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Obituary: Jeff Healey

Jeff Healey

Obituary by Jack Foley

JEFF Healey, the blind Canadian guitarist and musician, has died in a Toronto hospital from a rare form of cancer, his publicist has said. He was 41.

Healey died of retinoblastoma, which claimed his sight when he was a one-year-old-child.

In spite of his disability, however, Healey pursued a career in the music industry and became one of the most talented and respected guitarists of his generation, famed for playing his electric guitar unconventionally flat on his lap.

His biggest success came in 1988 when his rock album See The Light was nominated for a Grammy award and sold one million copies in the US alone. It also spawned the popular single Angel Eyes and helped to earn him a Juno award for entertainer of the year in 1990.

He was also seen in the movie Roadhouse, alongside Patrick Swayze, in which he and his band played the resident act at a violent bar that Swayze’s character had to clean up.

Healey’s latest album, Mess of Blues was due to be released in Canada on Monday – but is now expected to become available in the US and around Europe later this month and in April.

The guitarist and singer had been due to undertake a tour in support of the release, with an appearance on Later With Jools Holland and dates in the UK and Germany.

Born on March 25, 1966, in Toronto, Canada, Healey was adopted as an infant and didn’t have any information about his birth parent. But he quickly developed a passion for music and learned to play the guitar at the age of three.

By the time he reached his teens, Healey had formed a four-piece band called the Blue Direction and regularly played in clubs throughout the Toronto area.

Thanks to the succes of his See The Light album, Healey found international super-stardom and played with several musical greats throughout the remainder of his career, including blues legend BB King and rock icon Stevie Ray Vaughan. He also recorded with Mark Knopfler and the late George Harrison.

But Healey’s musical passion wasn’t just reserved for rock or blues and he branched into jazz later in his career, during which time he explored his admiration for the golden years of the genre (from the 1920s to the ’30s). He released several jazz CDs and boasted a collection of some 25,000 78rpm jazz records.

He even hosted radio shows in Canada, where he would play music from his extensive record collection.

Early last year, Healey underwent surgery to remove cancerous tissue from his legs and later from both lungs but both treatments failed to halt the spread of the disease.

Colin Bray, a member of Healey’s band, was at his bedside when he died and has since said: “I don’t think any of us thought this was going to happen. We just thought he was going to bounce back like he always does.”

His publicist, Richard Flohil, told broadcaster CTV: “Jeff was an intriguing player to watch, because he played guitar – by any conventional standard – all wrong, with it flat across his lap. But he was a remarkable, a virtuoso player.”

Having seen Healey perform in London during his See The Light tour, I can attest to that. He was an exceptional performer, whose brilliance, dedication and on-stage charisma were an inspiration to anyone who witnessed him in action. His mercurial talents will be sorely missed.

Healey is survived by his wife, Christie, and two children, Rachel and Derek.

  1. a talented musician,and a great guy - RIP Jeff.

    mick    Mar 4    #