Sleepy LaBeef, an acclaimed performer of nearly eight decades, has died at the age of 84. A lifelong performer, LaBeef's music career began in the early 1950s, and he continued to perform throughout 2019. He was revered as one of the last remaining musicians from the original rockabilly era -- a mixture of country music and rhythm and blues that formed one of the earliest incarnations of rock and roll.
"It is with deep, agonizing sadness that we inform you of the news that this morning, Sleepy LaBeef, born Thomas Paulsley LaBeff, passed on from this life to be with the Lord,” wrote his wife. "He died at home, in his own bed, surrounded by his family who loved him, and whom he dearly loved. He lived a full and vibrant life, filled with the excitement of much travel and experience, the contentment that came from being able to spend his life doing what he loved best, and the fulfilling love of his wife, children, and grandchildren around him."
Fans of LaBeef's quickly flooded the comments section to share their condolences, as well as their memories of the singer. "They warn never to meet your heroes, but Sleepy was everything you wanted him to be and more," wrote one fan, while another called him "a tremendous musician and person."
Fellow rockabilly musician Deke Dickerson called LaBeef "one of the first '50s revivalists' cutting greasy rock and roll records all through the British Invasion years of the mid-'60s."
While he toured constantly around the U.S., like other rockabilly musicians he found a dedicated audience overseas. His most recent gig was at the Blues to Bop Festival in Lugano, Switzerland back in September. Known as a human jukebox, LaBeef's set was mostly cover songs that covered the spectrum of American roots music.
He was also known for his huge presence, both on stage and off. He stood at six-and-a-half feet tall and was previously heavy-set, health problems had caused him to slim down in recent years. At the peak of his career, he played upwards of 300 shows per year, though he told The New York Times in 1991 that he'd cut it back to around 250 after playing overseas so often.
Though he had some minor success with album sales in the 60s, LaBeef's home was on the stage. He even admitted there was "a little bit lacking in enthusiasm" in his older recordings.