Trans-Siberian Orchestra founder Paul O’Neill
TAMPA, Fla. — Paul O’Neill, who founded the progressive metal band Trans-Siberian Orchestra that is known for its spectacular holiday concerts filled with theatrics, lasers and pyrotechnics, has died. He was 61.
University of South Florida police spokeswoman Renna Reddick said O’Neill was found dead in his room by hotel staff at a Tampa Embassy Suites late Wednesday afternoon. She says there were no obvious signs of foul play, and a medical examiner is working to determine an official cause.
The band said in a statement that O’Neill died from a “chronic illness.” The band calls his death “a profound and indescribable loss for us all.”
O’Neill was a rock producer and manager who began putting together Trans-Siberian Orchestra in 1996, blending heavy metal with classical music and creating a unique brand of rock theater. He intended for TSO to be a “supergroup,” similar to popular bands like ELO, Pink Floyd and Yes.
“The best description of a TSO show I ever saw came from a reporter who said the only way to describe TSO is ‘The Who meets Phantom of the Opera with Pink Floyd’s light show,'” O’Neill told the Tampa Bay Times in an email interview in 2012. “I would take any one of those alone as a compliment.”
The band is best known for its hard rock takes on Christmas staples like “Carol of the Bells,” but also more experimental, arena-rock songs such as “Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24),” which described a lone cello player playing a forgotten holiday song in war-torn Sarajevo.