Billy Rath, bassist with Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, has died at the age of 66 after a long illness.
He replaced Richard Hell in the New York punk outfit in 1976 and appeared on the band’s iconic album LAMF in 1977. They were lined up to appear alongside the Sex Pistols on the British band’s doomed Anarchy In The UK tour, then split up later the same year.
The Heartbreakers continued to reform for occasional shows, but Rath bowed out in 1985 and did not return. After a short stint as a member of Iggy Pop’s band he retrained as a psychologist and began working as an addiction counsellor. He’d been working with his own band, Billy Rath’s Street Pirates, until his illness forced him to move into a care home. He left the facility to be with his family in his final days.
Commenting on the Heartbreakers’ notoriety, the bassist said in a 2012 interview: “We didn’t make trouble – we made and played NYC rock ’n’ roll. The Heartbreakers were a rock ‘n’ roll band, not a punk band that pushed anarchy. We wrote love songs, not fight songs.”
He added: “When I joined, in my opinion and others’, I completed the band. It was like I was the missing link that completed the sound they were looking for. The tension was gone and the magic started. Richard Hell needed to have his own sound – he was a poet and a very good one at that. That was the tension. I came along and completed the sound.”
Rath’s death leaves guitarist Walter Lure as the only surviving member of the classic Heartbreakers lineup.