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Bill Rieflin, Ex-R.E.M. and Ministry Drummer, Dies at 59

He was playing with King Crimson before his death

Bill Rieflin, the drummer for bands like R.E.M. and Ministry, has died at the age of 59 after an eight-year battle with cancer, SPIN has confirmed.

Rieflin is known for being one of the defining drummers in industrial music. He was well-respected and the ultimate hired gun. In addition to Ministry, he played on tracks and albums from Nine Inch Nails, Revolting Cocks, KMFDM and Swans among many.

In 2003, Rieflin joined R.E.M. as a touring member. Recently, Rieflin was one of three drummers performing with King Crimson, having joined the prog-rock legends in 2013. He took a hiatus from the band in 2019.

“Tracy told Toyah (Fripp’s wife) and me that the day was grey, and as Bill flew away the clouds opened, and the skies were blue for about fifteen minutes. Fly well, Brother Bill! My life is immeasurably richer for knowing you,” King Crimson founder Robert Fripp wrote in a Facebook post.

Tributes to the drummer came in from all musicians.

“My last memory of him (which was a year and a half ago), which is funny, which is typical of Bill’s character is when I was busking at SEA-TAC airport and in my peripheral and I see him flipping me off. He’s not making eye contact with me and keeps flipping me off for several yards and disappears into the crowd, never breaking character. A few minutes go by and it hurt my feelings that he never broke character besides flipping me off,” longtime friend and original Screaming Trees drummer Mark Pickerel told SPIN.

“It’s like ‘He couldn’t break character for 10 minutes?!’ Then 30 mins later — I’m performing another song and there he is. He’s back and this time, he’s blowing me kisses and giving me shout outs — ‘Bravo bravo encore’ — pouring it on making a huge scene. There was never a conversation. It is typical of a day in the life of Bill Rieflin — showing the two sides of his personality.”

Other musicians remembered Rieflin as well.

“So sorry to hear of Bill Rieflin passing away. A straight up person and excellent musician,” former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic wrote on Twitter.

“Rest in peace my dear friend.. I’m heartbroken.. Bill Rieflin.. #fuckcancer,” drummer Matt Chamberlain wrote in a tweet.

“Our dear wonderful Bill Rieflin flew from this world today. Much loved HUMAN and member of King Crimson. Family by his side. Forever in our hearts,” Toyah Wilcox tweeted.

“Bill Rieflin has died. What a kind & generous soul. Spanned the gulfs between Pigface and REM and King Crimson — a truly agnostic drummer, if ever there was one. Safe travels, Bill,” The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy wrote.

Ministry tweeted out the sad news as well:

Rieflin’s family remembered him in a statement, which you can read below:

Musician Bill Rieflin passed away after an eight-year duel with cancer.

Seattle native and life-long resident, Bill was a world-class musician who was at home on the drums, guitar, bass, and keyboards. He was also an accomplished composer and producer who possessed a sophisticated ear, a depth of rare talent and complete dedication to his craft.
Known for much of his career as an extraordinary drummer, Bill performed with a wide range of artists and bands from Swans and Ministry to R.E.M. and King Crimson and many more.

Bill also lost his beloved wife of 27 years, master painter Francesca Sundsten, to cancer last year.

His refined manner, brilliant mind, eye for the ironic and legendary sense of humor defined him as a man of discerning taste, palate, and company.
We will miss him terribly.
Rest easy, Bill.