Gail Zappa, wife of Frank Zappa and executrix of the Zappa Family Trust, has died. She was 70. A cause of death has not been revealed, though TMZ reported she had had a long battle with lung cancer. Zappa, “departed this earth peacefully at her home … surrounded by her children,” according to a statement from the Zappa Family Trust.
“Gail will forever be identified as a key figure in the creative renaissance that is Laurel Canyon,” the statement says. “But more than any singular accomplishment, she defined herself in her personal relationships, happiest when surrounded by loved ones and artists, often one in the same. The memories she leaves behind are indeed her own art form. Her searing intelligence, unforgettable smile, wild thicket of hair and trailing black velvets leave a blur in her wake.”
After her prolific husband died of prostate cancer in 1993, Gail kept Frank’s recordings in the public, putting out dozens of posthumous albums and judiciously licensing his image where appropriate. Earlier this year, the Zappa family announced that the couple’s son Ahmet would be in charge of the Trust.
Gail, whose full maiden name was Adelaide Gail Sloatman, was born on January 1st, 1945, the daughter of a nuclear weapons research physicist with the U.S. Navy, according to Zappa biographer Barry Miles. She lived with her family in London as a teenager and got a job as a secretary for the Office of Naval Research and Development rather than attend college. She met Doors frontman Jim Morrison in kindergarten, since they both had high-ranking naval officials for fathers (Frank once told a story that she hit Morrison over the head with a hammer). She eventually moved to New York, where she attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in the mid-Sixties and immersed herself in the music scene before hitchhiking to Los Angeles with a friend.
In Los Angeles, Gail met and befriended future Runaways manager Kim Fowley, and recorded an album with him billed to Bunny and Bear; Miles noted that she was “Bear.” She met her husband-to-be when she was the secretary at the Sunset Strip mainstay the Whisky a Go Go. In his autobiography, The Real Frank Zappa Book, the artist called her a “fascinating little vixen,” with whom “it took a couple of minutes, but I fell (don’t laugh) in love.”
They started living together and married in a “severely ridiculous civil ceremony” in 1967. Frank recounted the ceremony comically in the book, stating that Gail was nine months pregnant at the time, and that he didn’t have a wedding ring and that she still didn’t have a wedding ring at the time he wrote the book, which came out in 1989.
The couple had four children – Moon Unit, Dweezil, Ahmet and Diva – over the course of their marriage, which lasted until Frank’s death. The composer recalled affectionately in his book that it was her idea to name their son Dweezil, after a “funny-looking little toe” she had. “I thought then, and continue to think today, that Dweezil is a nice name,” Frank wrote. “Fuck the nurse if she didn’t like it.”
After setting up the Zappa Family Trust, Gail issued 38 albums between 1994 and 2015 of previously unreleased music that Frank had recorded. This year’s Dance Me This was billed as Frank’s final album and is significant for being his 100th record.
Gail spoke with Rolling Stone in August about a documentary that filmmaker Alex Winter is making about Frank’s life. “My obligation was to get the work out there the way Frank built it in the first place,” she said of her role after his death.
She also shared what she hoped the documentary, due sometime in 2017, would explain. “If I was gonna have to do this myself, I would want the question answered: ‘Why the fuck would anyone want to be a composer?'” she said. “I know the answer to that, because I lived it. I just want it revealed.”