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Ric Parnell, Spinal Tap Drummer, Dies at 70

Parnell portrayed Mick Shrimpton in iconic 1984 film and subsequently toured with the band
Ric Parnell Spinal Tap
(Credit: Jim Steinfeldt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Ric Parnell, who portrayed Spinal Tap drummer Mick Shrimpton in the iconic 1984 film This Is Spinal Tap and later recorded and toured with the group, died on Sunday (May 1) at the age of 70. Harry Shearer, who portrayed Spinal Tap bassist Derek Smalls, revealed the news on his Twitter account. No cause of death has been announced.

“No one ever rocked harder,” Shearer wrote. Michael McKean, who portrayed Tap frontman David St. Hubbins, added that Parnell “was the real deal” in a comment on a newly established GoFundMe campaign to help cover his final expenses.

Born in 1951 in London, Parnell played with acts such as Horse, Atomic Rooster, Nova, Michael Des Barres and Stars in the 1970s and ‘80s and reportedly turned down offers to join Journey and Whitesnake. He can also be heard playing drums on Toni Basil’s classic “Hey, Mickey.”

In This Is Spinal Tap, he memorably portrayed the amiable Shrimpton as the latest in a long line of Spinal Tap drummers who had died from bizarre accidents involving spontaneously exploding on stage, gardening or choking on vomit. His character does in fact explode at the end of the film, while Spinal Tap is performing in Japan.

Spinal Tap’s real-life members went on to record albums such as Break Like the Wind and tour, and since the character of Shrimpton had died in This Is Spinal Tap, Parnell carried on a version of the role as Mick’s twin brother “Ric” through the early 1990s.

“Some musicians are playing a role. Others are rock ‘n’ roll. Ric Parnell was the latter,” Des Barres wrote on Twitter. “The real thing. Lost and found in a rhythm that was both jarring and beautiful. His heart still beats.”

Post-Spinal Tap, Parnell lived in Montana, and for many years hosted a radio show named after a nod to his Spinal Tap past, Spontaneous Combustion, on local station KDTR.