Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Rock 'n' Roll, Part III: Gabba, Gabba, Hey!

Johnny Ramone, the lone surviving original member of the seminal '70s punk band, is dying of cancer in a Los Angeles hospital.

The 55-year-old guitarist, whose real name is John Cummings, was reportedly diagnosed with prostate cancer four years ago and has undergone extensive chemotherapy treatment in a losing battle with the disease.

"John never smoked cigarettes, he wasn't a heavy drinker and he was always into his health," said former bandmate, the drummer Marky Ramone. "It just proves when cancer seeks a body to penetrate, it doesn't matter how healthy you are or how unhealthy you are. It just seeps in and there's nothing you can do."

Marky Ramone (né Marc Bell) says he felt compelled to update the public about his longtime pal after receiving a flood of email from fans and news organizations concerned about Johnny's health; Marky says he felt Johnny would be too ill to respond.

"He went through many chemotherapy treatments," noted Marky. "Some of it worked better than others. At this point [the cancer] has started to go into other areas of the body."

Johnny's diagnosis is the latest catastrophic news to hit the hard-luck band. The band's other two founding members, frontman Joey Ramone and bassist Dee Dee Ramone, both died in recent years. Joey (born Jeff Hyman) lost his fight with lymphatic cancer in April 2001, while Dee Dee (aka Douglas Colvin) succumbed to a heroin overdose in June 2002.

Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee, who weren't related but adopted the same pseudonymous moniker for their act, formed the Ramones in Queens, New York, in 1974 as a trio. The band underwent several roster changes throughout the years, including adding Marky Ramone on the drums in place of Tommy Ramone, who stopped performing with the band in 1977 but continued to produce Ramones albums.

The Ramones revolutionized rock 'n' roll with such hard-charging two-minute, three-chord anthems as "I Wanna Be Sedated," "Blietzkrieg Bop," "Rockaway Beach" and "Teenage Lobotomy." They are considered pioneers of punk rock, influencing generations of bands from the Sex Pistols and the Clash to the Dead Kennedys and Green Day.

The group officially disbanded in 1996 following the release of their 14th and final studio album, Adios Amigos, and a farewell tour. In 2002, the group was inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, with Johnny, Marky, Dee Dee, and Tommy reuniting on stage and paying tribute to Joey.

Rock 'n' roll history for the week of June 20-26:

1966: The Rolling Stones sued 14 New York City hotels that had banned them. They claimed the ban hurt their careers.

1970: Chubby Checker was arrested with three others in Niagra Falls, N.Y., after police found marijuana and other drugs in their car.

1975: Alice Cooper broke six ribs after falling off the stage during a concert in Vancouver, Canada.

1975: Sonny and Cher Bono's divorce was finalized. They had married in 1964.

1977: Elvis Presley performed what would be his last live concert, in Indianapolis. He died in August at his home in Memphis, Tenn.

1981: Donald Fagen and Walter Becker formally dissolved Steely Dan.

1992: Michael Jackson delivered a $26,000 check to the mayor of Munich, Germany, to help the city's needy children. Jackson made his donation a day before his scheduled concert as part of a world tour.

1996: The Furthur Festival, a tour of bands featuring former Grateful Dead members, kicked off in Atlanta. The Dead disbanded after Jerry Garcia's death in 1995.

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