Heir Apparent

Rock ’n’ roll has its share of suicides. 

Although sometimes these are inadvertent (as in the drug-related deaths of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Sid Vicious, Shannon Hoon, et al), there are others who choose to take their own lives freely.  

An “accidental” suicide, Terry Kath (founder, lead guitarist, and iconic voice of the band Chicago) shot himself in the head while playing Russian roulette in 1978.  Joy Division’s leader Ian Curtis, on the brink of that band’s break out, killed himself (he was a chronic depressive and an epileptic) in mid 1980. 

Kurt Cobain is perhaps the most notable musician suicide in recent years.  His star had risen exponentially it seemed, though his band, Nirvana, had been plugging away for years before their breakthrough with the classic Nevermind.  Right on the crest of the wave he shot himself. 

His widow, Courtney Love, reported he struggled with “rock star” issues (fame, lack of privacy, etc.) in addition to a chronic health problem with his stomach.  [Cobain’s lifelong inability to keep food down at times caused dramatic weight loss.  Early on, when Nirvana came to the fore with the general public, he only weighed 120 pounds.  He had taken to wearing three or more sweaters at a time to seem heftier than he was.  This wasn’t a fashion statement; he just wanted to look less scrawny.] 

Regardless of his reasons for killing himself, a great songwriter and guitarist was Bobby Fuller, 1965(66944)lost when Cobain died.

But a somewhat forgotten suicide is that of Buddy Holly’s heir apparent, fellow Texan, Bobby Fuller.  Fuller, like Cobain, was riding high on new-found success. 

Yet, less than four months after his band, The Bobby Fuller Four, hit the top by bringing raucous American rock ’n’ roll back to radio he was dead. 

Rock ’n’ Roll (Part 1)
The time of Bobby Fuller’s emergence onto the American rock music scene was a bleak one. 

The so-called “British Invasion” had taken over American airwaves.  American acts struggled to be heard; former powerhouse groups such as the Beach Boys and The Four Seasons (with Frankie Valli) found their sound was no longer favored. 

The great rock producer Phil Spector during this time had a young man on the road promoting his latest “Wall of Sound” discs.  This advance man took new pressings to radio stations and asked dee-jays to give them a spin.  Spector’s latest was always greeted with enthusiasm. 

Then, a day came in the earlier 1960s when the PR man found no one wanted to hear the Spector records he was shopping around.  He called Phil Spector in New York from a California pay phone and broke the news that Spector’s monoaural, kitchen-sink “Wall of Sound” was no longer wanted on the West Coast by pop radio stations. 

Spector, instead of hearing what he was being told and adjusting his techniques in the studio accordingly, decided to “kill the messenger”: he fired his PR man over the phone on the spot.  Finding himself suddenly unemployed, Sonny Bono went home to his young wife, Cher, and started writing his own songs.

Motown was about the only American sound able to compete with the British for a number of reasons. The British bands had all cut their teeth on early American rock and R&B records, so they knew and loved that sound—the British were fans and aped those earlier raucous discs.  America liked the Motown sound too, and it was about as homegrown as anything available at the time. 

Setting aside Motown honcho Berry Gordy’s assembly line production methods, treating his acts like chattel, and heavy-handed dictatorial studio policies, the man knew a hit record when he heard it.  If he didn’t hear it, he could make one.  And if he couldn’t make one—and Gordy was a brilliant songwriter in his own right—he had a cadre of creative people, legends such as Smokey Robinson, Holland-Dozier-Holland, and Marvin Gaye, to get the job done.  Motown’s sound did not directly compete with the British band sounds; the two coexisted peaceably. 

But Motown wasn’t rock ’n’ roll, the DIY garage romps that had formed many of the mid to late 1950s’ best material.  Those acts were rawer—they were learning the business, record making was in a state of transition, and the acts sometimes struggled to find their voices.  Then doo-wop and the teen idol craze and the British hit, roughly all about the same time, and killed the basic rock people had grown accustomed to.

