Ed Shaughnessy, drummer for "The Tonight Show," dies at 84

A longtime friend of the drummer said you could always see Ed Shaughnessy's "smile behind the (drum) kit."

Story highlights

  • Ed Shaughnessy played drums for "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" for 30 years
  • He had battled with Buddy Rich, played with Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald
  • "You always saw the smile behind the kit," a close friend says

Ed Shaughnessy, the longtime drummer for "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson," has died, a close friend said Sunday. He was 84.

Robyn Flans, a close friend of 30 years and the co-writer of his memoir, "Lucky Drummer," said the iconic musician suffered a fatal heart attack at his home in Calabasas, California, Friday morning.

During Shaughnessy's 30 years with Carson, he became known for his drum battles with frequent guest Buddy Rich. Those battles can still be seen in clips on YouTube.

He also played with such jazz greats as Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Tony Bennett and showed his versatility by accompanying sitar master Ravi Shankar. On "The Tonight Show," Shaughnessy even played with Jimi Hendrix.

"Every drummer has his story to tell of how kind and generous of spirit he was," Flans said. "He influenced so many people. He was the guy. He was on television every night reaching all those people. You always saw the smile behind the kit. That was my Eddie."

Flans said Shaughnessy's health had been deteriorating over the past two weeks. They had gone to the hospital the night before he died because he wasn't feeling well. She said his fatal heart attack "took everyone by surprise."

His late wife, Ilene, was the voice of Disney's "Cinderella." Shaughnessy is survived by his son, Dan.

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