The Wild Life and Tragic End of Dimebag Darrell

Darrell Abbott, affectionately known as Dimebag Darrell, was one of the best guitarists of all time and took his talents to a Columbus, Ohio, stage in late 2004. The venue carrying the cheering and excitement of the crowd at the Alrosa Villa nightclub turned into a tragic scene on December 8.

Dimebag Darrell / Nathan Gale / Damageplan / Rita Haney.
Source: Getty Images

The atmosphere changed immediately when Dimebag Darrell was shot dead by a fan while on the stage. It was a tragic end to a great life, but why did the fan do it and how was it allowed to happen? Here, we take a closer look at the full story.

A Revered Music Legend

Guitar legend Dimebag Darrell was famous because of two heavy metal bands, Pantera and Damageplan. These two bands were the fruits of his hard work, alongside Vinnie Paul, his brother. Unfortunately, he did not live long enough to see the growth of his innovation.

An image of Dimebag Darrell performing on stage.
Photo by Mick Hutson/Redferns/Getty Images

Dimebag was 38 at the time of his death, and he died with three other people: a fan, a club employee, and a crew member. The fan died while trying to help Dimebag, and the club employee tried to snatch the gun from the shooter.

Who Killed Dimebag Darrell?

Dimebag was shot five times in the head while performing by a 25-year-old man, Nathan Gale. Gale was a marine cop who left work unceremoniously. He was a huge fan of Pantera, and he must have been upset to find out that the band had broken up. The shooter intended to kill the two founders, brothers Dimebag and Vinnie.

A portrait of Dimebag Darrell.
Source: Pinterest

In an interview, Vinnie says that he is lucky to be alive. He hid behind his drums when the shooting started, and that’s how he escaped death. Vinnie also said that he misses his brother every day and is ready to carry on the legacy he left.

Who Else Was Killed?

The other three killed at the event? First was Jeff Thompson, age 40. He was a crew member of Damageplan and there to help give the crowd an amazing gig. Erin A. Halk, 29, was a club employee who helped run the event. The other death was that of 23-year-old Nathan Bray.

A surveillance tape from the show the night of the shooting.
Source: YouTube

Bray was a heavy metal fan who had come to see Dimebag perform live. He attempted to help both Dimebag and Thompson after they were shot and was killed when the gunman returned to the stage. The police killed Gale soon after he murdered the four.

Who Was Dimebag Darrell?

Dimebag was an American musician born on August 20, 1966, the son of another famous man, Jerry Abbott, a country music producer. Although Dimebag’s parents had divorced, he and Vinnie lived a happy life. Dimebag must have admired his father’s music career because he started playing the guitar at 12 years old. Unlike his father, this young man was a heavy metal fan.

Vinnie Paul Abbott, Rita Haney, and Jerry Abbott pose at Dimebag’s Hollywood Rockwalk induction.
Photo by Toby Canham/Getty Images

Dimebag’s talents grew, and he was just 16 when Pantera released its first album in a glam metal style. The group released two other albums the following year, with Dimebag as their guitarist. Their music continued growing as the band evolved into heavy metal.

The End of Pantera after Huge Success

The tensions in Pantera affected their music production in their later years. Their last music together was released in 2000; they separated in 2003 after nine albums and an incredible music legacy.

A closeup on Phil Anselmo during Pantera’s live performance.
Source: Flickr

Even with the breaking up of his band, Dimebag did not give up on music. He and Vinnie formed another group, Damageplan. Their new band was performing on the night Dimebag met his death. The brothers were happy to move on from Pantera, who had a hugely loyal fan base.

A Hugely Respected Guitarist

This famous guitarist was a legend, and the legacy he left did not die on December 8. Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 greatest guitarists ranked Dimebag number 92 in 2011. Many fans would rank him much higher, but the top 100 is still a huge honor.

A photo of Dimebag performing on stage.
Photo by Christopher Braeger

Dimebag and Pantera made their marks with much more than technical guitar playing. The band left behind an incredible legacy that has inspired many bands. For many people growing up, Dimebag was the guitarist they wanted to emulate.

The Change from Diamond Darrell

In 2018, Dimebag was ranked number 19 by Louder on its list of the 50 greatest guitarists of all time. People still remember him, and his music is still loved. The band was never afraid to change either, with their roots being in a more glam metal sound.