Rock ’n’ roll in the Fifties lost two gems at the same time, Ritchie Valens and Buddy Holly.  Valens, though born in the US and not speaking Spanish, still had some Latin influences working on him, and his music was developing along multi-cultural lines with a rock flair at the time of his death.  [Something similar was already in the works in the hands of bandleader and musician, Desi Arnaz.  His music incorporated Cuban rhythms into his brand of pop music, and many of Arnaz’ recordings from the late 1940s through the early 1950s are amazing.]

Buddy Holly was a whole different type.  He and his band, The Crickets, were the forerunners of what The Beatles would become within a few years, a self-contained powerhouse, writing and recording its own material.  Most acts relied upon outside songwriters; Holly and his sidemen changed the need for outside songwriters.  They started writing their own material and the classics wrought during that time are eternal: “Peggy Sue”, “Oh, Boy!”, “Not Fade Away”, among others.

Their greatness would never be fully realized, though.  Holly died in a plane crash in a wintry Iowa field along with Valens and The Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson, otherwise known as The Big Bopper).  [Richardson’s performing talents were limited (he was more of a novelty act), but he was a prolific and proficient songwriter for others.]  It is this plane crash that anchors Don McLean’s “American Pie”: “The day the music died” is that day, February 3, 1959.  

The Crickets soldiered on after Holly was gone, and they had some minor success.  But without Holly’s genius, song craft, and glissando guitar work to drive them they were doomed.  One of The Crickets, Sonny Curtis, wrote an up-tempo rocker for the band, and they cut the record in 1959. 

Their version didn’t go anywhere.  In 1962 a Milwaukee group had a local hit with their take on Sonny Curtis’ song, but the record did not chart nationally. 

Thus, “I Fought the Law” had to wait for rediscovery.

Texas, USA
Buddy Holly was from the hinterlands of western Texas, an outpost called Lubbock. 

Bobby Fuller, born in Texas on October 22, 1942, moved from his Texas birthplace to Salt Lake City, Utah, then finally returned to Texas with the Fuller family in 1956.  They lived in El Paso, right on the Mexican border.  Fuller, along with his little brother Randy, was enraptured by the mid 1950s’ rock of Elvis and fellow Texas boy, Buddy Holly. 

The two brothers picked up instruments, Bobby the guitar and Randy the bass.  By the early 1960s they were playing in bars and clubs in and around El Paso. 

Bobby Fuller wore his admiration for Buddy Holly proudly.  His singing and guitar work, while not note-for-note imitations, evoked the style of Holly in ways no other rocker did. 

The Bobby Fuller Four was Bobby, his brother Randy, and whatever sidemen were available; the line-up rotated often before settling into the configuration that struck gold later.  In the meantime, Fuller played as much as he could, cut some sides for local indie labels, and set up a recording studio in the family garage, forming his own homemade record label, Exeter.

He built a rough echo chamber in the family’s back yard, and the resultant recording quality was good enough that Fuller began touting the studio as a place for other musicians to lay down some tracks.  Bobby let aspirants record for free so he had a chance to hone his own production skills.

Rock ’n’ Roll (Part 2)
In 1964, Bobby Fuller cut a copy of the Sonny Curtis lost rocker, “I Fought the Law”, on his homemade Exeter label.

The Bobby Fuller Four moved to Los Angeles that year and signed to Mustang Records (a subsidiary of Del-Fi Records set up initially with the sole purpose of recording The Bobby Fuller Four), taking the memory of “I Fought the Law” with them.  Their producer was Bob Keane.  [Keane had I Fought the Law (album cover, 1965)Credit: Del-Fi/Mustang Records, 1965worked in the past with Sam Cooke and Ritchie Valens; he would later be named by conspiracists as a key player in Fuller’s “suicide”.]

They canned enough material at Mustang to start releasing singles; Fuller’s song, “Let Her Dance”, cracked the Top 40.  In late 1965, the band went back into the studio and produced a sharper, more manic version of the song they’d done in the garage, “I Fought the Law”.  It was released in December 1965.

