Paul O’Neill, creator of the multi-platinum rock theater experience Trans-Siberian Orchestra, has died from chronic illness. He was 61.
TSO announced his death on their Facebook page: “[Paul] was our friend and our leader — a truly creative spirit and an altruistic soul. This is a profound and indescribable loss for us all.”
Composer-producer O’Neill formed Trans-Siberian Orchestra from members of heavy-metal band Savatage. The surprise success of a song called “Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24),” in 1995, spurred a pivot from dark metal operas to symphonic rock Christmas songs. They renamed the group, and Trans-Siberian Orchestra released their debut, Christmas Eve and Other Stories, in 1996.
O’Neill said of TSO: “I wanted Trans-Siberian Orchestra to be everything I loved about rock music — big, bombastic, over the top…,” O’Neill explained. “It was rock but on a grand scale…the mixture of classical and rock, which I obviously got from bands like Emerson, Lake and Palmer, (and) the rock opera aspect, which I plainly got from The Who. The vision has always been cutting-edge.”
TSO became internationally popular for their theatrical shows, largely involving heavy-metal takes on holiday songs. With more than 10 million albums sold, TSO has inspired generations of fans to rediscover the multi-dimensional art form of the rock opera. As a touring band, they were among the most prolific and highest-grossing of the early 21st century — with Billboard magazine naming TSO as one of the top touring artists of the past decade — a $20 million-plus production that has played to over 100 million people in 80+ cities, selling more than $280 million worth of tickets and presenting $11 million to charity.
2016 was another record-breaking year for TSO. TSO’s winter tour 2016 sold the most tickets per show in the group’s history, with a total in excess of 927,000. The tour also set a record gross for TSO with a total of more than $56.9 million.