By Eric M. Johnson
(Reuters) - Tommy Ramone, the drummer and last surviving original member of the American punk band the Ramones, whose aggressive and fast-driving songs spearheaded the punk-rock movement, has died at the age of 65, an associate said on Saturday.
The death was confirmed by Dave Frey, director at Ramones Productions, the company that controls the band's copyright. Frey declined to provide additional information, but a statement on the band's Facebook page said the musician died on Friday.
Born Thomas Erdelyi in Budapest, Hungary, he was the co-founder of the band and its drummer from 1974 to 1978. He was the last surviving member of its original quartet, who adopted pseudonyms ending with the surname "Ramone."
The New York band, with mops of long hair, black leather jackets, torn jeans and sneakers, had limited chart success but deeply influenced scores of musicians who would go on to form bands such as the Clash, the Sex Pistols, Nirvana and Green Day.
They were seen as masters of minimalist, under two-and-a-half minute tunes played at blistering tempo, such as "Blitzkrieg Bop," "I Wanna be Sedated," "Rockaway Beach," and "Sheena is a Punk Rocker."
The band's style, anchored by Tommy's frenetic drumming, was partly a reaction to the bloated, and heavily produced rock music of the mid-1970s.
The Ramones' eponymous first-album, released in 1976, revitalized the rock scene, and in 2002 they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
"The Ramones got back to basics: simple, speedy, stripped-down rock and roll songs. Voice, guitar, bass, drums. No makeup, no egos, no light shows, no nonsense," the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame said on its website.
"They are heard everywhere. At every sporting event you hear 'Hey, ho, let's go!'" Frey said, citing lyrics from "Blitzkrieg Bop." "They connected in a big way."
Frey called Tommy last month to tell him their debut record had reached gold status and said the musician was thrilled. "He couldn't believe it," Frey said.
The Ramones performed 2,263 concerts between their formation in 1974 and final show in 1996. They released 21 studio, live and compilation albums over a 20-year period, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame said.
Guitarist Johnny Ramone, born John Cummings, died of prostate cancer in 2004. Singer Joey Ramone, born Jeff Hyman, died of lymphoma in 2001. Bassist Dee Dee Ramone, born Douglas Colvin, died the following year of a heroin overdose.
"They're all gone now," Carrie Brownstein, co-founder of the band Sleater-Kinney and star of the show "Portlandia," said in a tweet. "R.I.P. Tommy Ramone."
Singer Pete Yorn said in a tweet about the musician's death "this guy was solid."
Tommy, who acted at various times also as a songwriter, producer, and engineer, died at his home in Queens, New York, according to a statement on Facebook from New York Rocker Magazine publisher Andy Schwartz.
He had been in hospice care following treatment for cancer of the bile duct, and is survived by Claudia Tienan, his partner of 40 years, and other family members including nephews Eric and David, Schwartz said.
In recent years, Tommy and Tienan performed and recorded as the indie-acoustic country and bluegrass duo Uncle Monk, Schwartz said.
In high school, Tommy played guitar in a group called Tangerine Puppets that also included Ramones guitarist Johnny Ramone on bass and trained as a recording engineer and assisted on various New York sessions, including with Jimi Hendrix in 1969, Schwartz said.
(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Additional reporting by Mark Heinrich and Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Louise Heavens and Marguerita Choy)