This tune brought American-style rock ’n’ roll back to the fore, evoking Dick Dale, Eddie Cochran, the tremulous mania of Buddy Holly’s vocals, and some of the fastest guitar chord changes recorded at the time.  Although it only peaked at Number 9 on the Top Ten (in March 1966), the song was an instant classic, and it opened many doors for The Bobby Fuller Four.  They scored a cameo shot in the 1966 campy beach movie, The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini.  [They mimed as a band at a pool party, backing up Nancy Sinatra as she lip-sync'd her single, “Geronimo”.]

Fuller had been leaning toward establishing himself as a solo act for several months before “I Fought the Law” hit.  The same thing was true of Buddy Holly and the Crickets just before Holly’s death—he had struck out on his own and had recorded several classic tunes without them, some using full orchestration and instrumental choices beyond the Crickets’ limited abilities.  This, of course, caused tensions between Holly and his band, and this same desire for autonomy also bred friction between Bobby Fuller and the rest of The Bobby Fuller Four.  He agonized over this decision; he complained about it often to his New York-based girlfriend, and he confided in others as well during this time, asking their advice.

In the 1960s records were burned off at ridiculous rates, and artists barely had time to think, let alone plan to make good music for their follow-ups.  [The Monkees, for example (though not a “real” band), had four full-length LPs released all within one year!]  Pressure from record companies to keep the momentum going was terrific, and producer Bob Keane and little Mustang Records were no different in that sense than the giants, Columbia Records or Capitol Records.  Product had to keep coming.

Fuller felt constrained by The Bobby Fuller Four.  He was also feeling the first pressures of almost-instant stardom.  The record company was demanding a second full-length LP (the Bobby Fuller (promo 1966)Credit: Mustang Recordsdébut album, I Fought the Law, had been released in early 1966 on the heels of the single), and Fuller felt he would be forced into using songs by other songwriters if he didn’t have more time to work on the new disc’s music. 

The sessions for the new album were fractious; Fuller made it clear to all that he didn’t feel up to continuing.  He still believed he’d not been given enough time to make a good record, and it depressed him to think, again, he would have to record someone else’s songs.  And a planned European tour had just been cancelled; he was bitterly disappointed as they had developed a large following in Europe.  This only added to his angst.

He struggled with other problems relating to the band.  Internal pressures continued mounting within The Four.  Bobby Fuller and his brother Randy shared a small apartment.  Though they had played together since they were teens, their relationship had disintegrated, and they could barely tolerate each other.  Bobby had even started apartment hunting so he could find a place by himself.  This tension also affected the other band members.  The band’s drummer, Dalton Powell, had decided to quit, though he had yet to tell Bobby Fuller of his decision. 

Right after the band’s last tour date (and they had been on the road for a few months) guitarist Jim Reese learned he’d been drafted into the Army (the Vietnam conflict was gearing up to become that decade’s biggest debacle).  Fuller began the job of auditioning musicians to fill in for the drafted Jim Reese, and he was also looking to perhaps replace Randy as well. 

Jim Reese’s sudden bad news about being drafted meant he had to divest himself of some things, one of which was a Jaguar XKE that Fuller had admired.  On July 16, 1966, Jim made arrangements to sell Fuller the car, and Bobby was supposed to take possession of it on July 18, 1966, per an agreement he had with Reese.  The band also had a meeting scheduled for later on July 18 at Del-Fi Records (Mustang Records’ parent company); drummer Dalton Powell planned on telling Bobby Fuller he was quitting at that meeting. 

During the day of July 17, 1966, Bobby spent some time with the new musicians he’d found to replace Jim.  His movements are somewhat dodgy for the rest of the day, but he was in his own apartment before 1:00 AM (of July 18).  His mother was visiting from El Paso, Texas, and she and a roadie were in the apartment overnight.  The roadie was crashing at Bobby’s place and reported Fuller took a phone call between 1:00 AM and 2:00 AM July 18; he later told police Bobby left soon after the call and did not come back to the apartment.

