Forty-five years ago today, on July 18, 1966, rocker Bobby Fuller was found dead in the front seat of his car in Hollywood, covered in gasoline, with the liquid also found in his system. The cops said he died of gas inhalation, with the fumes doing him in, but couldn't conclude for sure if it was a suicide or tragic accident.
Right before his death, Fuller's single "I Fought The Law" hit the top of the charts, becoming part of the '60s pop lexicon. The Baytown-born El Paso resident led the Bobby Fuller Four, and was also a burgeoning home producer, who had recently built an echo chamber in his backyard studio.
Considering Fuller's early rep as a sturdy drummer and his reverent Buddy Holly-ripping sound with a hint of Tex-Mex, rock geeks - especially around these parts - love to imagine what he could have done over the next few decades, especially with the like-minded Doug Sahm still roaming the earth.
Plus, that sound, sweet Jesus... there were so many things he could have done. With Fuller's mind for percussion, who knows what might have happened? The Sonny Curtis-penned "Law" go on to be covered by The Clash (most famously), Dead Kennedys, Social Distortion's Mike Ness, Bruce Springsteen and Green Day. For us though, the definitive cover is forever the one by Joe Strummer and company. The drums!
The rumors surrounding Fuller's death ran rampant immediately after his body was found. Was he dating a mobster's girlfriend and ran afoul of a jealous lover? Did he owe someone money in his newly-found Hollywood digs? Was it drugs, that seedy undoer of thousands upon thousands of rocker lives?
Had the early rock and roll lifestyle lead him to be disillusioned enough to attempt, and succeed at suicide? Was it extremely foul play, with Fuller being beat up badly and forced to ingest gasoline, before the perpetrators lost their nerve and didn't set the vehicle and the singer on fire?
A box of matches was found next to Fuller's body. In a worse revelation, it later emerged that the Oldsmobile he was found in was never dusted for prints.
A word on the gasoline issue: Gas doesn't go down like vintage scotch. A Stanford professor at the time stated that "no one has ever successfully killed themselves by drinking gasoline," and that if you tried, your body would simply expel it by vomiting. Plus, the fluid was in his lungs, leading theorists to believe this all happened post-mortem.
It was also widely known that Fuller wasn't a drinker or into drugs like some of his musician peers. Even still, a rumor circulated that he was into the LSD, and overdosed the day before his body was found. His scared party buddies had tried to revive him (thus the chest bruising), the story goes, and when Fuller could not be brought back, he was doused in gasoline and left in a car to make the situation look worse than it was.
It's a sordid end to a life and a career that had the utmost promise. With songs like "Let Her Dance" and "I Fought The Law" already under his belt, Fuller was well on his way to being a one of the most popular, if not most influential, artists of his time.
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Fuller's death seems even more poignant in light of former Houstonian Chadd Thomas' recent mysterious violent demise. And almost 50 years later, there are still no clear answers why he was killed.