Nick Menza, former Megadeth drummer who performed with the thrash metal outfit’s “classic” lineup for almost a decade, died Saturday after collapsing onstage during a concert in Studio City, California. He was 51.
The drummer’s management confirmed the death in a statement: “Nick collapsed during the third song into a set with his band OHM. Earliest reports indicate he suffered a massive heart attack and was pronounced dead upon arrival at hospital.”
Former Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman, who performed with Menza both in that band and as a solo artist, paid tribute to the drummer on Facebook, “We all know the great and unique drummer that Nick Menza was, but he was also a trustworthy friend, a hilarious bandmate, as well as a very loving dad. I’m beyond sad, did not see this coming at all. RIP Brother.”
“TELL ME THIS ISN’T TRUE! I woke at 4 AM to hear Nick Menza passed away on 5/21 playing his drums w/Ohm at the Baked Potato,” Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine tweeted Sunday, adding in a follow-up tweet, “I am gutted.”
The son of Buddy Rich’s longtime jazz saxophonist Don Menza, Nick Menza began his career as a session musician before he was recruited by then-Megadeth drummer Chuck Behler to serve as drum tech; after Behler left the band, Mustaine asked Menza to join Megadeth in 1989.
Menza provided drums on four Megadeth studio albums, including their classic 1990 LP Rust in Peace and 1992’s Countdown to Extinction; Menza co-wrote lyrics on the latter’s title track. Live, Menza had a notable presence onstage for the way he attacked his double bass drum kit.
Menza’s tenure in Megadeth ended in 1998, when knee problems and a benign tumor forced him to leave the band’s tour in support of Cryptic Writings; Menza was abruptly replaced on a permanent basis by drummer Jimmy DeGrasso, the former Suicidal Tendencies member who also performed alongside Mustaine in his MD.45 side project.
In 2015, Mustaine revealed to Rolling Stone that Megadeth’s classic Rust in Peace era lineup – with Friedman, Menza and bassist David Ellefson – nearly reunited in the early 2000s, “but it just wasn’t meant to happen. I think there was so much bitterness because of the people that were managing us at the time. If you poison the well you can’t expect there to be an area of clean water anywhere.”
Following Megadeth, Menza performed in acts like Memorain, Orphaned to Hatred and his own Deltanaut. In 2002, Menza released a solo album titled Life After Deth.