Ronnie Hawkins, the larger-than-life Arkansas-born rockabilly singer who called Canada home for more than 60 years, died Sunday morning (May 29) after a lengthy illness. He was 87.
Hawkins, also known as The Hawk or Rompin’ Ronnie, had an ear for talent. His band The Hawks — which he originally formed during his days at the University of Arkansas — served as a farm team for many musicians, most notably Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel and Robbie Robertson, who went on to back Bob Dylan before creating The Band.
Hawkins’ wife, Wanda, confirmed the news of the musician’s death to The Canadian Press. “He went peacefully and he looked as handsome as ever,” she said in a phone interview with the wire service.
On Saturday, Terry Danko (Rick’s brother) wrote on Facebook that his bandmate of 15 years had been removed from life support. He followed it up on Sunday with, “RIP my friend. Travel well Ronnie. Say hey to the gathering of Hawks.”
While he remained a U.S. citizen, Hawkins received a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame in Toronto in 2002. He was also made an Honorary Officer of the Order of Canada in 2014. The artist lived in a 6,800-square-foot home he called “Hawkstone Manor Estate” on Stoney Lake in the Kawarthas, which was put up for sale in 2017.
“Ronnie was the godfather. The one who made this all happen,” says Robbie Robertson in a social post. “He had us rehearsing constantly into the wee hours. We balked about it, but we got better and better. Our goal whether we knew it or not.”
Hawkins was diagnosed in 2003 with pancreatic cancer and given a few months to live. His choice of alternative treatment was covered in the documentary Ronnie Hawkins: Still Alive and Kickin’.
“If the world had more people like Ronnie Hawkins, we’d do less stupid things to each other, we’d hurt fewer people, we’d have a lot more laughs. I’ve never met another one like him,” former President Bill Clinton said in the film.
Hawkins leaves behind his wife, Wanda, and children Ronnie Jr., Robin and Leah.
As word started getting out about Hawkins’ passing, musicians and members of the music industry have posted tributes.
“Rest in Peace to Mr. Rompin’ Ronnie Hawkins,” metal singer Sebastian Bach tweeted. “My sincere condolences to the family Leah and Robinm who I used to jam with when I was 13 years old. Had a great day @Ronnie’s house years ago smoking with him & hanging out. I was so honored to meet the man. Heaven just got rompin’.”