Paul O’Neill, rock producer and founder of Trans-Siberian Orchestra, died after battling a chronic illness. He was 61.
O’Neill was found in his hotel room at the Tampa Embassy Suites Wednesday afternoon by hotel staff, University of South Florida police spokeswoman Renna Reddick told The Associated Press.
O’Neill got his start in the music industry as an assistant to manager David Krebs at Leber-Krebs, a management company that worked with bands like Aerosmith, AC/DC and Def Leppard, Variety notes.
In the mid-1980s, he became close with the heavy-metal band Savatage, which hailed from Tarpon Springs, Florida. O’Neill produced their “Hall of the Mountain King” album in 1987 and worked with them through 2001.
O’Neill, along with Savatage’s guitarist Jon Oliva, wrote “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/14,” a mashup of the Christmas songs “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Carol of the Bells.” The track was meant to be released on Savatage’s 1995 album, “Dead Winter Dead.”
However, O’Neill decided to expand on the song, which is what prompted him to found Trans-Siberian Orchestra with Oliva, Savatage guitarist Al Pitrelli and keyboardist Robert Kinkel. Together, they released an album ― “Christmas Eve and Other Stories” (1996) ― and put out “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/14” as a single.
As Rolling Stone notes, the song is certified gold and showed up on Billboard’s rock and adult-contemporary charts in 1996, 1998, 2002 and 2004. Meanwhile, “Christmas Eve and Other Stories” has been certified three times platinum, and the group has five other LPs, including the multi-platinum “The Lost Christmas Eve.”
“I wanted to take the very best of all the forms of music I grew up on and merge them into a new style,” O’Neill said of the group in a statement on its website. “Basically I was building on the work of everybody I worshipped: the rock opera parts from bands like the Who; the marriage of classical and rock from bands like Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Queen; the over-the-top light show from bands like Pink Floyd... I always wanted to do a full rock opera with a full progressive band and at least 18 lead singers.”
The group regularly put on epic performances year after year, touring mostly in the United States. According to Blabbermouth, last year they sold more than 927,000 tickets, and grossed more than $56.9 million.
Trans-Siberian Orchestra has asked fans to respect the privacy of O’Neill’s family at this time.