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Taylor Hawkins, Foo Fighters drummer, dies at 50

Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters performing on drums in 2019. (Al Wagner/Invision/AP)
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Taylor Hawkins, the longtime drummer and rhythmic force behind the Foo Fighters, a multiple-Grammy-winning group that was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year, died while the band was on a South American tour. He was 50.

The band announced his death Friday on social media, but complete details, including the date, place and cause of death, were not immediately known. The Associated Press reported that emergency vehicles and police were seen at a hotel in Bogotá, Colombia, where Mr. Hawkins was said to have been staying. News reports indicated that medical assistance had been summoned for someone suffering from chest pain.

The Foo Fighters had been scheduled to perform Friday in Bogotá. Mr. Hawkins had last performed March 20 at a festival in San Isidro, Argentina.

Mr. Hawkins was not the Foo Fighters’ drummer when the band was formed by Dave Grohl in 1994, but after he took over the drum chair in 1997 he became a major part of the group’s live performances and recordings. After Grohl, he was perhaps the group’s most recognizable member, known for his humor, his flying mane of blond hair and his inventive, dynamic style of playing the drums.

For two years in the 1990s, Mr. Hawkins was the drummer for Alanis Morissette, who was then at the height of her fame, touring in the wake of her hit album “Jagged Little Pill,” which sold more than 30 million copies. Grohl, who had been the drummer in Kurt Cobain’s seminal grunge band Nirvana, was launching the Foo Fighters after Cobain’s death by suicide in 1994.

Although Grohl, who grew up in Northern Virginia, was considered one of rock’s greatest drummers, he decided to step out front as a guitarist and singer with the Foo Fighters. (The name came from a book Grohl had read about UFOs.)

While making the album “The Colour and the Shape” (1997), which contained one of the Foo Fighters’ biggest hits, “Everlong,” Grohl dismissed his drummer and played the drum parts himself. He then asked Mr. Hawkins, whom he had met at music festivals, if he could recommend a new drummer. Mr. Hawkins volunteered for the job himself. He and Grohl instantly became close friends and musical soul mates.

“Upon first meeting, our bond was immediate, and we grew closer with every day, every song, every note that we ever played together,” Grohl wrote in a 2021 autobiography, “The Storyteller.” He described Mr. Hawkins as his “best friend” and “a man for whom I would take a bullet.”

Mr. Hawkins had long been a fan of the British group Queen and its bombastic concerts and had come of age with a slashing California style, sometimes called glam metal or alternative metal. He brought a strength and complexity to the drums, influenced by Queen’s Roger Taylor, Stewart Copeland of the Police and Stephen Perkins of Jane’s Addiction.

“I went over to his little house in Topanga Canyon,” Grohl told Entertainment Weekly last year, “he sat down and played for three seconds, and the first time he hit a snare drum, I knew it. I swear to God. I was like, 'That’s all I need to … hear. … You’ve just given me hearing damage for the rest of my life in three seconds. You have to be in the band.”

Mr. Hawkins admitted that “technically I think [Grohl is] better than me” on drums, but he anchored seven Foo Fighters albums, all of which were certified platinum. He wrote several songs for the band with Grohl or on his own and was the lead singer on some, including “Cold Day in the Sun” and “Sunday Rain.” He and Grohl often had extended duo jams during the Foos’ concerts, each driven on by the other.

“We become a little bit telepathic onstage,” Mr. Hawkins told Entertainment Weekly. (The band’s other members most recently included guitarists Pat Smear and Chris Shiflett, bassist Nate Mendel and keyboard player Rami Jaffee.)

Mr. Hawkins contributed to all 12 of the band’s Grammy-winning performances. A new album, “Medicine at Midnight,” was released in February and is up for three Grammys this year. The Foo Fighters were scheduled to perform at the Grammy ceremony in Las Vegas on April 3. (It was not immediately clear whether the group would cancel its appearance.)

“I think Taylor really underestimates his importance in this band,” Grohl told Rolling Stone in 2021. “Maybe because he’s not the original drummer, but, my God, what would we be without Taylor Hawkins? Could you imagine? It would be a completely different thing. … Taylor’s insecurity pushes him to overachieve.”

Oliver Taylor Hawkins was born Feb. 17, 1972, in Fort Worth and grew up in Laguna Beach, Calif. He said little about his family background except that his parents bought him a drum set when he was 10.

“I was a fat, chubby, stupid kid who [failed] at everything and that nobody liked,” he said in 2000. “Then I started playing drums.” He won a high school talent contest and began playing in local bands before working with singer Sass Jordan and later with Morissette.

Mr. Hawkins was known as free spirit with an engaging sense of humor. He appeared in many Foo Fighters’ videos, including one in which he was dressed as a female flight attendant. He was also in several side projects, including the “Dee Gees” (a Foo Fighters knockoff of the Bee Gees), and recorded several albums as leader of Taylor Hawkins and the Coattail Riders and a metal cover band called Chevy Metal.

“I never wanted to be ‘just a drummer,’” Mr. Hawkins told Billboard magazine in 2019. “I always wanted to write songs and sing.”

As an actor, he portrayed punk star Iggy Pop in a 2013 feature film, “CBGB,” about an influential New York music club, and appeared in a recent Foo Fighters mock-horror movie, “Studio 666.”

In 2001, Mr. Hawkins had a drug overdose while the Foo Fighters were on tour in England and was in a coma for about two weeks.

“Everyone has their own path, and I took it too far,” he told Kerrang, a music website, last year. “I’m not here to preach about not doing drugs, because I loved doing drugs, but I just got out of control for a while and it almost got me.”

Survivors include his wife since 2005, the former Alison Williams, and their three children. A complete list of survivors could not be confirmed.

When the Foo Fighters were named to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year, they were celebrated for their “rock authenticity … in-your-face guitar riffs, monster drums and boundless energy.”

During the induction ceremony, Mr. Hawkins said to Grohl, “Thank you for letting me be in your band.”