The apartment complex’s manager, Lloyd Esinger, reported Fuller came by his apartment around 3:00 AM.  He said he and Bobby drank a few beers and Fuller left, apparently not acting unusual or depressed.  Lloyd Esinger may have been the last person to see Bobby Fuller alive. 

Anything Bobby Fuller was supposed to do on July 18 did not get done: he never took possession of Jim Reese’s Jaguar or of Dalton Powell’s resignation letter. 

Solo Suicide?
Bobby Fuller was found dead in his mother’s Oldsmobile on Monday, July 18, 1966.  He was 23 years old. 

The car was parked in the lot of the apartment building where he lived.  Its windows were all rolled up tightly and although all the doors were closed completely none of them was locked.  No key was in the ignition. 

He was face down on the front seat.  Also on the front seat was a roughly one-third full gas can with its cap removed.  Fuller was completely clothed, and there were no immediate signs of violence, although an inexpert eyewitness to the discovery claimed seeing traces of dried blood on Fuller’s chin and mouth, and “bruising” on his face and upper chest.  [The coroner’s office reported no such injuries—the “bruising” this person saw was no doubt post-mortem lividity, the pooling of blood within the body as it settles to the lowest points after the heart stops beating.]  This same witness reported Fuller’s clothing and hair were soaked in gasoline, and that a book of matches were on the front seat as well.  [These are details not noted on the death certificate nor indicated by the police, although the interior of the vehicle did, understandably, reek of gas fumes.]  A rubber hose, of the type used for siphoning gasoline, was allegedly in Fuller’s death-gripping right hand.

It was Fuller’s mother who had found him.  Stories differ as to when it was first noted he was either missing or when his mother’s Oldsmobile was noted in the parking lot.  Such accounts are typical of eyewitness reporting, the most notoriously unreliable form of evidence.  Jim Reese had brought his Jaguar XKE around to Fuller’s apartment that day before 5:00 PM.  He parked it nearby; much would be made of this later by conspiracists.  [“Why would Bobby kill himself when he just bought a new car?”] 

A knock at Fuller’s apartment door brought no response; no one was home.

Fuller’s mother had been out of the apartment when Jim Reese arrived.  She said she had gone out to get the day’s mail.  She claimed her car was not in the parking area when she went to the mail collection area, but that it was back when she returned.  [The time lapse between her departure and return is not known, but she was not in the apartment when Reese arrived].  She approached the car where Fuller was splayed on the front seat and thought at first he was sleeping.  Upon opening the car’s door, and smelling the gas fumes she realized he was dead.  She reported the keys were in the ignition and his dead hand was on them.  [Neither of these alleged details were reported by the police—their records show no keys in the ignition, and no mention of either of his hands on the ignition.] 

His mother contacted building manager, Lloyd Esinger; the time was roughly 5:15 PM. 

Police work at the scene was less than stellar, but not necessarily intentionally slipshod.  The set-up looked like a suicide from gasoline-fumes inhalation.  There was an empty gas can in the back seat as well; unfortunately a lackadaisical officer merely removed this and tossed it away, thinking it was of no evidentiary value.  Also, because of the apparent nature of the death (suicide) the Oldsmobile was not processed for prints or other trace evidence. 

Fuller’s body was removed and taken for an autopsy.

The findings were relatively simple.  Some petechial hemorrhaging was noted in his eyes, but not remarked upon as unusual.  Although usually associated with forceful suffocation, petechial hemorrhaging (the bursting of small vessels in the whites of the eyes) can also occur during general asphyxia as well.

Robert Gaston Fuller, headstoneCredit: Find-a-Grave

Robert Gaston Fuller was interred four days later at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Burbank, California, his death recorded as first “suicide” then as “accidental asphyxiation”.

“Why would he kill himself when he just bought a new car?”

