Jazz Drummer Buddy Rich Dies at Age 69JUDY FARAH , Associated Press
Apr. 2, 1987 10:41 PM ET
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Buddy Rich, the legendary jazz drummer who began his career more than a half-century ago as a vaudeville song-and-dance prodigy known as Baby Traps the Drum Wonder, died Thursday. He was 69.
Rich, a self-taught drummer who played with Artie Shaw and Tommy Dorsey before starting his own band, had undergone surgery March 16 at the UCLA Medical Center for a brain tumor and had been undergoing daily chemotherapy treatment at the hospital.
''He had just come back from having treatment, had a seizure, and they took him right back,'' said family spokesman Jackie Green.
Rich's wife, Marie, and daughter, Cathy, were with him when he died, Green said.
Rich was having a seizure and suffering from extremely low blood pressure when he arrived at the emergency room, said hospital spokesman Rich Elbaum. He died at 2:27 p.m. of unexpected respiratory and cardiac failure, Elbaum said.
At first it was reported the tumor was inoperable, but Paul Werth, a personal spokesman for Rich, said those reports were incorrect.
Rich was hospitalized a month ago in New York with paralysis on his left side. Physicians first thought he had suffered a stroke, and he was transferred to UCLA for tests.
''I could hardly believe the news of Buddy's death, if only because he was so vital and full of life,'' said Frank Sinatra, who financed Rich's first band. ''The music world will miss him and of course, so will I.''
''I'm terribly saddened,'' said ''Tonight Show'' host Johnny Carson, himself a drummer of some note. ''The musical world has lost a genius and I have lost a dear friend.''
Bandleader Shaw said Rich displayed ''an enormous, forceful, crisp energy in his playing.''
''Nobody had quite the beat that he had. It was a powerful propulsion that he gave a band. Sometimes, overwhelmingly so. You couldn't hold him down. He had this energy that was absolutely unstoppable. You couldn't contain it.''
Hugh M. Hefner, editor and publisher of Playboy Magazine, called Rich ''a giant of jazz.''
Rich, born in Brooklyn to the vaudeville team known as Wilson and Rich, made his professional debut as a drummer when he was 18 months old. He never stopped drumming.
He was born Bernard Rich on June 30, 1917, and the family, which included three other children, lived in a big house near Sheepshead Bay until just before World War II.
At the age of 2, dolled up in a Buster Brown collar or a sailor suit, and with long curly locks, he banged out ''The Stars and Stripes Forever'' on his tiny drum. When he was 4, he appeared on Broadway. Two years later he toured Australia for 18 months.
By the time he was 15, his $1,000 a week salary made him second only to Jackie Coogan as the highest-paid child performer.
In the late 1930s, Rich played with bands fronted by Joe Marsala, Bunny Berigan, Benny Carter and Shaw. By the early 1940s he was winning polls as the favorite jazz drummer. He played with Tommy Dorsey from 1939 to 1942.
In 1942, despite being deferred by his local draft board, he joined the Marine Corps and served as a judo instructor and rifleman. He did not serve overseas.
Always combative and hot-tempered, he got into numerous fights as ''the only Jew in my platoon,'' he said, adding that after a dozen fights he heard no more complaints about the patriotism or fighting ability of Jews.
After the war, bankrolled by Sinatra, Rich formed his first band.
He also toured extensively with Jazz at the Philharmonic, then gave up his group to join trumpeter Harry James. He earned $2,500 a week, the highest salary paid to a sideman at the time.
He formed his own band again in the 1960s and performed regularly over the years, becoming a favorite on the college concert circuit.
Rich suffered a heart attack in 1959. He underwent bypass heart surgery in 1983 after apparently suffering another attack.
He declared bankruptcy in 1968, the same year he was fined $2,500 in federal court for failing to report income in 1961. His house and furnishings was sold by the Internal Revenue Service in 1970 to pay back taxes.