A studio portrait of Dimebag.
Photo by Gutchie Kojima/Shinko Music/Getty Images

During the early years, Abbott went by the name “Diamond Darrell,” but the change to Dimebag showed the change of attitude. This was around the time Pantera released Vulgar Display of Power, one of the most iconic heavy metal albums ever.

Dimebag as a Child

Dimebag’s first guitar was a Hondo, and he received it on his twelfth birthday. His main influencers were Black Sabbath and KISS, and he mostly spent time in his bedroom just holding the guitar because he had not yet learned how to play.

A portrait of Dimebag in his teens.
Source: Instagram /@dimebagdarrell

Vinnie, Dimebag’s younger brother by two years, was a drums guru. He says that Dimebag tried playing the drums when they were young, but Vinnie’s prowess intimidated him, so he stopped and focused on the guitar instead.

The Two Brothers Grew With Music

It’s clear that from an early age that the two brothers were destined for musical greatness. The band’s first jam session, Smoke on the Water, was six hours long. The two had become inseparable until death did them part.

A backstage portrait of Vinnie and Dimebag.
Photo by Mick Hutson/Redferns/Getty Images

Even at a young age, Dimebag entered guitar contests and won most of them. His mother accompanied him to those contests because he was too young to enter on his own. His love for guitar playing was a constant in his life.

How Dimebag and Rita Haney Met

During Billboard’s interview about the legendary guitarist, Rita Haney, Dimebag’s longtime girlfriend, spoke about how they met. Rita said that she met her beau when they were both 8 years old and riding bikes. It was a sweet story about an amazing couple.

An image of Rita Haney performing on stage.
Photo by Will Ireland/Metal Hammer Magazine/Future/Getty Images

The two lived in the same neighborhood, and although Dimebag said something ratty to Haney on the first day they met, they still became friends. The two were age mates, but Darrell was 10 days older. Their romance turned out to be like something from the movies.

They Were In Love until the End

When Rita met Dimebag, he had not yet started playing guitar. However, they both liked KISS. Rita narrated how Dimebag had many things in common with his mother. His parents were separated, but they were happy children. Dimebag was a clean and organized guy, an attribute he picked up from his mother. On the contrary, Vinnie took after their father.

Rita Haney poses for the press.
Photo by Jo Hale/Getty Images

Rita and Dimebag continued being friends and later started dating. They officially got together in 1984 and were still a couple until the legend died on stage while performing. Rita says she thinks about her love every day, and that the memories they made became more intense after he was killed.

He Was a Loving Boyfriend

During the legend’s death anniversary, Rita said she missed Dimebag and wonders what they would be doing today. She says Dimebag would have used modern technology to interact with his fans as he always loved a close connection with his supporters.

A portrait of Dimebag.
Source: Instagram /@dimebagdarrell

He was a loving boyfriend to her and gave her the best. She also said that she would continue to live the purposeful life her boyfriend created. Behind the heavy metal and “Dimebag” name was a loving man who cared deeply for Rita. Sadly, he was taken away from her.

She Fondly Remembers Him

Most of Rita’s memories are for the home she shared with Dimebag. She remembers how they spent time cooking, and how Dimebag loved using spices. Even though he was only 38 when he passed away, the two had already known each other for 30 years.

A portrait of Rita and Dimebag celebrating her birthday.
Source: Instagram /@dimebagzhag

He possessed a sense of humor that he showcased plenty of times at home. Rita always talks about him with an immense amount of affection. The two never got married as they didn’t believe in the institution of marriage, but that doesn’t mean their love wasn’t real.

Darrell’s Music Career and Forming of the Bands

Dimebag and Vinnie formed what would eventually become Pantera in 1981. It started when Vinnie’s classmates invited him to join their band. The other band members were Terry Glaze, who played guitar, Tommy Bradford (bass), and Donny Hart (vocals).

A picture of Dimebag performing on stage.
Photo by Christopher Braeger

Before joining the band, Vinnie gave the other band members a condition that he would only join if they accepted Darrell as well. The band members were reluctant because he was not yet good on guitar. Darrell was also younger and skinny, but they agreed.

The Band Soon Evolved

There were changes in the band in 1982. Hart left, and Glaze replaced him. Bradford also left, and Rex Brown replaced him. After a while, Darrell became the lead guitarist because he shared the position with Glaze.

