Tommy Allsup, the Buddy Holly guitarist who lived, is dead at 85

Tommy Allsup, the Buddy Holly guitarist who won a coin toss, is dead at 85
(Image credit: Lonestar Sound/YouTube)

Singer-songwriter Don McLean has famously labeled the crash of an airplane named "American Pie" the "day the music died," but thanks to a lucky coin toss, guitarist Tommy Allsup lived until age 85. Allsup, a member of Buddy Holly's band, flipped a coin with Ritchie Valens for the last seat in Holly's charter plane late on Feb. 2, 1959, after a show at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, and Valens won. The plane crashed shortly after midnight on Feb. 3 in a cornfield, killing Holly, Valens, J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, and the pilot. Allsup lived another half-century, but died Wednesday at a hospital in Springfield, Missouri, of complications from a hernia operation, according to his son, Austin.

Allsup — an Oklahoma native who went on to a career as a successful session guitarist and record producer for artists like Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, the Ventures, Ernest Tubb, Bob Wills, and Roy Orbison — called losing that coin toss "a blessing," Austin Allsup told The Associated Press on Thursday. "I know my dad has talked about that many times and knew that he was very lucky to be here. It could have been the other way around." Valens' sister offered him her condolences upon hearing the news, Allsup said, and "I told her in my message back, now my dad and Ritchie can finally finish the tour they started 58 years ago."

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Peter Weber, The Week US

Peter has worked as a news and culture writer and editor at The Week since the site's launch in 2008. He covers politics, world affairs, religion and cultural currents. His journalism career began as a copy editor at a financial newswire and has included editorial positions at The New York Times Magazine, Facts on File, and Oregon State University.