NEW YORK • Tommy DeVito, an original member of the Four Seasons, the close-harmony quartet that rocketed to fame in the early 1960s, died on Monday in Nevada, United States. He was 92.
Four Seasons earned new generations of fans when the Broadway musical Jersey Boys told a semi-factual version of the group's story.
Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio, the two surviving original members of the group, announced DeVito's death. A spokesman for Valli said the cause was the coronavirus.
DeVito had moved to Las Vegas in Nevada decades ago after leaving the Four Seasons in 1970. Growing up in difficult circumstances in his native New Jersey, he was, in his own words, "a hell-raiser" as a youth, but he found purpose in music.
He formed a band called the Variety Trio with one of his brothers and Nick Massi, who would become the fourth member of the Four Seasons when that group coalesced in about 1960. Massi died in 2000 at 73.
The group's key component was Valli, with his falsetto vocals. In a 2008 interview with music publication Goldmine, DeVito recalled that his trio had performed regularly at a bar in New Jersey, when Valli, a teenager six years younger than him, would sneak in to watch them play.
The band members knew Valli from the neighbourhood and that he had pipes.
"I'd call him up to the stage and let him sing," DeVito said. "He'd get off right away, because he wasn't really supposed to be in there; he was underage."
Before long, Valli was part of the group, which went through name and line-up changes before becoming the Four Seasons. Sherry, the group's breakout hit, topped the charts in 1962. A string of hits followed, including Walk Like A Man (1963) and Rag Doll (1964).
DeVito did not entirely shed his "hell-raiser" past; he ran up debts and caused tensions within the group. In 1970 he was forced out, as some accounts said, or left because the pressures of touring had disagreed with him, as he said.
He quickly burnt through his money from the group's heyday, and worked in casinos and cleaning houses to get by.
DeVito had some success as a record producer and recorded an album of Italian folk songs.
Seeing a version of himself portrayed in Jersey Boys was startling, he said. But he was comfortable with the show, which he descried as "about 85 per cent true to life".
Jersey Boys opened on Broadway in November 2005 and ran until January 2017, one of the longest runs in Broadway history.
It won four Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Featured Actor for Christian Hoff, who played DeVito. Clint Eastwood directed a film version in 2014.