'I Love Rock 'N' Roll' Writer's Family Shares Harrowing Story of Alan Merrill's Coronavirus Death

Alan Merrill
Michael Putland/Getty Images

Alan Merrill photographed in 1975.

"We can't mourn like a family together," late songwriter's daughter tells Billboard after her dad's widow details the full story of Merrill's final days via Facebook.

Alan Merrill, co-writer and singer of the original version of "I Love Rock 'N' Roll," died over the weekend at age 69 from COVID-19. After the news broke, Merrill's wife Joanna Lisanti took to Facebook to share the devastating details of the events leading up to his death at an NYC hospital, shedding light on how our health care system is struggling with a lack of resources and preparation for a pandemic this large.

"About 2 weeks ago, Alan felt like he was getting a cold and then the flu. I was immediately suspicious, and of course Alan being Alan, he told me I was getting hysterical for no reason," Lisanti wrote, noting that the hospitals will not admit or test those with symptoms unless they are severe. "There was nothing I could do for Alan except watch him get worse. When he finally couldn't breathe, was so cold he needed piles of blankets on top of him, and couldn't sleep, I called an ambulance."

When Merrill tested positive for the coronavirus 10 hours later at the hospital, Lisanti -- who was not allowed to accompany him to the ER -- was told by doctors over the phone that the rocker would be moved to the ICU, only to be told soon after that they would not be moving him "since his body was shutting down because his lungs were too destroyed to work."

"I asked if he had to die alone, and the doctor said I could come say goodbye. When I got to the hospital I had to argue with 3 different security guards to let me go to the ER," she wrote. "I stood my ground and they went back to fetch a nurse who let me in."

The doctor then told her that it was a false alarm and "that his numbers were now better and he was going to be transferred to the ICU, where he could get the care he needed. He was on a respirator and was sedated, so he was not in pain, or at least aware of the pain."

When they finally transferred him to the ICU, Lisanti "walked 3 blocks towards home and the doctor called me to say he was gone, his heart and lungs just stopped beating from all the pressure they were under."

"He was only allowed in the hospital until he was most certainly dying, and then he languished in ER for 14 hours while they tested him for corona, which he obviously had, and struggled to find someone to take him upstairs to ICU," Lisante summarized.

"And now I have to grieve alone in quarantine," she wrote, before urging her followers: "Please know that I write this not for sympathy, but to let you know the reality of this disease and our country's lack of preparation for it."

Merrill's daughter Laura, who originally broke the news of her father's death, confirmed the details of her stepmother's harrowing story to Billboard on Tuesday (March 31), sharing the moment at the hospital when she had to say goodbye.

"They made me put on all the protective gear, the eye shield, the face mask," she explained. "I went in and I sat next to him and held his hand and kissed him. He just seemed very peaceful, but breathing on the ventilator, which was shocking to see."

"We're so lucky that my stepmother is such a bossy person and got us in there to say goodbye," Laura added. "She's very persistent. A lot of families don't have that. This is the reality of this.

"I was emotional and the reality was setting in to me, because I was told we can't have a funeral," she continued. "I have to self-quarantine, my stepmother has to self-quarantine for two weeks. We can't see anyone. We can't mourn like a family together.

"I feel like I'm in a bad sci-fi movie. You think that this wouldn't happen to you," she explained. "I was joking about it a week ago, making fun and sharing memes about the coronavirus. We were so protective of my grandmother because she's 91. We never thought [it would happen to] my dad, who's 69 but acts like he's in his 40s. He's onstage singing and pouring his heart out every weekend. I just photographed his album cover last month and his album was coming out. He was ready to promote that."

She concluded by calling attention to the greater issue: "I'm self-quarantining. I'm starting to feel a little achy. What do I do? I have to sit and wait until I can't breathe, until I'm on my deathbed, to get into the hospital. This is absurd."

Coronavirus