Ron Bushy, Original Iron Butterfly Drummer, Dead at 79

The classic lineup of Iron Butterfly in 1969. L-R: Erik Brann, Ron Bushy, Lee Dorman, and Doug Ingle
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Bettmann/Getty Images

Ron Bushy, whose powerful percussion propelled Iron Butterfly's unlikely epic "In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida" into the upper reaches of the pop charts, died Sunday (Aug. 29). He was 79 years old.

Bushy "passed away peacefully, with his wife Nancy [and three daughters] by his side," according to an official statement by the band. He had reportedly been battling esophageal cancer.

Iron Butterfly became a brief but defining presence in late '60s rock in 1968, when "In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida," a 17-minute long track that took up the entire second side of their sophomore album, was released. Bushy was responsible for the song's unusual title, transcribing Doug Ingle's lyrics after the singer/organist had downed a considerable amount of wine and slurred his way through an idea about the biblical Garden of Eden. The song reached an impressive No. 30 on the Billboard Hot 100, while the album itself reached the Top 5, eventually certified 4x platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.

While the Butterfly's 1969 follow-up album Ball outcharted its predecessor, reaching No. 3 on the Billboard 200, the group never matched the success of their heaviest song. The band was held up at LaGuardia Airport on the way to Woodstock, and the group's then-manager reportedly demanded that a helicopter be sent to pick up the band; the festival's organizers sent back a telegram turning down the suggestion with a profane acrostic hidden in the text. Within two years, they had broken up, but reunited sporadically from 1974 onward.

Bushy was the only member of the band to play on each of the band's six studio albums, and was still making guest appearances with the group despite retiring from the drummer's chair in 2018. Just earlier this year, he donated his drum kit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Guitarist Erik Brann and bassist Lee Dorman, who played alongside Bushy on "In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida," died in 2003 and 2012; Ingle is still alive, but has not played with the band since the mid-'90s.

He is survived by a wife and three daughters.

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