. Five-track demo Death By Metal was recorded in mid-1984, Mantas later revising its name to Death. The demo Reign Of Terror was recorded over a five-hour period in October 1984; cut in the back room of a music store, the demo cost $80 to make. A December 30th, 1984 performance with Nasty Savage at Ruby’s Pub was also recorded.

On March 9th, 1985, the trio cut a three-track recording which later became known as the Infernal Death tape, the outing proving to be the swansong effort from the line-up. Schuldiner had received a tape from Genocide bassist Scott Carlson, Carlson relocating to Orlando with guitarist Matt Olivo. Rozz exited, Carlson and Olivo joining Death in a short-lived incarnation. Lacking a drummer, the trio searched for several months for a replacement. Carlson and Olivo ultimately returned to Michigan.

Schuldiner relocated to San Francisco during September 1985 at the behest of erstwhile D.R.I. drummer Eric Brecht, the duo forming another incarnation of Death. Short-lived, Schuldiner returned to Florida in December of that year.

Toronto, Ontario, Canada-based death metal ensemble Slaughter telephoned Schuldiner at roughly the same time, a few weeks prior to entering the studio to begin recording debut full-length studio album Strappado (1987). The band asked Schuldiner to relocate to Toronto and join Slaughter’s line-up, which he did in January 1986, beginning rehearsals. Albeit initially enthusiastic, Schuldiner wished to be a musical leader and not follow another’s musical vision, quickly returning to Florida. Weeks later Schuldiner returned to San Francisco, pairing himself with future Autopsy drummer Chris Reifert. Three-track demo Mutilation was recorded in April of that year, leading Death to be signed to a multi-album deal by Combat Records.

Recording sessions began at a Florida-based studio in July, but various technical issues occurred, sessions not progressing beyond initial basic tracks. Eventually, the pair reconvened at Los Angeles’ Music Grinder Studios. The effort was recorded over the course of several days with producer Randy Burns, Schuldiner and Reifert returning home while Burns mixed.

Waiting for mixing and mastering to take place, the pair came into contact with Californian guitarist John Hand, who joined the duo. A photo including Hand was featured on the back cover of the forthcoming debut, although Hand exited the Death fold prior to the recording of a second studio jaunt, ultimately not recording with Death at all. Debut full-length studio album Scream Bloody Gore was issued in May 1987 through Combat Records.

Schuldiner once again returned to Florida, however, Reifert remaining in San Francisco.
Death became rounded out by three-fourths of fellow death metal concern Massacre, including guitarist Rick Rozz alongside bassist Terry Butler and drummer Bill Andrews. The quartet performed at the Milwaukee Metalfest on July 25th, 1987. A club tour followed, Death premiering the tracks ‘Born Dead’, ‘Open The Casket’ and ‘Pull The Plug’, written for their second outing.

Death ensconced themselves at Morrisound in Tampa, Florida by April 1988 with producer Dan Johnson, Leprosy arriving in August 1988.

In October 1988, Death appeared at the Ultimate Revenge II video shoot, a live video and CD affair which included Dark Angel and Forbidden. Throughout much of 1989, Death continued to tour. Schuldiner wished to pursue a more technical direction while Rozz didn’t, so Rozz parted ways with Death. A Mexican tour featured Cynic guitarist Paul Masvidal, who would later re-emerge within Death.

Butler recommended Hallows Eve guitarist James Murphy as a replacement, formerly of Agents Steel. Schuldiner telephoned the axeman, Murphy opting to remain with the Atlanta, Georgia-based Hallows Eve. Feeling a change of heart several days later, Murphy telephoned Schuldiner. Death had recruited Mark Carter by that time, however, although things didn’t work out with Carter. Not long thereafter, Schuldiner telephoned Murphy once more, Murphy relocating to Florida to join the Death camp.

Chuck Schuldiner

Third studio record Spiritual Healing was recorded in the summer of 1989 with producer Scott Burns, emerging in February 1990. Murphy left shortly following the conclusion of touring for the opus; he phoned Burns, asking if he knew of any groups which needed a lead guitarist. Burns explained that Obituary needed an axeman, Murphy subsequently joining Obituary; he would begin recording solos for September 1990’s Cause Of Death the next day.

1990 American tour dates with Pestilence and Carcass were completed with axeman Albert Gonzalez. Following a week off, Death were scheduled to travel to Europe as part of a co-headlining tour with Kreator. Schuldiner didn’t wish to tour, although contracts had been exchanged and the tour had been promoted. Death toured Europe for nine weeks sans Schuldiner, with drum technician Louie Carrisalez handling vocals and guitar technician Walter Trachsler playing guitar. Death’s line-up dissolved following the trek, Schuldiner the sole remaining member.

