Dick Dale, known the world over as the “King of Surf Guitar” and famous for his song “Miserlou” that was given new life by Quentin Tarantino in his opus Pulp Fiction died in California on Saturday, according to the New York Times. He was 81 years old.
Dale died at a hospital, but the precise cause of his death is unknown.
By his own admission, Dale had numerous health problems throughout his life – including two bouts with rectal cancer – and in an interview with the Pittsburgh City Paper back in 2015 Dale explained he was touring well into his seventies to afford expensive medical bills.
“I can’t stop touring because I will die,” he said. “Physically and literally, I will die.”
According to CP, the aging guitarist was making money touring to pay for “medical patches and pouches so he [could] change his colostomy bag more frequently than insurance [would] allow.”
“I have to raise $3,000 every month to pay for the medical supplies I need to stay alive, and that’s on top of the insurance that I pay for,” he said at the time. “The hospital says change your patch once a week. No! If you don’t change that patch two times a day, the fecal matter eats through your flesh and causes the nerves to rot and they turn black, and the pain is so excruciating that you can’t let anything touch it. That has happened to me because I was following the orders of the hospital.”
It’s unclear if Dale succumbed to the same health issues he was referring to back in 2015. But according to his personal website, he still had tour dates scheduled through 2019.
A lifelong surfer, Dale pioneered a style of guitar playing that influenced some of the most notable acts in Rock and Roll history – from Jimi Hendrix to the Beach Boys to Van Halen.
In a 2010 interview with The Inertia, Dale explained what his unique sound represents and the direct relationship between his music and surfing.
“Well what it is, is the meaning of the sounds of the waves, like the echo and the sounds of the tube and my finger would be in the wall and I could hear it go chhhhhhhhhhh!” he said. “And I’d take my strings and go weeeeeeer! Up high and then you get that rumble just before you’re going to be flung over, you know right before you’re going to go over the fucking falls and get slammed down, all that rumbling and all that stuff like that they associated the heavy Dick Dale staccato picking tk-tk-tk-tk-tk-tk on those strings, it sounded like the barrel of a goddamn wave.”
In the same interview, Dale also addressed his ongoing battle with cancer and his drive to continue playing music.
“As I say, I’m dealing with the cancer thing and I don’t give a shit what cancer thinks,” he said. “I’m going to play my goddamn guitar and that’s all there is to it. I’m going to make people happy. I’m going to make them forget about their cancer. I’m going to make them forget about their diabetes. I’m going to make them forget about all their pains and all their bullshit… That’s what my music does for me.”