Remembering the Life and Death of Chuck Schuldiner

Chuck Shuldiner

Chuck Schuldiner was only 16 when he started his first band, Death, which gave heavy metal music a new sound. Unfortunately, he died at 34 when getting ready to release more albums with his new band, Control Denied. The musician knew he was about to die and said that fans would listen to the CDs even if he never got to go on tour. Although he is referred to as the father of death metal, Schuldiner never thought he deserved the credit. He was only doing his part to improve death metal, and below, we remember the life and death of this death metal legend.

Music Becomes His Refuge

According to Metal Crusade, Schuldiner was born to two teachers on May 3, 1967. He had an older brother, Frank, and sister Bethann. The family had moved to live near a forest, and the musician loved camping, spending time building tree houses and forts with his friends. In school, his grades were exceptionally good, and so was his behavior. He was also active and loved playing soccer and baseball. Therefore, when he later told his mother, Jane, that he had the best childhood, she believed him because she had witnessed how happy he was.

Unfortunately, when Schuldiner was nine, his 16-year-old brother Frank was involved in a fatal accident. That incident changed Schuldiner, and his parents thought the best way for him to deal with the grief was through music. They enrolled him in classical lessons where he was taught “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” He did not like the lessons or the songs, so he decided to stop attending the classes and play independently after a year. His parents bought him an electric guitar, and the young boy would spend hours playing with the instrument, which turned out to be his favorite. His parents allowed him to strum the guitar the entire weekend, but he was limited to three hours during weekdays. Schuldiner’s greatest musical influence was Kiss, so at 13, his mother took him to his first Kiss concert. She was fascinated by how talented her son was; she had loved playing drums, so watching Schuldiner’s interest in different instruments was no surprise. However, Jane always thought his music was loud, and it took a while before she could get accustomed to it. Still, she loved that he inspired other young musicians who would spend time with him in the garage, learning from the young master.

The Birth of Death

Schuldiner was described as a mellow guy, but people saw a different side of him every time he went on stage. According to Louder Sound, he met Rick Rozz, a guitarist at a backyard party. Rozz and Kam Lee, a drummer, had a band, Mantas and Schuldiner inspired them. Lee and Rozz were 16 at the time, but after talking to the musician, also 16, they dropped out of school. Mantas changed to Death in 1984, which was to reflect the trio’s love for horror films.

They took time to release their debut at the time. Schuldiner was desperate to land a record deal and had joined Slaughter, a Canadian band, in 1986 after moving to Toronto. Upon returning to the US, he went back to Death, and they released “Scream Bloody Gore.” He became a force to reckon with to the extent of being dubbed the “Godfather of Death Metal.” Eric Greif, who would become Death’s manager, said he had always thought Tom Araya was the heaviest vocalist until he saw Schuldiner perform at the Milwaukee Metal Fest in 1987. However, while Greif was impressed by Schuldiner’s vocals, the musician never considered himself a heavy metal influence. Therefore, even later, when Schuldiner talked about the debut album, he said the music was poorly performed. After the first few Death albums, he grew personally and musically. The teenager who was once so full of rage that even his mother thought he named the band to symbolize his brother’s passing changed. He outgrew the love for horror films and maybe came to terms with his brother’s death. He got rid of the pent-up anger that resulted from his parent’s divorce, relationship issues, and problems with his band members. According to NPR, the change was signified by Schuldiner modifying the Death logo. He got rid of blood, cobwebs, Reaper, and the cross was no longer inverted.

A Prophetic Album

In 2000, Control Denied, a band that Schuldiner had formed, released their debut album titled “The Fragile art of Existence.” According to Metal Rules, the musician had first got the idea of naming his album so in 1995, but it never came to be until 2000, a year after he was diagnosed with brain cancer. He said it was treacherous because it became real, and he had to start thinking of the near ending. Nevertheless, Schuldiner was ready to fight until the last breath, mostly due to his passion for music and because he did not want to let his fans down.

In 1999, Schuldiner thought he had hurt a muscle in the neck, so he kept visiting different doctors until an MRI showed he had a brain tumor. It was quite shocking, especially because he was getting ready to celebrate his birthday. Schuldiner got his first radiotherapy session that lasted six weeks, and doctors were hopeful, especially because he had begun putting on weight. He had gone back to making music, and according to Guitar World, Schuldiner was in high spirits by the end of 2000, but then his health started to deteriorate. In May 2001, he needed another operation, but the family was already struggling financially. The first operation had drained them because Schuldiner did not have medical insurance at the time. However, after the first surgery, he had obtained insurance, but the insurer refused to grant them a payout because the cancer was a preexisting condition. Consequently, they were denied surgery, and it took the help of other musicians to get him the surgery and medication needed. Unfortunately, the drugs took a toll on the musician, and he died on December 13, 2001. Still, he may be gone, but his music influenced other rock musicians who still pay tribute to him as the “Godfather of Death Metal.”

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