Conspiracists love this case—“Bobby Fuller was living the dream, he had no reason to kill himself”; they will spew forth all the usual arguments for consideration.  Using the same basic argument conspiracists bandy about, the fine actor Heath Ledger (OD’d on prescription medications in 2008) did not kill himself, either.  Heath must have been murdered because he had everything to live for! 

A new car would not keep a suicidal person from killing himself.  Though it is moot, the Jaguar XKE Reese brought round was not yet purchased by Fuller; he hadn’t paid for it, nor had title transferred.  Thus, he did not “just buy a new car”.

Fuller was depressed about his career path at the time, but probably not morbidly so.  However, chronic depressives do not rationally think about all they have to live for, they just think of stopping their torment.  Anyone who uses the “he-had-so-much-to-live-for” argument does not understand the thought processes of chronic depression; depressives don’t have anything to live for in their minds, that’s why they kill themselves.  So, that argument does not hold water as “proof” that Bobby Fuller was murdered.

Some people were willing to concede he killed himself by drinking gasoline.  [There is no autopsy evidence to support this contention, but for the sake of argument the statement will run its course].  Conspiracists say this cannot be true because some Stanford University crime professor (not a pathologist or a medical doctor, but a crime professor) added fuel to the “conspiracy murder” fire.  He allegedly reported, in 1966 (and there is no proof at all that such a professor existed or even made the statement), that one cannot die by drinking gasoline as the intended suicide would throw up whatever was swallowed before it could do any harm! 

This is false on its face.  People can die from drinking gasoline, it has happened, and if anyone calls a Poison Control hotline and reports an ingestion of gasoline, the first thing the technician will recommend is to induce vomiting!  If gasoline automatically causes vomiting, why would anyone who ingested it need to take extra measures to induce it?  They would not. 

The argument is based on a false idea: gasoline can kill if consumed.  People have killed themselves drinking drain cleaner and many other noxious substances.  These may cause vomiting later as the body begins reacting to the poisonous effects and hypoxia, but most of these substances can do their damage quickly.  [And as far as drinking drain cleaner goes, Poison Control advises not to induce vomiting in that case.  The alkalinity of the chemical causes more harm as it is disgorged, burning and scarring the throat’s soft tissues.  Apparently, drinking drain cleaner does not cause vomiting, either.]

Another rumor was that Fuller overdosed on LSD or some other kind of hallucinogenic drug.  No one has ever died overdosing on LSD: the quantities necessary to cause toxicity sufficient for death are phenomenally large, so large no one has ever had enough of the substance available to him or her to even attempt such a means of dying.  And while people certainly have died when taking acid (by jumping out of windows or doing something else dangerous while under its effects) no one has ever died from ingesting too much of the substance.  The drug did not cause death in those cases it was the actions of the users.

The laughable LSD-overdose “theory” holds Fuller left his apartment after getting his roughly 1:30 AM phone call, went to a party in Malibu, and overdosed on acid there. 

The party people, apparently so famous they couldn’t be involved in any such scandal, tried to stage a murder by pouring gasoline down his throat, saturating his hair, and then torching his mother’s car, to (in effect) create some Hollywood version of a mob slaying.  [The simple fact the car in which he was found had not been set ablaze debunks this immediately.]

This “theory” reeks worse than many of the others.  Those who have handled corpses in their lives know this is a bad scenario.  This theory bases its claims on Fuller’s already being dead of an overdose; unless someoneBobby Fuller Death Certificate, 1966Credit: California Dept. of Public Health shoved a tube down his throat no gasoline was getting past his clenched teeth. 

Dependent upon how long he was dead before some Malibu party genius came up with this ridiculous plot, rigor mortis may or may not have been present. 

If it was present there is no way to manually open the mouth without wrenching, and possibly dislocating, the jaw (said wrenched jaw was not noted on his autopsy report). 

