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Heroin Linked to Death on Smashing Pumpkins Tour

Narcotics: Backup musician is latest in rock world to fall victim to drug. Drummer is charged with possession.

July 13, 1996|JOHN J. GOLDMAN and STEVE HOCHMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

NEW YORK — In another incident illustrating the growing presence of heroin in the world of rock music, a member of Smashing Pumpkins, one of the nation's most popular and acclaimed alternative rock bands, was arrested Friday and charged with heroin possession after a backup musician with the group died of an apparent drug overdose.

Police said Jimmy Chamberlin, 32, the band's drummer, was with Jonathan Melvoin, 34, when the veteran keyboard player overdosed in Park Avenue's posh Regency Hotel. When efforts by the band's security manager failed to revive Melvoin, an ambulance was summoned to the hotel, where the musician was pronounced dead before dawn, police said.

Chamberlin, looking shaken, unsteady and limping, was questioned by detectives at a nearby police precinct then given a summons for misdemeanor drug possession and ordered to appear in court on Aug. 13.

Police said no other arrests were expected.

The tragedy was the latest in an escalating and alarming surge of heroin use among rock groups--a situation has led to one major rock band canceling its tour until drug problems can be resolved.

Melvoin was the son of Michael Melvoin, a jazz musician and arranger and a former head of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, which recently launched an aggressive program to try to stem drug use in the music industry.

Jonathan Melvoin was a veteran musician who was a member of the mid-1980s band the Family, a project overseen by Prince that also included Melvoin's sister, Susannah. Another sister, Wendy Melvoin, was a member of Prince's band, The Revolution.

"Two members of Smashing Pumpkins returned to their room at the Regency. They apparently injected a quantity of narcotics intravenously," said Deputy Police Inspector Wayne Bax, operations commander of Manhattan North detectives.

"They both passed out as a result of the ingestion. A short time later, one of the members was able to awaken and call for help."

Police said Chamberlin and Melvoin began shooting heroin together after 11 p.m. Thursday. At 3:30 a.m. on Friday, Chamberlin awoke and could not rouse Melvoin, police added. Detectives said the drummer then summoned Smashing Pumpkins' security manager who put Melvoin under a shower.

At 4:02 a.m., the pair called 911 and followed phone instructions from New York City's Emergency Medical Service in a futile attempt to resuscitate Melvoin. At 4:15 a.m. paramedics arrived at the hotel and pronounced Melvoin dead.

Other members of the band--frontman Billy Corgan, guitarist James Iha and bassist D'Arcy--were questioned by detectives at the 19th Precinct, but were not charged. All three left the station house without talking to reporters.

Meanwhile, the interrogation of Chamberlin continued. Finally, shortly after 2 p.m., accompanied by detectives and operations personnel from the band, the drummer, wearing dark glasses, black pants and a striped sports shirt, briefly appeared at the front desk of the police station, where he was given the summons.

He was unsteady on his feet and left the station house in a car with darkened windows.

"It is with great sadness that this morning, Jonathan Melvoin, who has been touring with our band as a keyboardist and percussionist for the past six months, passed away from an apparent drug overdose," the band said in a statement released through its publicist. "Our thoughts and heartfelt condolences go to his wife and family."

Michael Greene, the president of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences and a longtime friend of the Melvoin family, said that to his knowledge, the dead musician had not used drugs in the past.

"He was a dedicated keyboard player. This was really his first tour . . . and his big break. Everyone was so happy for him," Greene added.

Chamberlin has received treatment over the years for drug addiction, according to health professionals familiar with his case.

"He has been in and out of rehabilitation," said a source.

Smashing Pumpkins, one of rock's biggest acts, postponed three concerts scheduled in the New York area as well as shows scheduled through July 27 in the Midwest and South.

No changes have been announced for the rest of the tour, including an appearance on Aug. 21 at the Forum in Inglewood and Aug. 23 and 24 dates at the Anaheim Pond.

The band's mix of brooding melodies and lyrics speaking of internal yearning and anguish have struck strong and lucrative chords with young rock fans, many of whom saw the group as filling the void left by Nirvana, whose leader Kurt Cobain committed suicide in April 1994 after struggling with heroin addiction.

Corgan has often talked in interviews about his own fights with depression and personal demons. Fans say the honest vulnerability he projects has inspired some of the same kind of affection Cobain had garnered.

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