October 1991 effort Human featured four tracks written prior to the departure of Butler and Rozz, including ‘Suicide Machine’ and ‘Together As One’. Paul Masvidal was approached to play lead guitar, with fellow Cynic founder Sean Reinert stepping behind the drumkit. Sadus founder Steve DiGiorgio was recruited to occupy bass, but commitments forced him to depart following recording sessions. Scott Carino was hired as a replacement. Directed by David Bellino, a music video was filmed for the track ‘Lack Of Comprehension’ over the course of an entire day in an old theatre in downtown Orlando. The resultant clip received airplay on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball.

Masvidal and Reinert left in the latter half of 1992 to further pursue Cynic, whose debut studio platter Focus emerged in September 1993.

Telephoned by Metal Forces scribe Borivoj Krgin, Dark Angel drummer Gene Hoglan was given Schuldiner’s number to fill said vacancy. By early December 1992, Hoglan had joined the band to rehearse for Death’s fifth studio album, with recording sessions beginning three weeks later.

Roadrunner Records associate Monte Conner telephoned King Diamond guitarist Andy LaRocque, asking if he wished to lay down lead guitar parts. LaRocque’s parts were laid down over a two-week period in Florida, after which he returned to Sweden. An offer was made for LaRocque to be a touring guitarist, which he turned down. Individual Thought Patterns arrived in June 1993. Craig Locicero of Forbidden stepped in for European commitments, while Ralph Santolla (later of the likes of Deicide, Obituary, and Iced Earth) stepped in for American dates.

DiGiorgio exited the fold in early 1995, erstwhile Pain Principle bassist Kelly Conlon coming onboard as well as guitarist Bobby Koeble. Conlon’s parts were recorded over four days for the next outing, while Koeble’s were over three hours. Lone Roadrunner full-length Symbolic emerged in March 1995, produced by Jim Morris. Touring concluded by late 1995, Death being temporarily disbanded.

Schuldiner formed the more melodic-oriented and progressive Control Denied in 1996, solely handling guitar. Chris Williams was recruited to handle drums, with Shannon Hamm occupying second guitar and Brian Benson playing bass. Labels were reluctant to solely sign Control Denied, favouring another Death outing instead. Line-up changes were made, Hamm kept as Death’s second guitarist; Scott Clendenin stepped into the bass position, while Richard Christy entered the Death fold as drummer in July 1997. Seventh and final Death studio platter The Sound Of Perseverance emerged in September 1998 through Nuclear Blast Records. A European tour was embarked upon alongside Benediction, American dates pairing Death with HammerFall.

Work was resumed on Control Denied, Steve DiGiorgio handling bass. Tim Aymar handled vocal duties, lone record The Fragile Art Of Existence surfacing in November 1999. Second jaunt When Man And Machine Collide was worked on, but ultimately never finished.

Schuldiner was diagnosed with pontine glioma in 1999, struggling to afford treatment. The Death frontman eventually underwent surgery for the tumour during January 2000, albeit $70,000 short of the funds needed. The surgery removed almost half of the growth, Schuldiner temporarily recovering; undergoing physical therapy, and even writing material for Control Denied’s second full-length studio album. Early in 2001, however, Schuldiner’s condition worsened, the tumour growing and proving inoperable.

An auction to help Schuldiner with his medical bills took place in June 2001, artists including Pantera, Slipknot, Disturbed, Korn, Marilyn Manson, Kid Rock and The Red Hot Chili Peppers donating items. Schuldiner’s family failed to receive much of the proceeds, however. Numerous death metal acts organised benefit concerts throughout his illness, meanwhile.

At that time, it was reported that the tumour was continuing to grow, and pressing against the cerebellum. Surgeons in New York decided that there were too many risks in operating the week previous, insteading opting to treat the tumour with an experimental drug named Zin Cristine. The aim was that the drug would attack the cancer, but without killing healthy brain cells.

Brain scans Schuldiner had to undergo cost $11,000, with sessions for the drug costing $10,000 per month. By that time, his family had spent over $200,000 over a two-year period, funds evaporating. Schuldiner’s medical insurance company refused to pay for treatment, given that the insurance policy was taken out following his first surgery.

Chemotherapy and drug treatments weakened the musician, however, with Schuldiner becoming ill with pneumonia by late October / early November.

Chuck Schuldiner died at approximately 4pm (EST) on December 13th, 2001.

Schuldiner was survived by parents Jane and Malcolm, and sister Bethann. He was predeceased by brother Frank.

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