The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has a sad history of inducting acts right after key members pass away. The Clash – who were actually talking about reforming for the big night – got in mere weeks after Joe Strummer died. The Dave Clark Five waited decades to get in, and then frontman Mike Smith passed away just 11 days before the ceremony. The Stooges entered a little over a year after guitarist Ron Ashton, who never hide his disdain for the organization, died from a heart attack. Clarence Clemons also voiced his unhappiness that the E Street Band weren’t in, and he died from complications from a stroke about three years before they got the nod.
The Righteous Brothers are a rare example of a group that got in just in time. The blued-eyed soul duo were eligible beginning in 1988, but like many acts best known for their work with Phil Spector they had a long wait in front of them before they even made the ballot. Oddly enough, they were inducted just one month after their old producer was arrested for the murder of actress Lana Clarkson. It was 2003 and Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley were inducted by Billy Joel, and they shared the night with AC/DC, the Clash, Elvis Costello & The Attractions and the Police.
The Righteous Brothers had been touring on the oldies circuit since their reunion in 1981, but they were often backed by a tiny band that couldn’t come close to recreating the majestic soundscapes of Phil Spector’s original recordings. But on Hall of Fame night, lifelong Phil Spector fan Paul Shaffer brought in a small army of musicians and backup singers to do the job right. Here’s video of them doing “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.”
Rolling Stone caught up with Bobby Hatfield that night. “We’re working because we love to work, and that’s all there is to it,” he said. “We do about three months in Vegas and then another 60 or so dates. And when we get too much time off, we both start getting a bit goofy and want to get back on the damn bus… I’m just glad we’re gonna be inducted while we’re still above ground.”
Tragically, Hatfield was discovered dead in a Kalamazoo, Michigan hotel room just eight months later. The Righteous Brothers had a gig that night, but he never showed up to get transported over to the venue. A toxicology report showed that an overdose of cocaine lead to a fatal heart attack. He was 63.
Bill Medley continued to perform on his own, often in Branson, Missouri. But it was tough to move tickets with just a single Righteous Brother on the stage. Earlier this year, he recruited singer Bucky Heard and began playing as the Righteous Brothers again. It will never the same, but at least the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame managed to get them in just in time.