A picture from the band’s concert.
Source: Instagram /@dimebagdarrell

Glaze confessed that Dimebag was a fast learner, and his hard work made him a pro in six months. Dimebag became better at guitar and could play it like the legends he admired, such as KISS guitarist Ace Frehley and Van Halen shredder Eddie Van Halen. After the KISS song Black Diamond, Darrell adopted the stage name Diamond Darrell.

They Were Heavily Influenced By KISS

Pantera’s members were very conscious about their image and made it a norm to wear spandex and makeup on stage. They signed with Metal Magic Records, owned by Darrell’s father’s friend, Jerry.

A band portrait of KISS.
Photo by Fin Costello/Redferns/Getty Images

The band started working on its first album, Metal Magic, released in 1983. At this time, little Darrell was only 16. The band was consistent, and they released two more albums in consecutive years. These were all created in the glam metal style that was much different from the style they ended with.

Their Sound Got Heavier

As the years passed, their ambitions grew, and they started listening to other big bands like Metallica and Slayer. Gaze was unhappy that Dimebag was influenced by Metallica, especially their album Ride the Lightning. He said he did not like Metallica songs, and he could not stand the new style. Gaze quit the band in 1986.

Pantera performs on stage.
Photo by Jim Steinfeldt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

It did not take long after Gaze left the group to get a replacement. In the same year, Phil Anselmo joined. Although they changed their recording label and joined Gold Mountain Records, their Power Metal project was released on the Metal Magic label.

They Changed Record Labels

The band did not work well with Metal Magic from that point as they had a different view of the band’s direction. After four albums with Metal Magic, they decided to part ways. Fans of the band will say that it was the best thing they could have done.

A photo of Vinnie Paul during Pantera’s show.
Photo by Ebet Roberts/RedfernS/Getty Images

The record label wanted to change the band’s style to resemble Bon Jovi. Dimebag and his friends did not like it, and they decided to move on. It resulted in the band turning into what would become an iconic heavy metal band with many amazing albums.

Finding a New Label Took Time

After leaving Metal Magic, the band sought to join another label, choosing Atco Records, which was then regarded as a major record label. It was a bold move for Dimebag and the band, but they were not afraid to make bold choices.

Dimebag Darrell, Phil Anselmo, Vinnie Paul, and Rex pose for the media.
Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

Atco Records wasn’t the band’s first choice, however. Due to their management already having some contacts with Metal Blade Records, they tried them first. Given what followed after their fourth album, we’d guess that Metal Blade Records wishes they’d made more of an effort to sign Pantera.

Why Metal Blade Records Said ‘No’

Metal Blade Records was asked to pay $75,000 for Pantera’s new album, too much for the young label to afford. It was an investment they felt they couldn’t make. Later, the band struck a deal with Atco Records, who was impressed by Pantera’s live performances.

A backstage picture of Dimebag.
Source: Instagram /@dimebagdarrell

They Released Cowboys from Hell

In 1990, Pantera released Cowboys from Hell, produced by Terry Date. The initial plan was for Max Norman to produce their new release, but Norman was busy creating Lynch Mob’s new release. Pantera settled on Date, who made their next three albums.

A closeup on Dimebag during Pantera’s performance.
Source: Pinterest

Cowboys from Hell was a hit for the group, and they spent most of their time in 1990 performing it. They performed over 200 shows, taking breaks to work on new projects. The many tours and shows gave Dimebag world recognition, but he mishandled the fame and became a heavy drinker.

Then Came Vulgar Display of Power

Pantera worked tirelessly and released two projects in two months. Dimebag composed most of the songs, and he joined his guitar with Brown’s to create a unique tone. The album they released in 1992, Vulgar Display of Power, peaked at number 44 on the Billboard Top 200. The albums gave Dimebag exposure, and he started making more rhythms and solos.

Pantera poses for a band portrait.
Photo by Niels van Iperen/Getty Images

Vulgar Display of Power was a big hit, and it had the talented guitarist feeling that Diamond Darrell was not a good enough stage name, which led to the birth of Dimebag Darrell. Anselmo came up with the name after a night of smoking marijuana.

The Next Album Had Challenges

Darrell’s father, Jerry, owned Pantego Sound studio, where the Pantera’s albums were recorded. They chose the studio because it was easily accessible to all the band members. However, Pantego closed in 1994. Jerry later opened a new studio, Abtrax, pursuing his dream to be a country songwriter.

