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The Who Bassist John Entwistle Dies

Stunned fans of The Who’s John Entwistle left flowers and consoled each other outside a casino concert hall where the bass player who helped make the band one of the biggest in rock history had been expected to perform Friday.

Entwistle was found dead Thursday in his Hard Rock Hotel room of an apparent heart attack. He was 57.

“The Ox has left the building – we’ve lost another great friend,” bandmates Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey wrote on Townshend’s Web site. The Who’s celebrated drummer, Keith Moon, died in 1978.

Former Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman described Entwistle as “the quietest man in private but the loudest man on stage.”

“He was unique and irreplaceable,” Wyman said.

Entwistle, a co-founder of The Who, was on medication for a heart condition, according to Steve Luongo, the drummer in another Entwistle band for the last 15 years. An autopsy was scheduled for Friday, but Clark County Coroner Ron Flud said no foul play was suspected.

The Who’s scheduled concert at the Hard Rock on Friday was canceled, as was a July 1 show in Los Angeles. The rest of the three-month, nationwide tour was undecided, said Beckye Levin of promoter Clear Channel Entertainment.

Outside The Joint, where the concert was scheduled, fans like Lauren J. Hammer, 35, of Boulder, Colo., gathered in front of a growing collection of flower bouquets and a large British flag. She held her Colorado license plate that read “WHO R U” and business cards that stated “Who Fan Extraordinaire.”

The casino played the band’s songs, and the hotel changed its marquee from a concert promotion to a memorial reading, “John Entwistle. 1944-2002. You will be missed by all.”

“My whole life has been altered today,” said fan Stefanie Cushing, 34, of Seattle, who had tickets for seven shows.

From London, Entwistle’s family issued a statement that thanked fans for their messages of condolence and asked for “a brief period of privacy in which to mourn and adjust our lives to this tragedy.”

The Who, founded in London in the early 1960s, was part of the British rock invasion along with the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. They were never as successfully commercially as their peers, but many songs became classics, including “I Can See For Miles,” “I Can’t Explain,” “Substitute,” “Pinball Wizard,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “Who Are You.”

An early hit, “My Generation,” was an anthem for baby boomers and included the line, “Hope I die before I get old.” They were also known for their “pop art” style, from pinning medals on their jackets to draping flags over their amplifiers.

Their music reflected their offstage life, with band members often fighting and vowing to quit the group. While the Beatles fit happily into a unified sound, The Who seemed to slug it out right in front of their fans.

Their concerts were literally explosive – a fusion of acrobatics and volcanic sound that left the stage and their instruments a smoldering wreck. They were so loud that the Guinness Book of Records measured a 1976 show and certified them as the world’s loudest band, their noise level just below a jet plane’s roar. Townsend and Entwistle both suffered permanent hearing damage.

“A lot of our fans liked us because we made mistakes. It made us look more human. And then the fact that we could actually sort of burst out laughing on stage when we made a real bad blunder,” Entwistle told The Associated Press in a 1995 radio interview.

Without the steady Entwistle, someone once observed, the band might have literally flown off the stage. His fingers raced across his bass, but he stood silently in contrast to his hyperactive bandmates: Moon, guitarist Townshend and lead singer Daltrey.

Ray Manzarek, keyboardist for the Doors, called Entwistle “one of the great, great rock ‘n’ roll bassists of all time. A real genius.”

Entwistle’s songwriting contributions were minimal compared to Townshend, but he did pen such fan favorites as “Boris the Spider” and “My Wife,” both of which displayed his dark humor. He was also the only member of the band with formal musical training.

He was among the first in rock to experiment with the six- and eight-string bass, and he also played the French horn.

“As a musician, he did for the bass guitar what Jimi Hendrix did for the guitar,” said Luongo, 49, who played drums in The John Entwistle Band.

Entwistle was born Oct. 9, 1944, in London, and played piano and trumpet in his early years. He met Townshend and Daltrey in high school and by 1964 the band was born, with Moon on drums.

Many Americans first learned about The Who after they played at the 1967 Monterey Pop concert, the first major rock festival. Their status as superstars was confirmed two years later at Woodstock, where they opened with Entwistle’s “Heaven and Hell.”

Their albums included “Happy Jack,” “The Who Sell Out,” “Who’s Next,” “Quadrophenia” and “Who Are You.” They also made 1969’s groundbreaking rock opera, “Tommy,” about a deaf, dumb and blind messiah. The album was turned into a 1975 film, starring Ann-Margret and Jack Nicholson, in 1975 and later into a Broadway show.

The Who have sold 18 million albums, according to the Recording Industry Association of America ( news – web sites). They have had 14 gold albums, 10 platinum and five multiplatinum.

Few bass players had a job more challenging than Entwistle’s, playing rhythm alongside Moon, rock’s loudest, fastest and most unpredictable drummer. Entwistle in many instances improvised as much as guitarist Townshend, who once said the bass player provided more lead material than he did.

“A lot of my playing is improvising,” Entwistle explained to Bass Frontiers magazine in 1996. “I will just discover different little patterns or riffs in any key at anytime. Somewhere in my brain I have a list of things I can play. It’s a matter of putting them in the right order.”

He released the first of his nine solo albums in 1971, and later formed his own ensemble, Ox, while continuing to play with The Who.

After Moon’s death, Kenny Jones took over on drums, but the band made just two more studio albums, neither well regarded, and retired in 1982. The later reunited and toured frequently, giving a rousing performance at last year’s “Concert for New York,” which raised money for the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. A greatest hits album, “Ultimate Collection,” entered the Billboard charts two weeks ago at No. 31.

They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

Entwistle was also an artist and was in Las Vegas in part to open a show at the Grammy’s Art of Music Gallery at the Aladdin Hotel-Casino. His work included cartoon-type portraits of himself and his fellow band members.

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