Rigor Mortis and Warbeast Singer Bruce Corbitt Dies of Cancer

Bruce Corbitt
Erika Goldring/Getty Images

Bruce Corbitt performs at Tipitina's on Aug. 22, 2013 in New Orleans. 

Bruce Corbitt's life was certainly more metal than most. The singer for thrash metal acts Rigor Mortis and Warbeast was stabbed at one of his own shows, watched a bandmate die onstage, and later survived a heart attack. But on January 25th, Corbitt succumbed to a nearly two-year battle with cancer. He was 56.

Corbitt was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in May 2017, and spent the last 20 months of his life playing out a public battle with the disease, as he chronicled his many rounds of chemotherapy and struggles with insurance providers on social media. He had been selected for a clinical trial at the end of last year, but entered hospice care earlier this month.

"He was sick for so long here, and recently just started going downhill so fast. It just ripped your heart out watching it," says Casey Orr, the bassist and sometimes singer for Dallas, Texas' Rigor Mortis, which he founded with Mike Scaccia and Harden Harrison in 1983. "The fight never left that guy, I gotta say. If I got anything out of all this is, it's just amazement at Bruce Corbitt, and how he fought."

Tributes poured in from around the metal world, including from Philip Anselmo, the singer for local rivals Pantera and the best man at Corbitt's wedding in 2012. "I have so much I could say about Bruce, and I will eventually, but for right now all I can say is I send my love to his wife, his daughter, and his mother, everybody that was close to him," Anselmo said in a video tribute last Friday. "Over the next few days, just find it in your heart to think about Bruce and his family and his music and his impact on heavy metal and music in general."

In 1986, Corbitt became the leering, theatrical front man for Rigor Morts. The band were signed to Capitol Records the following year, but Corbitt's first tenure with the band proved tumultuous, as he was fired after only one album, 1988's Rigor Mortis, due largely to a falling out with Orr. He later returned to the fold when the band reunited in 2005, singing on its final album, 2014's Slaves to the Grave.

"He used to be very controversial," acknowledges longtime band mate Scott Shelby, who played guitar in Corbitt's later band, Warbeast. "Sometimes he was very opinionated, sometimes he came across as harsh to other people, but he knew what he wanted and he never backed down from that."

After having been largely inactive as a singer during the intervening decade and a half, Corbitt gained a new lease on life when he started Texas Metal Alliance -- later to be known as Warbeast -- with former members of the band Gammacide in 2006. They would go on to release three albums and an EP on Anselmo's Housecore Records.

"He had a vision and he had ways he wanted things done, and that's the way Warbeast became somewhat successful -- with his vision and drive," says Shelby. "He was just headstrong on it. He said, 'We're gonna get signed, we're gonna tour the world, we're gonna make records' -- and we did it. I think it was almost vengeance on his part after the Rigor Mortis era, that he was gonna do this."

That triumphant return would be accompanied by tragedy, as Corbitt first lost his older brother, Jeff, to suicide in 2005, and then watched Scaccia die onstage of a heart attack during a concert on Corbitt's 50th birthday in 2012. After his own cancer diagnosis, Corbitt's last performance came at Ridgelea Theater last October, where he performed a full set with Warbeast.

"We all knew that Bruce was having problems and that he was kind of dying, but the spirit was not giving in, so this was the 'return of Warbeast,'" says Shelby. "This guy came out of nowhere, did one practice the night before the gig, and just put on the performance of a [lifetime]. He never messed up a part. It speaks to what a talent he was."

"I saw him 15 minutes before he went on stage and he didn't look like a guy who could get out there and sing one song. It was coming over him and he was starting to feel really bad," says Orr, who was in the audience that night. "And he came out and delivered a great set. He wasn't running around like he did 10 years ago, but he nailed it."

Buoyed by that performance, Corbitt made plans to record a new EP with Warbeast, but his health took a turn for the worst in the weeks following the show. Harrison visited Corbitt for the final time last Wednesday, two days before Corbitt's death.

"I'd seen him about a week and a half before that and he was in tremendous pain. But we had a long conversation, hung out for a few hours and talked about a lot of stuff," says drummer Harden Harrison, who wrote many of Rigor Mortis' early lyrics and collaborated on others with Corbitt. "Then on Wednesday evening, when I went over there he wasn't talking anymore. He'd reach out and grab my hand a few times, so he knew I was there, and acknowledged that I'd come to visit him. [But] at least I got to say goodbye while he was still around."

For Orr, Corbitt's loss hurts most as the passing of a friend, with whom he enjoyed some of the best and worst moments of his life. "We had our outs, we had our dark times, me and him, for sure," Orr says. "But we came back around. We're brothers. I love him and I'm gonna miss him. He was a big part of my life."


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