If rigor was not present it still would not work.  The act of swallowing requires the motive force of the swallower’s esophagus: simply pouring liquid in a dead man’s mouth will result in the material merely dribbling out.  The throat does not work in death. 

There is a miscellaneous variant on the party scenario: instead of overdosing at the drug party, Fuller fell and died, and his suicide was staged as a cover-up.  [What, exactly, would have been wrong with calling police and reporting such a death for what it was, an accident?]

There is also a “mob killing” theory that holds that Fuller was involved with some otherwise unknown mystery woman named “Melanie”.  [His real New York girlfriend’s name was Nancy Norton.]  Melanie’s ex-boyfriend was supposedly some Hollywood tough-guy club owner who had connections.  When Fuller died, she disappeared (probably because she never existed, or her relationship with Fuller was so casual that she had nothing of merit to offer investigators).  This is stupid for the same reasons the other conjectures are stupid—too manufactured, too pat, and too “clean”.

Finally, the “mob hit” idea is too contrived—any real mobster would simply have killed him and been done with it.  There would have been none of the absurd staging required.  The last nail for any drug-related conspiracy lunacy is the easiest for debunking it: at autopsy he was found to have no drugs in his body.

Even Bob Keane, the band’s record producer at Mustang Records, came in for his share of suspicion.  Keane, unfortunately, had worked with the singer Sam Cooke in the past, and Sam died under strange circumstances as well.  Now, Bobby Fuller was dead, and Bob Keane was his producer, too.  Therefore, Bob Keane must have killed Bobby Fuller.  His motive would have been money—allegedly Del-Fi Records had a $1 million life insurance policy on Fuller, naming it as beneficiary.  This is also ridiculous; had Bobby Fuller lived, Del-Fi Records and its subsidiary Mustang (both of whom Fuller was comfortable with) would have realized far more millions in revenues than a lousy lump-sum insurance payout would have netted for his demise.

A final theory is so absurd it is almost not worth dignifying with a debunking.  Bobby Fuller was murdered, according to one crackpot, to generate demand and sales for his recordings!  That would definitely be killing the goose that laid the golden egg.  Fuller (unlike Buddy Holly) had a very limited back-catalog—having him alive to make more music would have been far more lucrative then the brief post-mortem sales spike many artists enjoy upon death.

Unfortunately, in the wake of Fuller’s death, some coincidental events occurred that took on sinister overtones.  Dalton Powell, the drummer who was quitting, claimed a few days after the discovery of Bobby Fuller’s body he had been “confronted” by some men at Fuller’s apartment.  He described them as "three real mean-looking dudes”.  They said they were looking for Fuller, and left a message to tell Fuller they would come back some other time. 

Dalton Powell and Jim Reese both left town after Fuller’s funeral (Reese for boot camp, and Powell for parts unknown).  No one knows if the “three real mean-looking dudes” ever came back around.  It is extremely likely these three men were Bobby Fuller’s new back-up band for what he envisioned as his new career direction.  Neither Dalton Powell nor Jim Reese knew of Fuller’s recruiting efforts—the fact there were three mystery men tends to support the idea that Randy Fuller would be out of the musical picture as well.

Even the most trivial incidents became part of the conspiracy.  Randy Fuller and the band's road manager, Rick Stone, were driving one night when another vehicle nearly ran them off the road.  Conspiracy!  A private investigator that Bobby’s parents had hired to run down whatever he could quit working the case after a few days when he was shot at by someone.  Conspiracy!  [This latter incident is embarrassing for the profession.  As a former private investigator I can uncomfortably report this does happen but it does not a conspiracy make.  It is some lunatic taking a shot at you, that’s all.  It’s a line of work that comes with its own dangers, and there is nothing heroic or mysterious about getting shot at if you are a private eye.]

What Happened?
The most rational conclusion to draw is that Fuller either intentionally killed himself (using a very strange method) or his death was as the autopsy findings ultimately concluded: “accidental asphyxiation”.

