On April 14, 2010 we lost an iconic frontman who turned a genre on it’s side and made it all that much more darker and gloomier. Peter Thomas Ratajczk, better known as Peter Steele, the massive frontman and bassist for TYPE O NEGATIVE, was pronounced dead due to sepsis caused by diverticulosis. Initially reported as heart failure, or as an aortic aneurysm, as Steele had had a heart condition known as atrial fibrillation, the massive frontman’s passing came as an all too sudden shock to those who knew him and played with him. He was 48.
For those unaware, TYPE O NEGATIVE was a gothic metal band formed in Brooklyn, New York in 1989, by Peter Steele (formerly of CARNIVORE on lead vocals and bass), Kenny Hickey (guitar, co-lead vocals), Josh Silver (keyboards, backing vocals), and Sal Abruscato (drums, percussion), who was later replaced by Johnny Kelly. The band’s music and lyricla themes touched on subjects such as romance, depression, death and tongue in cheek humor. The band would go platinum with 1993’s ‘Bloody Kisses’, and gold with 1996’s ‘October Rust’, and gained a fanbase through seven studio albums, two best-of compilations, and live shows.
Steele had dealt with his struggles with drugs and alcohol in the past, having had hospital stays which saw the singer literally on the verge of death, yet just days before he died, he was proud about finally being clean and sober and excited about moving to a place near Staten Island to start working on the follow-up to the band’s seventh album, 2007’s ‘Dead Again’.
Type O Negative guitarist Kenny Hickey and drummer Johnny Kelly were getting ready to rehearse with their side project SEVENTH VOID when Kelly received the bad news.
“I got a phone call from a number that I didn’t recognize, so I let it go to voicemail,” he says. “It was Peter’s sister. I called her up and said, ‘What’s up?’ and she was like, ‘We lost Peter.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ and she said, ‘He’s gone.’ At the time, they didn’t know the cause of death.”
After he received the news, Kelly drove the rest of the way to rehearsal and told Hickey what had happened. “He started yelling at me: ‘How come you didn’t call me?!?’ recalls Kelly. “I was like, ‘I was going to see you in five minutes!’ I didn’t want to tell him over the phone. We were both in complete disbelief. It was like the end of an era, man. The end of an era.”
“Who knows if he died from all the drugs over the years or something else,” says keyboardist Josh Silver. “He was diagnosed with the condition years and years ago, but if you take care of yourself and do the right stuff it’s something you can live with for quite a while. There are plenty of 90-year-olds running around with it.”
Hickey adds, “He always said that he felt the flutter in his heart, even when he was a kid, so he might have been born with it for all we know. He’s had four or five males in his family that have died from heart disease before 50, so it could have been congenital. Who knows? There is a price you pay for being so big, too.”
In 1995, during the height of the success of TYPE O NEGATIVE’s most popular album ‘Bloody Kisses’ (which included the hit “Black No. 1 (Little Miss Scare-All)”), Steele posed full frontal nude for the centerfold of Playgirl magazine. The band’s female fans were certainly appreciative for the spread, however it would seem that so were a number of the male fans. “After I did it, I thought, ‘Oh my God, what did I do?’ It was more than upsetting that so many guys had it. Girls, OK, but there just seemed to be at least as many guys. Not that I’m homophobic, but it was certainly irritating” said Peter in a 2007 interview.
Steele went on to appear as a guest on the talk shows Ricki Lake, The Jerry Springer Show, and The Howard Stern Show. In 2003, Steele had an acting role in the episode “Exeunt Omnes” of the HBO drama series Oz. Also in 2003 he appeared in the film Dirtbags (Armpit of Metal) followed by a role in the 2005 film Bad Acid. Steele is also among the musicians featured in the 2011 documentary Living the American Nightmare.
Peter admitted to suffering from stage fright, which he overcame by drinking alcohol before shows, and by drinking red wine when on stage. He was also described as a person who was “friendly, funny and had a reputation for being generous to his longtime bandmates … and kind to the bands he toured with.” In his autobiography Iron Man, Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi described his shock at Steele’s death, adding, “Peter was a big, tall, and very, very nice guy.”
During 2005, Steele disappeared for an extended period with no explanation. Rumors of his death, terminal illness, and other speculations increased until the mystery was dispelled in an interview on the 2006 DVD Symphony for the Devil. In the interview Steele mentioned his incarceration in Rikers Island and “the psych ward at Kings County Hospital” with Steele confirming that he had been suffering from paranoia caused by his heavy substance abuse. Steele then attended rehab for cocaine dependence and alcoholism, and later served a 30-day prison term for assault.
Steele was also open about the fact that he had bipolar disorder, receiving occasional psychiatric treatment for depressive episodes. “I’ve always been a very depressed person, but that’s only one side of me, you know. It makes me feel better when I can express my depression, my anger, my frustration through music … sonic therapy” he said in a 2003 interview.
After Peter’s death, the remaining members of TYPE O NEGATIVE decided to dissolve the band rather than replace Steele, with Johnny Kelly stating “Even if there is somebody who could take his place it wouldn’t matter. We don’t have any interest in continuing. It’s impossible – it hasn’t even come up in any kind of discussion. When Peter died, Type O Negative died with him.