Trans-Siberian Orchestra Founder Paul O’Neill Died of Overdose

By Kelly Burch 06/05/17

The 61-year-old rocker passed away in early April. 

Paul O'Neill
Paul O'Neill Photo via YouTube

The founder of the popular rock group, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, died of a drug overdose, according to a medical examiner’s report. 

Paul O’Neill died in a hotel room in Tampa, Florida on April 5th. The medical examiner’s report showed that the 61-year-old had methadone, codeine, diazepam and an antihistamine in his system. The cause of death was ruled to be intoxication and the manner of death was drug abuse, according to the Associated Press

O’Neill’s family released a statement saying that the cause of death was “accidental, resulting from an unexpected reaction to prescribed medications to treat his numerous chronic illnesses (including bone augmentation surgery, complications from spinal fusion surgery, heart disease, and hypertension).” 

Hours after O’Neill’s death, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra released a statement saying that the founder had died from "chronic illness." Later in the month the band’s website noted that O'Neill had several health issues, including chronic spine problems and Meniere's disease, a disorder of the inner ear. That disorder was especially distressing to him as a musician. 

"For Paul, this was a constant battle, causing him to race against time to write and record as much music as possible, before, like Beethoven, his ears ultimately betrayed him," the band’s website said.

At the time of his death, O’Neill was working on two rock operas, according to the band. On their website, TSO wrote that O’Neill’s pace of work had a big impact on his health. 

"He would gladly do it for the music and for the fans," the band wrote. "While all witnessed Paul's seemingly superhuman feats, few witnessed afterward the physical toll these took on him.”

O’Neill, who had a background as a rock producer and manager, founded the Trans-Siberian Orchestra in 1996. The band quickly became popular for its blend of classical music and rock-and-roll, as well as its unique brand of theater. The band is most famous for its Christmas songs and its 1996 album Christmas Eve and Other Stories, which went triple platinum. 

Throughout the band’s success, O’Neill remained a prominent and flamboyant figure. The AP reports that he kept a case of silver dollars with him on tour and would hand out coins to fans from the year they were born. He was also known for leaving tips of thousands of dollars at restaurants, and buying drums for kids.

At the time of his death a statement on the orchestra’s Facebook page read, “He was our friend and our leader—a truly creative spirit and an altruistic soul. This is a profound and indescribable loss for us all.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.