Jimmy O'Neill, host of the ABC-TV music show “Shindig” that featured nearly every big-name music act of the '60s including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Beach Boys, the Byrds and many others, has died, his daughter said Saturday on Facebook. LA Radio.com listed his age at 72 and said he had suffered from a heart condition and diabetes for many years.
“On January 11th, our beloved father Jimmy O'Neill peacefully transitioned into a better place,” Katy O'Neill posted on her father's page on Facebook. “His vivacious laugh, talented voice, sense of humor and warm heart will be deeply missed by all who knew and loved him. His legacy will live on and he will never leave our hearts. Thank you to all our friends and family for all of your support during this difficult time. Blessings. Graciously, Katy O'Neill and our entire family.”
Early in his career, O'Neill was a very successful disc jockey on KRLA-AM in Los Angeles, even opening a teenage nightclub called Pandora's Box and hosting his own dance show before getting the hosting job on "Shindig!," according to L.A. Radio.com. The show lasted from September, 1964 to January, 1966 and was a huge hit, rivaling with NBC's own “Hullabaloo.” But unlike many shows of its day, “Shindig!” was live and not lip-synched, creating some unique performances, like the night Zsa Zsa Gabor “sang” “High-Heel Sneakers.”
In an interview with Classic Bands.com, O'Neill talked about his chemistry with producer Jack Good.
“I don't want to take anything away from Jack Good. It was his baby, 100 percent. But obviously my experience as a successful disc jockey in Los Angeles and my friendship with Jack gave me considerable influence with him. As I continued to introduce him to one future star after another, I think my judgment gained credibility with him. So I did feel I was getting fair influence.”
The show scored a huge coup with a live performance by the Beatles in 1964. (See video spot.)
“Because of the popularity of 'Shindig!' in America and because of the reverence with which they held our British producer, Jack Good, who they grew up watching on the English television program (Note: Good produced several UK music shows including "Oh Boy!"), they agreed to appear on 'Shindig!' for scale, which was $350 a Beatle. They only had one condition, which we thought was quite reasonable. At the time we wanted them to appear on 'Shindig!,' they really couldn't work a trip to America into their schedule. So they asked us to come to them, and we did. We flew to London and spent two days rehearsing and taping the episode which starred the Beatles, and I'll never forget it as long as I live."
O'Neill reportedly had some troubles after the show was canceled, but told People magazine, "I have walked through every nightmare you can imagine and HAVE come out okay.”
Ron Furmanek, who hosted a screening of the Beatles' Washington, D.C., concert last year, says O'Neill was at the event and they were in contact just last week.
“I am very saddened by the news today. He was a good friend, in fact we just spoke on the phone on the 8th, his birthday, and he was fine and in good spirits," he told us. "Yes, I brought him to the screening, he came at my request. He will be sorely missed.”
On her Facebook page, Donna Loren, who was a regular performer on the program, remembered seeing him at the screening. “The last time I saw Jimmy was at The Egyptian Theater in Hollywood a couple of years back where rare footage of the Beatles was shown, including their 'Shindig' appearance. Since Jimmy was flown to England to host the Beatles 'Shindig' show, he was invited to speak at this event.
"When he was introduced, I saw an elderly man amble by me holding a cane. We caught each other's eye, but Jimmy kept his focus and we never spoke a word. The feeling I got from him was of a fallen champion from the early days of rock 'n roll. I was happy for him to be recognized and honored for his contribution to our pop culture. Furthermore, delighted to hear his voice resonate as richly as it had in those golden days.”
Billy Hinsche of Dino, Desi & Billy also paid tribute to O'Neill on Facebook.
“Dino, Desi & Billy would like to acknowledge the passing of Jimmy O'Neill, the creator and host of the television show Shindig, who gave us the opportunity to do his groundbreaking show on May 12, 1965,” he posted.
“Shindig!” featured many famous names early in their careers on its roster. They included Billy Preston, Delaney Bramlett and Leon Russell, who were members of its stage band. Singers Bobby Sherman and Donna Loren were regularly featured. Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Famer Darlene Love sang in the often-featured Blossoms and actress Teri Garr was among its dancers.
"When I first arrived in L.A. to work at KRLA, Jimmy was the first to welcome me," said fellow disc jockey Sam Riddle after learning of O'Neill's passing. "Jimmy was definitely 'one of a kind.'"
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