R.I.P. Dead Kennedys drummer D.H. Peligro

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D.H. Peligro in 2003

D.H. Peligro in 2003
Photo: Giulio Marcocchi (Getty Images)

D.H. Peligro has died. The long-time drummer for influential punk band Dead Kennedys, Peligro—born Darren Henley—played off-and-on with the band for more than 20 years, co-generating several of their albums (as well as at least some of their ongoing drama with former frontman Jello Biafra). Peligro was also briefly the drummer for his friends in the Red Hot Chili Peppers, a tenure that lasted for a short time in 1988. According to Deadline, Peligro died yesterday, with the LAPD reporting that he suffered head trauma after a fall. Peligro was 63.

Born in St. Louis, Peligro was, by his own account, living out of a van in San Francisco, immersing himself in the punk scene, when he met Biafra and Dead Kennedys guitarist East Bay Ray in the early ’80s. (In an interview in 2015, he talked about hopping a Greyhound to San Francisco at age 17 with nothing more than his drum kit and a single bologna sandwich to his name.) When original drummer Bruce “Ted” Slesinger departed the band in 1981, Peligro was one of more than a dozen drummers to audition; clicking easily with Biafra, Ray, and bass player Klaus Flouride, Peligro signed on with the band shortly before the creation of their 1981 EP In God We Trust, Inc., which marked a turn toward harder, faster punk rock, propelled at least in part by Peligro’s drums.

Too Drunk to Fuck

Over the next five years, Dead Kennedys would gain international prominence, release three more albums—and also weather a high-profile obscenity trial related to the release of 1982’s Frankenchrist, and specifically the inclusion of an H.R. Giger painting, Penis Landscape, as a poster with the album. The end came in 1986, when, according to Peligro, East Bay Ray announced he was quitting the band. After a brief conversation about potentially finding a new guitarist, the members of the group instead decided to go their separate ways, with Peligro moving to Los Angeles.

Over the next several years, Peligro would play with a number of bands, as well as start his own, also called Peligro. (He also, while at musical loose ends, developed an addiction to heroin that he would struggle with for the rest of his life.) One of his most high-profile gigs came in ’88, when he was brought in by his long-time friends in the Chili Peppers to replace founding drummer Jack Irons, who had departed the band after the death of his high school friend Hillel Slovak from a heroin overdose. Although Peligro reportedly co-wrote a few of the songs that would end up on the band’s fourth album, Mother’s Milk, he was only with the Peppers for a short time before being fired, reportedly due to his own issues with substance abuse. (“That was me fucking it up,” he said in 2015, ruefully admitting that if he’d stayed with the group during their rise to massive prominence, it likely would have killed him.)

In the late 1990s, Peligro and the other members of the Dead Kennedys discovered that they’d been getting under-paid on royalties by Biafra’s label, Alternative Tentacles. In response, Peligro, Klaus, and Ray reunited with a series of new singers starting in 2001, with Biafra taking frequent potshots at the group for what he viewed as trading on the band’s name and image. Regardless of those accusations—and bolstered by a successful court case, which the members of the Kennedys won, including securing the rights to most of the band’s back catalogthey continued touring together up through this year.

In his later years, Peligro talked frankly about his struggles with addiction, both in interviews, and in his memoir Dreadnaught: King Of Afropunk, noting that he’d had a relapse as recently as 2015. (His recounting of the ways that constant exposure to racism while touring as a Black man in the punk scene of the ’80s contributed to his struggles with addiction was one of the more poignant moments in Dave Grohl’s recent doc What Drives Us.) But Peligro continued to play, write, and even act in a few short films nevertheless, creating art up until his death this week.

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