Update: A Florida medical examiner reported Trans-Siberian Orchestra founder Paul O’Neill died from an accidental drug overdose, AP reports. The Hillsborough County Medical Examiner wrote in an autopsy report that O’Neill had methadone, codeine, diazepam and an antihistamine in his system when he died.
On April 5th in Tampa, Florida, the producer who put together Christmas-inspired prog-metal group Trans-Siberian Orchestra, died at age 61. The group’s Facebook page reported the news, saying O’Neill had been suffering from a chronic illness.
“The entire Trans-Siberian Orchestra family, past and present, is heartbroken to share the devastating news that Paul O’Neill has passed away from chronic illness,” the group’s Facebook page announced. “He was our friend and our leader – a truly creative spirit and an altruistic soul. This is a profound and indescribable loss for us all.”
O’Neill co-wrote “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24,” which combined the yuletide staples “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Carol of the Bells,” with Jon Oliva, the keyboardist and sometime lead singer for the metal band Savatage, for that band’s 1995 album Dead Winter Dead. Wanting to expand his vision on that song, he assembled Trans-Siberian Orchestra with Oliva and Savatage guitarist Al Pitrelli and keyboardist Robert Kinkel; they put out the album Christmas Eve and Other Stories and released the song as a single.
The song has since been certified gold and has made appearances on Billboard’s rock and adult-contemporary charts in 1996, 1998, 2002 and 2004. The album was subsequently certified three-times platinum, and the group has issued five other LPs, scoring another multi-platinum release with 2004’s The Lost Christmas Eve and Top 10 releases with 2009’s Night Castle and their most recent album, 2015’s Letters From the Labyrinth.
The group regularly embarked on winter tours, mostly in the U.S., staging over-the-top arena shows with lasers and fire displays. Blabbermouth reports that last year, Trans-Siberian Orchestra sold more than 927,000 tickets, grossing more than $56.9 million. Billboard ranked them Number 25 on its list of Top Touring Artists of the Decade in 2009. They regularly donated portions of their earnings to various charities.
O’Neill explained the influences that led to his vision for Trans-Siberian Orchestra in an interview with The Morning Call last year. “[Effects-heavy concert production] was always part of the vision for Trans-Siberian Orchestra, [and] the mixing classical with rock, which I obviously got from bands like Emerson, Lake and Palmer,” he said. “The rock-opera aspect, which I love because it gives a third dimension, which I plagiarized from The Who.”
He began his music-industry career as personal assistant to manager David Krebs at Leber-Krebs, a management company that worked with Aerosmith, AC/DC and others. O’Neill promoted tours in Japan and co-produced Aerosmith’s two Classics Live! volumes in the mid-Eighties. Around that time, he also forged a relationship with Savatage, a dramatic power-metal band from Tarpon Springs, Florida, producing their 1987 LP, Hall of the Mountain King, and each of their subsequent releases through 2001’s Poets and Madmen. He also produced albums by Badlands, Heaven and Metal Church.
In Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s announcement of O’Neill’s death, they asked for fans to respect the privacy of his family. While a specific cause of death remains unknown, the band wrote that they would be sharing more news about his death soon.
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Trans-Siberian Orchestra – “Christmas Canon”
Trans-Siberian Orchestra – “Wizards in Winter”
Trans-Siberian Orchestra – “A Mad Russian’s Christmas”