A picture of Dimebag walking in a rock festival.
Photo by Brian Rasic/Getty Images

Pantera moved to the new studio to record their third album, Far Beyond Driven. However, it was costly for the band members to fly to Nashville where the studio was located. To write songs and record, they stayed in town for three weeks in hotel rooms, which made them start abusing drugs.

Success Continued to Come

Despite the challenges, the Far Beyond Driven album was later released, and it did very well. It was a period of huge success for the band. Their evolution from glam rock was complete; the risk had paid off.

A picture of Phil Anselmo performing on stage.
Photo by Mick Hutson/Redferns/Getty Images

By the end of the first week, they had sold 186,000 copies and hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Top 200 list. Although Vulgar Display of Power was a hit, this new album was also hugely successful and their heaviest album.

Band’s Separation and Formation of Damageplan

When the band was doing Far Beyond Driven tours, Anselmo suffered chronic back pain. He started self-medicating with alcohol, many painkillers, and heroin to help with the pain. Anselmo also started isolating himself by using a separate tour bus, joining his bandmates 20 minutes before each performance.

A backstage photo of Vinnie Paul and Dimebag.
Source: Instagram /@dimebagdarrell

Anselmo got addicted to drugs, and he would drink a whole bottle of alcohol to numb the pain and be able to sleep. His condition worsened, and since he went on stage drunk, he would often interrupt the performance with ranting.

Things Soon Got Worse

There was so much tension in the band, the group was forced to record The Great Southern Trendkill album separately. During the separate recordings, Dimebag tried other guitars to feel how they played. He wrote “Suicide Note, Pt. 1” and an outro-solo to Floods.

A picture of Dimebag performing on stage.
Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images

The Great Southern Trendkill album remained high on the Billboard 200. Anselmo was getting worse. He overdosed on heroin, and during their performance, became clinically dead for 5 minutes. Although he woke up, recovered, and even performed in their next show two weeks later, the incident painted the band in a bad light.

The End Was Near

The band continued growing apart, making it challenging while working on their next album, Reinventing the Steel. It was even harder to get Anselmo to do his part as they worked on their next release. It was looking increasingly as though the band’s days were numbered.

A portrait of Dimebag Darrell.
Photo by James Cumpsty/Redferns/Getty Images

It was also a challenging time for Vinny and Dimebag, as their mother was diagnosed with lung cancer when they were making that album. She died 6 weeks after the diagnosis, and they released the album in March 2000. It was a stressful time for the pair.

Working on Other Projects

The band was set to do a European tour in September 2001, but it did not happen because of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, and the members decided to take a break. While on break, Brown featured in Down’s new release, playing bass.

Dimebag, Eddie Van Halen, and Vinnie Paul take a picture together.
Source: Instagram /@dimebagdarrell

Anselmo’s band also released an album during that time. There were hopes of the band reuniting in 2003, but Anselmo and Brown did not return. After making music history together, things had fallen apart and the band had made their last album.

Starting the New Project

Pantera was Darrell and Vinny’s project, and the split was heartbreaking. The two later formed a new band, Damageplan. They were joined by Patrick Lachman (vocals) and Bob Kakaha (bass).

A portrait of Dimebag.
Photo by Annamaria DiSanto/WireImage/Getty Images

In 2003, the new band signed with Elektra Records. Damageplan’s first album sold 44,000 copies, nothing close to the impact Pantera had made. However, in 10 months, they had sold about 160,000 copies. The success wasn’t the same, but the brothers were together in a much healthier environment.

Rebuilding Their Fan Base

They started rebuilding their fan base by holding events in nightclubs. These smaller gigs might not have been what the former Pantera members were used to, but they allowed the fans to get an intimate look at their heroes in action and their new band.

A portrait of Vinnie Paul.
Photo by Robert Knight Archive/Redferns/Getty Images

One of their tours took them to the Alrosa Villa nightclub in Columbus, Ohio, where Dimebag was shot and killed, along with three other people, on December 8, 2004. It was a horrible end to a musical legacy that was far from over. Dimebag still had so much left to give.

Dimebag Darrell’s Tragic Death

During its 18 years of music, Pantera had made a considerable following and was hugely successful. They had also made and sold over 7 million records, with their most sold album being Far Beyond Driven. The band recorded total sales of 1.4 million copies, and it shows in their immense legacy.

Vinnie Paul Abbott holds a cardboard cutout of his brother Dimebag.
Photo by Paul Buck/Getty Images

On the night of Dimebag’s death, four bands were performing at the Alrosa Villa. The club was not fully packed because only 250 people bought the $8 tickets, even though the club had a capacity of 600 people.

