‘ 70 S PL ASTI C SU RG E RY
[Cont. from 41] By the mid-Eighties, O’Day was running out of schemes. His marriage to Rhyne fell apart. In 1985, he resurfaced in his home state of Maryland, managing a bar, Danny’s, on Route 50 in Easton. He only lasted there about a year, and soon after opened another spot, O’Day’s Pub.
But a drinking problem that had developed on the road soon overtook him. The pub — and everything in it, including Hamilton Beach mixers, towels, and soap dispensers — was sold in 1988. “He was always looking for his new project,” says Patten. “It was in his blood, and I want to think it was the drinking that prohibited him from doing more with his life.” O’Day went underground and died in 2003 at age 54 — according to Effie, of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. (Rhyne, by then remarried and known as Deborah Erin Bertalan, died of complications from a brain tumor in 2011.)
For Caywood, Gamble, and Wise, the scars have healed or are now barely detectable; Gamble’s mustache covers up his lip cut. Their memories of Rock and Roll Heaven are decidedly mixed. Caywood remembers O’Day as “a big ol’ shyster,” but the tour launched her into roles in productions of Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar, as well as an extended run at a Palm Springs club (singing both new and classic pop hits) until her recent retirement. “I bless you, Daniel O’Day,” she says, “for opening up such a large part of my life that came out of that.”
Wise still feels he and O’Day could have gone all the way with the act: “He had Disney World, all these people calling us — he had it in the palm of his hand and let it go,” he says. But thanks to that original operation, Wise still makes a respectable living re-creating Elvis in the Deja Vu Dance and Show Band, a multi-artist tribute act in Vegas. Gamble switched to Christian music and eventually became an ordained minister in Arizona, where he currently lives.
Whether he knew it or not, O’Day saw the future — our future. He envisioned a world in which celebrity worship would rule, everyday people could be elevated to stardom, and there would be no shame in any of it. “In 40 years, it’s become more acceptable to do something like that, compared to back then,” says Eyellusion’s Pezzuti. “From a standpoint of being original and doing something that wasn’t being done, I give him credit for putting his neck on the line. . . . He could have made a killing in Atlantic City.”
Some involved in Rock and Roll Heaven wanted to forget it ever existed. On their way out of Nevada after the tour ended, a few of the singers and band members made a pit stop in the desert. Dragging along the white suits they’d been forced to wear onstage, the musicians piled them atop one another and set the clothes afire, resulting in what Caywood recalls as an unholy muck of “cow patties, dirt, and melted polyester.”
A few years later, Caywood and her then-husband, who was in the band, returned to the site, and there the pile remained, in all its mangled glory. Caywood wound up taking the gross heap home with her, with the thought of encasing it in glass and turning it into a coffee table. The plan was scuttled when someone accidentally tossed out the whole mess. The mementos may be gone. But in the current landscape, where dead pop stars seem as prevalent as living, breathing ones, Danny O’Day’s outlandish vision remains open for business.