Friday, March 7, 2008

R.I.P., Jeff Healey

As everyone probably heard this week, Patrick Swayze has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, usually a fairly serious form of the disease. His doctor said he is responding well to treatment, but you can bet in the coming months (or years) if this becomes more serious and possibly fatal, there will be lots of talk about why this multi-talented actor shouldn't simply be known as the guy from Dirty Dancing (1987) or Ghost (1990).

The same could be said of one of his co-stars in the 1989 camp masterpiece Road House, who succumbed Sunday after a nearly lifelong battle with cancer.

Jeff Healey died at the age of 41, right before he was to release his ninth album and his first rock album in eight years.

Healey became widely known for playing Cody, the blind guitarist who plays in the club where Swayze works as a bouncer. The part was true to life in some respects: Healey was in fact an accomplished guitarist and had been blind since the age of one thanks to a rare disease called Retinoblastoma that claimed his eyesight and (ultimately) his life. Getting his first guitar at the age of three, Healey learned to play by laying the guitar flat on his lap.

His exceptional skills were on full display on his Arista debut See the Light (1988), which spawned the hit single "Angel Eyes." But though he grabbed a grammy nomination, Healey quickly faded from the public view and started devoting more of his time to his true love: Classic jazz of the 20s and 30s. In Toronto, where he would make his home, he would spend half his time playing rock and blues guitar with the Jeff Healey Band and the other half with Jeff Healey's Jazz Wizards, in which he often played trumpet and clarinet.

I thought it would be appropriate to pay tribute to Healey this week by featuring one of his best known covers – and a song we have previously featured on this site – "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." It really gives you a good idea of how musical and incredibly talented this man was, despite the deck of card dealt to him by life.

R.I.P., Jeff Healey

Play "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" by the Jeff Healey Band

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