When the actor David Carradine (of early 1970s’ television’s Kung Fu fame) was found naked and dead, hanging by a belt strung around his neck in a closet, any thinking person knew what happened.  Auto-erotic asphyxiation results in death sometimes.  The thought of “murder” or conspiracy never occurred to me, and the investigative findings bore out the truth of my first suspicion.

So, too, in Bobby Fuller’s case it is best to go with the gut and stick to the simplest explanation.  I cannot prove what follows here, of course, but it is about the only thing that does seem to most closely fit the facts.

First, Fuller’s mother’s Oldsmobile was not “gone” when she went to “get the mail”.  We don’t really know for a fact where she went, but it is reasonable to conclude she would no more notice her car sitting in its normal spot (from familiarity) than anyone would. 

Fuller’s time of death was never clearly established, just that it happened before 5:15 PM.  The car had to be in the lot well before that time.  His mother makes it sound as if she’d left his apartment right before 5:00 PM with Jim Reese arriving on the scene at about 5:00 PM and finding no one home.  She may have left far earlier, we do not know—her car may not have been present several hours before, but returned before she came back from her “mail errand” at 5:15 PM.  [It is not worth going into since she is not complicit in Fuller’s death, but I do not believe her “getting the mail” story.]

It is my conclusion, grounded solely in what is known about this situation, that Bobby Fuller killed himself, accidentally, while huffing.  For those who don’t know, that’s a common term for using intoxicating inhalants.  Back in the 1960s “glue-sniffing” (of model glue) was very popular.  Today, people huff the fumes from spray paint and other aerosols.  [Idiots think gold spray paint is somehow classier and packs more of a wallop than other spray paint colors.  It does no such thing.  The propellant—in each can—is the same.]

Gasoline is also a known, albeit potentially lethal, inhalant.  In Fuller’s case, the hose indicates a simple activity—he was sitting there sucking fumes up from the open gas can with the hose while the car windows were up.  The book of matches on the car seat was a red herring: the books of matches was nothing more sinister than a book of matches.  It seems logical that Fuller sat there trying to divert himself—he was depressed, and he had a lot on his mind and on his plate.  He passed out from intentionally inhaling fumes, and then asphyxiated as the gasoline fumes overwhelmed his unconscious body.

Tragic, but cut-and-dry. 

Of course he would seek some privacy for such an act.  It is entirely possible he drove his mother’s car away from the apartment building, then returned later, took a few more hits off the can, passed out, and then died.  The only time one puts the windows up on one’s car is when leaving the vehicle unattended.  No one would sit for long, intentionally, overheating in July in Southern California in a fully enclosed vehicle.  Fuller was either done with his “trip” and got caught short, or he didn’t think clearly enough to get fresh air by opening a window before succumbing. 

The closed windows in the blazing California sun are almost a sure indicator of this.  The windows were up for two reasons: to intensify his buzz and (because if he were driving andEl Paso Rock, Vol 2 (album cover) huffing in July) the car’s air conditioner would have to be running (if the windows were open while driving the fumes would merely escape with no benefit to the huffer).  No one is going to drive around Los Angeles in the summer for very long with all of a car’s windows up without running the air conditioning.  

I do not believe Fuller intentionally committed suicide.  I think his death is one of those “accidental suicides” such as Terry Kath’s shooting himself in the head while “playing” Russian roulette or Marilyn Monroe’s accidental pill overdose.  The sealed car environment caused his death maybe just as he was getting back to his place.  

We’ll never know all the details of what happened to Fuller, but this much is certain: The Bobby Fuller Four’s version of “I Fought the Law” is classic and has withstood the test of time.  It still rocks, and it still sounds sharp and cutting.

“I Fought the Law” was named #175 in Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”, and it was also named as one of the Top 500 “Songs that Shaped Rock” by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Just like Buddy Holly, heir apparent Bobby Fuller didn’t get to give us as much as he could but what he did leave behind was pure gold.


The Crickets' version

Bobby's version

Bobby Fuller's spiritual mentor, Buddy

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