Gale Snuck His Way In

Gale, the shooter, roamed around the club’s parking lot with no plan of going to watch the bands. When one of the fans asked him why he was not inside, he said he was not interested in local bands and would only enter when Damageplan started performing.

A surveillance photo from the shooting.
Source: YouTube

Gale seemed harmless, and the club manager thought he was a fan without a ticket. He was eventually chased away by one of the band’s workers. However, the shooter got into the club again by hopping a wall and entering through a side door as Damageplan took the stage.

How the Murders Happened

On that night, as the band opened with their new song, “New Found Power,” Gale angrily walked past the pool tables to the side of the stage. He pulled out a Beretta 9mm handgun and pointed it at Dimebag. At this time, Dimebag was already into the performance. Gale pulled the trigger, and the bullet struck the guitarist in the forehead.

A dated picture of Gale.
Source: Pinterest

People did not know immediately that Dimebag had been shot. When the band stopped playing, some people thought there was a problem with the speakers, while others thought it was a hoax. The bartenders kept pouring drinks.

Things Soon Turned to Chaos

The music suddenly stopped, and Dimebag’s guitar produced a high-pitched shriek. Gale turned to the crowd and continued shooting. The confusion about what was taking place soon turned to horror as people realized.

An image of red flashing lights on an emergency vehicle.
Photo by Douglas Sacha/Getty Images

One of the people struck by a bullet was Travis Burnett. Jeffrey Thompson was also shot in the tragedy as he tried to stop Gale. It was a chaotic time as fans were unsure of where the shots had come from and what happened.

Halk and Bray Were Heroes

Gale also killed one of the venue’s employees, Erin Halk, and also Nathan Bray, a fan trying to resuscitate Dimebag. Bray had initially gone to help Dimebag before seeing that Thompson also needed help, so he went over to him before Bray was shot again.

Aaron Holloway lights a candle at Dimebag’s memorial.
Photo by Mike Simons/Getty Images

Halk tried to take the pistol from Gale as he reloaded, only for the killer to turn and kill him on the spot. Both men had tried to help those who were stricken on stage but sadly paid with their lives.

Gale Was Soon Shot Dead

Dimebag continued to bleed from the head. One of the nurses in the crowd climbed up the stage to help the guitarist. She tried resuscitating him for about 20 minutes, but it was too late to save the legend’s life. He died at the scene.

An image of an ambulance rushing through the street.
Photo by Egor Ivlev/Unsplash

Columbus police officer James Niggemeyer appeared from backstage, just when Gale took a male hostage and pointed his gun at the man’s head. The officer fired a shotgun at Gale, and Gale fell dead immediately. Although Gale was mentally troubled, people did not know him as a violent person.

Gale Was Mentally Troubled

The young man had left the Marines in 2002, but nobody knew why. He later worked in different places, including construction sites, and as a landscaper. Gale also played semiprofessional football as an offensive guard for the Lima (Ohio) Thunder.

A portrait of Nathan Gale.
Source: NBC News

Gale was a huge fan of Pantera, listening to their music even while on the team bus. However, a few months before the incident, the shooter’s friends noticed many changes with him. He began to talk and laugh to himself. The police even arrested him for driving with a suspended license.

A Great Life Cut Short

Everyone felt the void of Dimebag’s death. His family, friends, and fans attended his last memorial service. Van Halen, Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor, and Alice in Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell were some of the famous musicians who came. It was clear just how respected he was – and still is – by the heavy metal community.

A photo of Dimebag performing on stage.
Photo by Martyn Goodacre/Getty Images

Dimebag’s closest friends and family buried him alongside his mother at the Moore Memorial Gardens cemetery in Texas. It’s what he would have wanted, but his life was cut far too short. Although he’d already achieved so much, there was much more to come.

Vinnie Died 13 Years Later

Dimebag was buried in a KISS Kasket donated by Gene Simmons with his favorite Bumblebee guitar donated by Van Halen. He was buried alongside his mother. Just 13 years later, Vinnie Paul join them at the plot that now has a security fence around it.

A picture of Vinnie Paul on stage.
Photo by Annamaria DiSanto/WireImage/Getty Images

Vinnie was also buried in a KISS Kasket after dying from heart disease in 2018 at the age of 53. Thanks to the music that the two brothers made together, their musical legacy will live on forever.