Books & Music

Dick Dale, The King Of The Surf Guitar, Has Died

This is sad news.

Dick Dale, known as “The King of the Surf Guitar,” has died at the age of 81. Dale was one of the forefathers of surf rock, and he frequently appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

Dale’s surf-rock version of the Greek song “Misirlou” made him a worldwide sensation in the 1960s, and it gained more-recent fame when Quentin Tarantino chose the song for the “Pulp Fiction” theme song.

Dale was a stand-out guitar player for another reason — he was a lefty, and he learned to play without re-stringing the instrument. “Nobody told me I was holding it wrong,” he told the Orange County Register. “I just taught myself to play it like that.”

Here’s a clip of Dick Dale & The Del Tones performing his iconic “Misirlou” in 1963:

Dale’s role as a surf-rock king came to an abrupt halt in 1965 when he was diagnosed with rectal cancer. Then just 28 years old, the guitar aficionado was required to undergo extensive and aggressive cancer treatment, and he lost 60 pounds in the process.

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The bills for his cancer treatments wiped out the money he’d earned from his early surf-rock success. Worse, Dale’s health problems weren’t over. The cancer returned, and when it did, doctors had to remove parts of his stomach and intestines and give him a colostomy bag.

In the coming years, he also battled diabetes and renal failure. As his medical bills mounted, Dale was frank about being unable to retire and rest — he couldn’t pay for his medical expenses if he wasn’t working.

“I can’t stop touring because I will die. Physically and literally, I will die,” Dale told Pittsburgh City Paper in 2015. “Sure, I’d love to stay home and build ships in a bottle and spend time with my wife in Hawaii, but I have to perform to save my life.”

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Performing for a crowd of fans when you are in extreme physical pain and discomfort is no laughing matter. Dale said his pain could be “excruciating,” but his wife Lana brought him much-needed assistance, as did his bandmates.

With all of the challenges, it’s clear Dale is still a pro in this 2009 performance for Guitar Center, which the company posted on their YouTube channel:

Throughout his performances, Dale was honest about his medical issues not because he sought sympathy, but because he wanted to show his fans that nothing is impossible.

“People come to my shows and they show me their scars. I’ve had paralyzed kids come in on gurneys because they want to see me, and I take time to talk with all of them,” Dale told Pittsburgh City Paper. “I met a man who was sick and dying, and began talking with him on the phone. He said, ‘Dick, you’re my idol and I plan to outlive these hospice workers if I have to, but I will be at your show.’ And he was.”

Here’s to the King of the Surf Guitar and the inspiring example he set for us all.