The Tragedy Of Pantera Shook The Music Word To Its Core

Pantera originated groove metal. Guitarist “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott, drummer
Vinnie Paul Abbott, bassist Rex Brown, and singer Phil Anselmo provided a soundtrack
for the disaffected, and a loud one at that. This is their tragic real-life story. The members of Pantera were infamous for their
hard-partying ways, particularly when they were on the road. Their tour rider was basically a virtual liquor
store. Backstage, the band demanded liters of whiskey,
vodka, and bourbon, plus several cases of beer and bottles of wine. Their production office required liters of
booze and a bottle of French wine. Onstage, they demanded two cases of beer and
two liters of whiskey. These were nightly requirements for tours
that could run 80 or more nights. Some of the mayhem caused by such copious
alcohol consumption was caught on film. Mostly, though, it’s the stuff of legend,
handed down in stories told by the people who were there and shouldn’t be able to remember
anything, but somehow do. Rex Brown, for one, has gone sober, telling
The Rock Pit, “I quit drinking completely; I don’t even
think about it, and it’s just amazing now.” Phil Anselmo might have been anticipating
his eventual slide into drug addiction in Pantera’s 1994 song “Hard Lines, Sunken Cheeks,”
when he sang about drinking and smoking all day and having done everything but tapped
the vein. At the time, he was dabbling in painkillers,
looking for a way out of his misery. Years of thrashing onstage had left his back
a mess. He had a blown disc in his back, which damaged
the cartilage around the disc, and playing show after show damaged even more cartilage. He sought medical help, but he discovered
that the surgery to fix his back required up to 18 months of recovery time, a commitment
he was unwilling to make while Pantera was at the top of their game. Anselmo turned to heroin to numb his pain,
and he developed a debilitating addiction that nearly took his life. In fact, after one show on July 13, 1996,
he shot up too much of the drug and flatlined for five minutes before paramedics were able
to resuscitate him. He later talked about the experience on VH1’s
Behind the Music. “This nurse leaned over and said to me, ‘Welcome
back to life. You overdosed on heroin.'” The relationships between Anselmo and his
bandmates were never the same after his 1996 overdose. Vinnie Paul Abbott told Blabbermouth that,
in the aftermath of that incident, Anselmo separated himself from the rest of the band,
riding in his own tour bus and only interacting with the rest of the group just before showtime. As he recounted, “You never knew which Phil you were gonna
get. You might get the pitbull that we all knew
and loved, or you might get some dude who was completely whacked out on heroin.” In 2001, Pantera decided that a break was
in order. A planned one-year hiatus became permanent
in 2003, as Anselmo cut off communication with the Abbott brothers, Vinnie and Darrell,
and immersed himself in side projects like Superjoint Ritual and Down. The rest of the group was left angry and disappointed. The Abbott Brothers moved on to form Damageplan,
Rex Brown eventually joined Down, and one of the great metal bands of the 90s was no
more. There continued to be some sniping in the
press, mostly between Anselmo and Dimebag Darrell. The back-and-forth reached a head in 2004,
when Anselmo told an interviewer that Dime, quote, “deserves to be beaten severely.” It was a comment that would widen the rift
between Anselmo and his former bandmates, a distance that would never be bridged. In 2004, the Abbott brothers’ band Damageplan
released their debut record, New Found Power, and headed out on tour. It was their first time getting back in front
of audiences in three years. On December 8, the band took the stage at
the Alrosa Villa in Columbus, Ohio, and launched into the song “Breathing New Life,” as they
had for 33 previous shows on the tour. Dimebag Darrell was headbanging with his hair
in his face, when 25-year-old Nathan Gale calmly walked onto the stage, pointed his
Beretta 9mm handgun at Dime’s head, and pulled the trigger. The music stopped and a security guard tackled
Gale, who kept firing. The scrum ended when a police officer arrived
with a shotgun and killed Gale, who had killed three other people besides Darrell that night:
a fan, a club employee, and one member of the band’s security team. “It was like a real bad movie. None of it seemed real whatsoever. None of it. None.” The unimaginable tragedy sent shock waves
around the global metal community. Metal heroes like Rob Halford, Lemmy Kilmister
from Motorhead, and Gene Simmons sent out messages of support. Darrell was buried in a Kiss casket and eulogized
by his friend Zakk Wylde and his hero Eddie Van Halen, who had the guitar he’d used to
record the album Van Halen II placed in the casket. Any talk of reuniting Pantera likely ended
on June 22, 2018, when Vinnie Paul Abbott was found dead, likely of a heart attack. He was 54 years old. As was the case when his brother Darrell was
killed, tributes from the metal community streamed in as the news spread. Among the artists that paid tribute from the
stage were Poison, Puddle of Mudd, and Megadeth. Abbott was laid to rest in a private funeral
service. Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons provided a Kiss
casket to Abbott’s family, similar to the one that his brother was buried in. For Rex Brown and Phil Anselmo, Abbott’s death
hit particularly hard. Brown released a lengthy statement in tribute
to Abbott two weeks after he died. In addition to sharing condolences and personal
anecdotes, he wrote of his friend’s legacy: “He changed the game. He was the original for his generation, a
generation that’s still going. Everybody wanted to play like him.” Anselmo initially posted on Instagram a simple
picture of a candle without a caption, letting his fans express their condolences in the
comments. At a public memorial for Abbott, Anselmo was
seen in an 8-second video in which he said, simply, “Vince, I’ll always have love in my heart
for you, man. Rest in peace.”

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