Originally created 05/09/98

Performer Eddie Rabbitt dies at 56



NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Eddie Rabbitt, a singer-songwriter who got his first break from Elvis Presley in 1970 and went on to score 26 No. 1 country hits, including "I Love a Rainy Night," has died. He was 56.

Rabbitt died Thursday from lung cancer. He was buried Friday after a private service.

Besides "I Love a Rainy Night" in 1980, Rabbitt's hits included "Drivin' My Life Away," "Every Which Way but Loose," "Step by Step," "Someone Could Lose a Heart Tonight" and "Two Dollars in the Jukebox."

He also had a No. 1 duet with Crystal Gayle, "You and I," in 1982. His "American Boy" tune was popular with U.S. troops during the Gulf War and was used by Republican Bob Dole in 1996 during his presidential campaign rallies.

Rabbitt's death came 20 years after he was named top new male artist by the Los Angeles-based Academy of Country Music.

"Not only was he a great entertainer, but he was a great people person as well. He will be missed," said Fran Boyd, the academy's executive director.

Dick Clark, executive producer of the Academy of Country Music Awards, was stunned by the news and too upset to comment, publicist Paul Shefrin said.

Rabbitt wrote most of his hit songs. In 1990, he said songwriters must never get satisfied.

"I think if you start to feel secure, you don't do as well," he told The Associated Press. "A writer has to keep one foot in the street and one pocket empty and be hungry for it."

Rabbitt was a straight-arrow in an industry with many renegades. He took pride in doing a clean show with no off-color humor or cursing.

In the early 1990s he criticized music videos for picturing "a bunch of girls with nothing on and a bunch of rock 'n' rollers singing about sex."

MTV, he said at the time, "distorted our youth mentally so that science and math are now so far away from a child's mind that anyone thinking about it is a nerd."

At the height of his career, Rabbitt cut back on his performances to spend more time with his son Timothy Edward, who had liver disease. Timothy died in 1985, one month shy of his 2nd birthday.

Rabbitt and his wife Janine had two other children, a daughter Demelza, 16, and son Tommy, 11. They lived in the Nashville suburb of Franklin.

Rabbitt was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and raised in East Orange, N.J. In 1968, with $1,000 in his pocket and no music business contacts, he took a bus from New Jersey to Nashville.

He began writing songs and got his break in 1970 when Presley recorded his song "Kentucky Rain." He landed his first record contract in 1974 and had his first No. 1 hit as a singer two years later with "Drinkin' My Baby (Off My Mind)."

One of his recent releases was a children's album, "Songs from Rabbittland."

Rabbitt was diagnosed with cancer in March 1997 and began radiation treatment. Part of his left lung was removed last May.

After surgery, he said doctors told him his prognosis was excellent.

"It made me feel good, because, as anyone could imagine, I've been living in a bit of a nightmare," he said last May. "I've got two children and a wonderful wife, and a career I love."