How Did Dick Dale Die? New Details About The 'King Of Surf Guitar's' Death At 81

He had numerous illnesses in his lifetime.

How Did Dick Dale Die? New Details About The 'King Of Surf Guitar's' Death Instagram

Dick Dale has died. 

The "King of Surf Guitar" was found dead at the age of 81. He reportedly passed away on March 16, his longtime drummer Dusty Watson told NPR. The surf rock pioneer's health had been declining for the past 20 years thanks to a number of different illnesses. However, a cause of death has not been announced.

So how did Dick Dale die? Here's everything we know.

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1. He had numerous illnesses in his lifetime.

For the last two decades of his life, Dale's health was in serious decline. His illnesses included diabetes, kidney disease, and rectal cancer. While his career was on a rise, it suddenly came to a halt when he was diagnosed with rectal cancer in 1965. He was only 28.


Doctors told him that if he didn't get aggressive surgery, he could be dead in just a few short months. 

Even though he survived the cancer, it took a toll on his body. All the money he made as a pop star was gone, and he went from 158 pounds to 98. He moved to Hawaii and put his musical career on hold.

2. He continued to battle cancer.

Even though he beat the cancer the first time, he struggled with many health problems after that, which left him drowning in medical bills. He kept touring and playing music to fund treatment for his diseases; something he was always open about.


“I can’t stop touring because I will die. Physically and literally, I will die,” he told the Pittsburgh City Paper in 2015. “Sure, I’d love to stay home and build ships in a bottle and spend time with my wife in Hawaii, but I have to perform to save my life."

3. He left music briefly to be a club owner.

After he almost died from cancer, he became a club owner in Southern California. But a few bad business decisions and one divorce later, he found himself out of the lifestyle he had created. In 1986, he was evicted from his dream house.

While he was living in an RV that was parked in his parents' driveway, he recorded "Pipeline" with Steve Ray Vaughan; it would eventually earn a Grammy nomination.


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4. His cancer returned. 

Twenty years after he was first diagnosed with rectal cancer, it came back. And this time, it left him without portions of his stomach and intestines. He had to use a colostomy bag, which caused problems for him as a left-handed guitar player.

“The bag used to be on my right side, then the doctors took it out of there because there was so much scar tissue and put it on the left side of me,” he told Billboard in 2015. “I told them, ‘Don’t put it there because my guitar lays against it. It’ll break it.’ But they did.”


Once when he was about to perform a musical festival in Las Vegas, the bag started leaking.

“My fecal matter went down my legs, up my pants, my beautiful cowboy shirt — everything,” he said. “We didn’t have a backup pair of pants, because it was a one-off. Lana [his wife] took everything off and washed my jeans, my stockings, my shoes, my shirt, every part of me. Then we wrung them out wet, and I did the concert with wet pants and shirts. After that, I sat at the merch table, and signed for five and a half hours, me still in my wet clothes. You can only laugh at the whole damn thing.”

5. He continued to play up until his death.

Despite his various conditions, Dale continued to play — mostly because he had too. Touring was his only income and his medical bills were high.


“I have to raise $3,000 every month to pay for the medical supplies I need to stay alive, and that’s on top of the insurance that I pay for,” Dale told the Pittsburgh City Paper. “The hospital says change your patch once a week. No! If you don’t change that patch two times a day, the fecal matter eats through your flesh and causes the nerves to rot and they turn black, and the pain is so excruciating that you can’t let anything touch it."

He even had concerts scheduled in 2019.

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Emily Blackwood is a writer and editor living in California. She covers all things news, pop culture, and true crime.