TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Paul O’Neill, the founder of the progressive metal band Trans-Siberian Orchestra, died of an accidental drug overdose, a Florida medical examiner said in a report released Tuesday.
The Hillsborough County Medical Examiner in Tampa wrote in an autopsy report dated May 25 that O’Neill had methadone, codeine, diazepam and an antihistamine in his system when he died April 5 in Tampa. The county released the report Tuesday.
The cause of death for the 61-year-old was intoxication and the manner of death was drug abuse. He was found dead in a hotel room.
His family released a statement on the band’s website Tuesday. It said O’Neill suffered from numerous chronic illnesses, including bone augmentation surgery, complications from spinal fusion surgery, heart disease, and hypertension.
They said O’Neill’s death was “an unexpected reaction to prescribed medications” and thanked fans for their support.
O’Neill was a rock producer and manager who founded Trans-Siberian Orchestra in 1996, blending heavy metal with classical music and creating a unique brand of rock theater. He tapped three members of the Tarpon Springs, Florida, band Savatage to be part of TSO and intended for it to be a “supergroup,” similar to popular bands like ELO, Pink Floyd and Yes.
The band is best known for its takes on Christmas staples like “Carol of the Bells,” but also more experimental, arena-rock songs such as “Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24),” which described a lone cello player playing a forgotten holiday song in war-torn Sarajevo. That song was on the band’s 1996 album, “Christmas Eve and Other Stories,” which went triple platinum.
Fans especially loved the band’s Christmas tours, which were heavy on guitar solos and heavier on special effects — similar to a Broadway Christmas pageant with a heavy metal soundtrack. One magazine once wrote that “TSO has enough pyro to BBQ an entire school of blue whales” during a show.
But O’Neill, with his signature flowing locks, sunglasses and leather jackets, was remembered by fans for his deep generosity. He kept a case of silver dollars with him on tour and would hand out coins to fans from the year they were born. Others recalled him tipping waitresses thousands of dollars for a post-show meal and buying drum sets for young fans.
In the hours after his death, the band said in a statement that O’Neill died from a “chronic illness.” The band wrote on its website in mid-April that O’Neill had several health issues, from chronic spine problems to Meniere’s disease, a disorder of the inner ear.
“For Paul, this was a constant battle, causing him to race against time to write and record as much music as possible, before, like Beethoven, his ears ultimately betrayed him,” the band wrote. At the time of his death, he was writing two rock operas.
The band’s statement said O’Neill overworked himself, spending weeks alone in the studio, jumping around amid bursts of flame on stage and flying around the U.S. with no sleep, all aggravating his chronic spine problems.
“He would gladly do it for the music and for the fans,” the band wrote. “While all witnessed Paul’s seemingly superhuman feats, few witnessed afterward the physical toll these took on him.”