10 years ago today, Type O Negative frontman Peter Steele died in Scranton
On the 10th anniversary of his death, many articles have been published today memorializing Peter Steele, the singer, songwriter, and bassist of gothic metal band Type O Negative, but only a few mention that he passed away in Scranton.
That may seem like an unlikely place for a rock star to reside, but public records show that Peter Thomas Ratajczyk, better known as Peter Steele, lived in a simple home at 1453 St. Ann Street in West Scranton in 2009-2010. According to the biography “Soul on Fire – The Life and Music of Peter Steele” by metal journalist Jeff Wagner, he also attended services regularly at St. Ann’s Monastery and Shrine Basilica just up the street:
Peter reveled in singing at church. On Christmas Eve 2009, he was late for the service and had to sit in the only available space, the front and center pew. Even if Peter was incredibly self-conscious about that, he belted out each hymn with booming baritone passion. As he sang, one wonders if Peter was thinking of all those who had passed away, unable to congratulate him on finding his own place of peace, unable to share it with him. His father, his mother, his sister Annette, various aunts, uncles, and friends. “Sleep in heavenly peace,” sang that unmistakable voice in its rich, inspired tones. “Sleep in heavenly peace…”
His obituary has no mention of his Scranton residence:
Peter Steele, vocalist and bassist for the platinum-selling band Type O Negative, has died at 48.
He died of apparent heart failure, though the official cause of death has yet to be determined pending autopsy results.
The Brooklyn-based band released seven studio albums. Their breakout success was 1993’s platinum-selling “Bloody Kisses,” featuring “Black No. 1 (Little Miss Scare-All)” and the band’s cover of Seals and Crofts’ “Summer Breeze.” Though they scored few subsequent commercial successes in the U.S., the band toured extensively and enjoyed a large European fan base.
The funeral services will be private and memorial services will be announced at a future date.
It was later reported that he died of an aortic aneurysm on April 14, 2010, and his estate clarified that the cause of death was actually sepsis brought on by diverticulitis. While Steele struggled with drugs and alcohol throughout his life, he was clean and sober by 2009 and allegedly living in Scranton to be close to his girlfriend following his recovery.
This short obituary seems to undercut the influential sound and massive fan base Type O Negative garnered with world tours and seven studio albums in the 1990s and early 2000s which, in addition to “Bloody Kisses,” included 1996’s gold-selling “October Rust” and what ended up being their final record, “Dead Again,” released in 2007 after leaving their longtime label, Roadrunner Records.
A much better statement issued by Steele’s family following his death described Type O Negative as “a groundbreaking group known for its dramatic lyrical emphasis on the themes of romance, depression, and death. Steele, renowned as much for his striking physical appearance as his musical talent, was the creative force behind the band’s 20-year success, writing most of the material for their albums. Type O Negative and Steele have been lauded as a major influence by numerous alternative and metal bands. … Peter Steele was a complex man, known for his brooding looks, his self-deprecating sense of humor, unique view of the world, and most of all his loyalty to his fans, friends, and family.”
His bandmates said he seemed to be doing well just before his untimely death, and he was excited about making their next album. “Ironically, Peter had been enjoying a long period of sobriety and improved health and was imminently due to begin writing and recording new music,” the band noted in their official statement. In a new interview with Billboard, drummer Johnny Kelly recalls when Steele was living in Scranton:
Following the Dead Again World Tour that ended in Detroit on Halloween 2009 – what turned out to be the foursome’s last show together – Kelly and Steele spoke often in the time leading up to his death. [Guitarist Kenny] Hickey and Kelly were living in Staten Island; Steele was in Scranton, Pa., with his girlfriend. Steele had found a place situated right between Hickey’s and Kelly’s, and was planning to move back by May 1 so they could begin writing and recording their eighth album. Kelly says that was also the date they could start moving gear into a local studio.
“Kenny and I went to check out a place the night before he died and tried calling him while we were at the studio to tell him that we found a place, and he didn’t answer,” he remembers. Steele had bad reception on his cell phone, so they tried his landline. “I called him on the house phone, and his girlfriend answered, and I said, ‘Can I talk to Peter?,’ and she said he was in bed sick.” (Steele was sick with the flu several days prior to his death.) “She said, ‘He told me to tell you, “Sorry I didn’t call you back.”’”
Steele also had a very sick cat, and Kelly feared the animal’s illness may have left Steele in an emotional state that led him to relapse. “When I was on the phone, I said, ‘Is there anything going on out there that I should know about?’” recalls Kelly. “She was like, ‘No, he’s sick, nothing like that.’ I was like, ‘Tell him to call me when he’s feeling better.’
“And then I got a call from his sister that night that he passed away,” he says. “So that’s it.”
“I worked PR for CMC Hospital at the time. He was transported to the hospital for a short time. We were really worried press and fans would find out. We were on heightened alert, but no one inquired,” Moscow resident Noelle Snyder told NEPA Scene.
“At the time, I didn’t know who he was. But I remembered he was really tall and I think a small article went in the paper a few weeks later.”
The surviving members chose not to continue with the band following his death. Steele was buried at St. Charles Cemetery in East Farmingdale, New York, and an oak tree was planted in Prospect Park in Brooklyn in 2011 to remember him in his hometown. A photo by MCMZone dated January of 2010 shows Steele posing with singer/songwriter Myke Hideous and a film crew in Scranton just a few months before he died. They were recording his last-known interview for a documentary called “Living the American Nightmare,” which was released in 2011:
While he grew a beard and put on some weight at the time, Steele had long black hair and stood 6′ 8″ tall, so he would have been hard to miss during his brief time in Scranton, though few may have looked for a tattooed frontman known for his dark lyrics and humor – as well as his infamous nude photo shoot for Playgirl – in a church on St. Ann Street.
Not many people can recall his time in Northeastern Pennsylvania, but the band has sold 2.5 million albums and accumulated 98.4 million streams in the United States alone, according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data, so it’s clear that his legacy will live on for many years to come as fans all over the world listen to his music and mourn him today.
by Rich Howells
Rich is an award-winning journalist, longtime blogger, photographer, and podcast host. He is the founder and editor of NEPA Scene.