Dave Brockie, frontman of the theatrical joke-metal institution Gwar, has died, as Blabbermouth has confirmed. Brockie co-founded Gwar in 1984, and he was the only constant member in the band’s 30-year history. Performing as Oderus Urungus, Brockie was something of an underground icon, a proudly ridiculous and obscene figure who built a huge cult audience from the ground up. Richmond, Virginia police found him dead in his home yesterday. He was 50.
After leading the prop-heavy punk band Death Piggy, Brockie joined up with a couple of local art students to start a heavily-costumed joke-metal band, which became Gwar. Over its 30 years, the band built an entire mythos around that goofy-ass idea, an elaborate backstory about invading aliens and nefarious political forces. (Oderus, in storyline, was a 43 billion year-old alien from the planet Scumdogia.) In live shows, they executed a dizzying array of celebrities, spraying the audience with gallons of fake blood from pneumatic cannons and creating a spectacle that, if you’ve ever seen it, you will never forget.
Gwar released their debut album Hell-O in 1988, and they went on to release 12 more, though their recorded music always felt like something of an afterthought. They also released the 1990 video Live From Antarctica and the 1992 movie Phallus In Wonderland, both of which were essential viewing for a particular breed of ’90s punk/metal dork. Throughout the ’90s, they had various unpredictable intersections with pop culture, appearing on The Jerry Springer Show and in the movie Empire Records. By the end of the decade, they were a touring fixture, and their live shows, in which entire venues would be turned into slooshing, gooey, violent pits, were an essential rite of passage. If you never saw one, you fucked up.
Gwar have always played themselves as something of a joke, but they’re also an American success story, a circus built on blood and irreverence. Brockie’s commitment to his character and his comic timing, as well as his incredible ability to perform while buried in ungodly-heavy prosthetic props, were staggering and inspiring. The band were also godfathers of the Richmond metal scene, which today ranks as one of the country’s best and most fertile, and its annual Gwar-B-Q festivals in Richmond were a great showcase for the band and for its enduring influence.
When guitarist Cody Smoot, who played the character Flattus Maximus, died suddenly while the band was on tour in 2011, the band didn’t break up; it didn’t even cancel the tour it was on. But Smoot was the fifth guitarist to play the Flattus character. Brockie, by contrast, is the only Oderus in Gwar’s history, and its sole remaining founding member. It’s hard to imagine Gwar soldiering on without him. So let’s celebrate Gwar’s improbably legacy by watching the videos below.
UPDATE: Gwar manager Jack Flanagan has shared a statement:
It is with a saddened heart, that I confirm my dear friend Dave Brockie, artist, musician, and lead singer of GWAR passed away at approximately 6:50 PM EST Sunday March 23,2014. His body was found Sunday by his band mate at his home in Richmond, VA. Richmond authorities have confirmed his death and next of kin has been notified. A full autopsy will be performed. He was 50 years old, born August 30, 1963.
My main focus right now is to look after my band mates and his family. More information regarding his death shall be released as the details are confirmed.