Associated Press

Fans mourn slain guitarist at memorial service

The Associated Press State & Local Wire

December 15, 2004, Wednesday, BC cycle

Fans mourn slain guitarist at memorial service

BYLINE: By BOBBY ROSS JR., Associated Press Writer

SECTION: State and Regional

LENGTH: 677 words


The smoke was thick, the music loud. The rum and the bourbon flowed, and so did the tears.

Guitar-shaped funeral wreaths lined the stage as thousands of grieving fans, many wearing concert T-shirts, gathered Tuesday night to remember slain rock star “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott.

“This guy was full of life. He lived and breathed rock ‘n’ roll,” guitarist Eddie Van Halen said in a profanity-laced tribute to his heavy metal friend.

The 38-year-old Abbott – best known as the former guitarist for Pantera – was shot to death last week in Columbus, Ohio, while performing with his new band, Damageplan. Three others also were killed before police fatally shot 25-year-old gunman Nathan Gale.

The public memorial service followed a private funeral Tuesday that Abbott’s friend Jerry Cantrell, a singer in the 1990s rock band Alice in Chains, described as “beautiful.”

“Today’s really been the start of the healing process,” said Cantrell, who performed at the funeral and again at the public service.

Pictures of a grinning Abbott, his long hair hanging past his shoulders, covered three big screens. Strobe lights pierced through the darkness as speaker after speaker stepped to the stage, remembering how Abbott made playing the guitar look easy and how – as one friend put it – “he always looked at the glass as half full, figuratively and literally.”

Van Halen shared the stage with guitarist Zakk Wylde, the two downing shots of liquor as they talked about their rock comrade.

“A whole part of my life is gone,” said a red-eyed Wylde, telling the crowd he hadn’t eaten in four days, instead relying on a “liquid diet.”

Van Halen stuck his cell phone to the microphone and played a voice mail message that Abbott left for him after a concert where both performed.

An adjective that would not be allowed on network television figured heavily in the message, as Abbott described how much he had enjoyed the concert and getting “wasted” afterward.

“I just wanted to give you a … call to tell you thank you so … much, man, for the most awesome, uplifting, euphoric, spiritual rock ‘n roll extravaganza ever,” Abbott told Van Halen.

The crowd saved its loudest applause for Abbott’s brother, drummer Vinnie Paul Abbott, who patted a life-sized cardboard cutout of his brother holding a guitar and encouraged fans as they chanted “Dimebag! Dimebag! Dimebag!”

Abbott, who attended Arlington High School and lived in nearby Dalworthington Gardens, had formed Damageplan with his brother after they left Pantera.

Vinnie Paul said his brother gave everything he had every night and “went down” doing what he loved.

Fans said they were heartbroken over Abbott’s death.

Michael Schaefer, 21, of Garland, and his wife both wore black Pantera concert shirts. “It’s still a real shock, the fact that it actually happened and the fact that someone would want to hurt him,” Michael Schaefer said.

Fans began lining up late Tuesday afternoon to get into the memorial at the Arlington Convention Center. Guards screened fans with security wands as they came to pay tribute to Abbott.

Rick Cunningham, 48, a former lead singer for the Dallas band “Rage,” was among those who waited in near-freezing temperatures for the service – and one of a few who wore a suit and tie. He said he’d known Abbott for 20 years.

“It’s terrible, man. He was the nicest fellow you would ever want to meet,” he said.

Messages such as “RIP Dime” and “Honk for Dimebag, Peace in the After Life” were scrawled on cars in the convention center parking lot.

Before the memorial, a high-pitched guitar solo by Abbott blared from 19-year-old Jennifer White’s pickup. White, a ring in her nose and a “Pantera” button on her shirt, said Abbott was a legend.

“He’s just as big as Jimi Hendrix but in a different way,” she said.

Her friend Skyler Smith, 18, added: “A legend died on Wednesday night. I guarantee I’ll be telling my kids about this day and the day that he died. … My heart was broken.”

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