The Untold Truth Of Ric Parnell Of Spinal Tap

Mick Shrimpton captured the hearts and minds of millions when he was interviewed in a bathtub and told the "This is Spinal Tap" filmmaker that he would survive the band's drummer curse thanks to the law of averages. The man behind Shrimpton was real-life drummer and prodigy Ric Parnell, who passed away on May 1, 2022 at 70 years old, per The Sunday Times. His legacy is mostly colored by his role in the cult film, but he's remembered by musicians for his talent. His fluency with rhythm has been called uncanny (via the Missoulian) and his ability to improvise beats was unparalleled (via Loudwire and DJ Mike Read's "Seize the Day").

Parnell's career includes two stints with band Atomic Rooster and several collaborations with major musicians, such as Bette Midler and Cher. Here are a couple of untold facts about Parnell, the man behind the immortal words, "As long as there's, you know, sex and drugs, I can do without the rock and roll" (via IMDb).

His dad conducted for The Muppet Show

Like father, like son; Ric Parnell's dad, Jack, was also a famous drummer. In fact, he became a bandleader and conductor later in his career, forming one of Great Britain's leading jazz bands, Music Makers. Jack's parents were vaudeville performers and his father was a famous ventriloquist. He started as a drummer for a military service band and then went on to perform for famous musicians such as Lena Horne and Billie Holiday with his Music Makers troupe, according to The Guardian.

However, once the jazz band era was over, he embarked on a music career in television, backing musicians like Sammy Davis, Jr., and Barbra Streisand. Notably, during this time, his studio band was the official band for "The Muppet Show." He conducted for the series' entire five-year run, starting in 1976, per Today. In the show, the bandleader was portrayed as Muppet conductor Nigel. Later in his career, Parnell returned to jazz and conducted bands such as the Laurie Johnson Orchestra.

His brother is also a drummer

Ric Parnell's younger brother, Marc, is also a drummer (via Bandcamp). He's spent more than 40 years as a session musician, a freelance profession that requires recording back tracks in studios for musicians, per Berklee. Over the course of his career, he's played for Joan Armatrading, The Blockheads, and Jethro Tull. More recently, he became the drummer for the British band Sunbirds. In an interview with The Ilford Recorder, Marc details how the life of a session drummer often entails stages of unemployment, which prepared him for the pandemic. However, his band released a new album in 2020, and he was desperate to go on tour.

But it doesn't stop there; it appears that music runs deep in the family. Several generations of the Parnell family have been in the music industry. In addition to Ric's musical grandparents (via The Guardian), his great-uncle, Val Parnell, was a famous theater manager who ran a number of variety shows on TV and is credited with popularizing television in Great Britain through his programming on the British channel ITV, according to BFI Screen Online.

He started touring when he was 16

Ric Parnell's music career began with a single lesson from his father, but it didn't go so well. He was someone who preferred to learn on the fly and while experimenting, per the Missoulian. But because of his father's connections to the music industry, he had an early start to his professional career. According to BBC Radio One DJ Mike Read, teenage Parnell was hired as a drummer because his father was the legendary Jack Parnell. Read's company assumed Jack's son was reliable enough. Ric surpassed expectations by conquering Led Zeppelin's "Communications Breakdown" and its unique intro (via "Seize the Day"). Read described Parnell as a prodigy who quickly found a place with the band Horse and then went on tour with singer Engelbert Humperdinck at the tender age of 16.

When Parnell was 18, his father got him a job at the offices of Beatles manager Brian Epstein. From a distance, he witnessed the Beatles' final concert, which occurred on the roof of a building. Parnell was on a street below, wishing he could fly up to it, per The Sunday Times. Then, at 19, Parnell joined the progressive rock band Atomic Rooster before it split up four years later.

He was the drummer on Toni Basil's Mickey

Ric Parnell's legacy includes one cheer-worthy moment, literally speaking. He drummed for Toni Basil's 1982 smash hit "Hey, Mickey." The beginning of the song features the famous feet-stomping and hand-clapping beat that's mixed in with drums, per The Huffington Post, and you'd probably recognize the song by that intro alone. It reached number one on Billboard's Hot 100 songs and was there for a week, and it remained on the chart for 27 weeks."Mickey" topped "Maneater" by Hall & Oates and "The Girl is Mine" by Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney.

Parnell has an even more extensive resume, though, and he has played for various other musicians, including Michael Des Barres, Jon Anderson of Yes, Ravi Shankar, and Wayne Kramer, per Variety, and many of them had nothing but praise for him. Des Barres, a rock musician who played the role of Murdoc in "MacGyver" (via the Daily News), said of Parnell upon the news of his passing, "Some musicians are playing a role. Others are rock n' roll. Ric Parnell was the latter," (via Twitter).

Spinal Tap was his big break

Ric Parnell had been working as a studio drummer when he auditioned for the role of Mick Shrimpton in 1980. Parnell learned of the opportunity through a convoluted pathway of connections: a friend's manager had been married to a woman working in the wardrobe department of one of director Rob Reiner's projects. At the audition, Parnell was asked how he felt being part of a movie that would ruin his career. In response, Parnell just said they should've made the movie 10 years prior. Parnell further said that his stint with Atomic Rooster convinced the producers that he was the right man for the job, per the Missoulian.

"This is Spinal Tap" didn't immediately make waves. Rob Reiner attributed its initial tepid response to viewers' confusion over whether the band was real, per TCM. However, it garnered a cult following once the film hit video, and the film's success spawned subsequent albums, concert tours, a Christmas song, and a preservation through the National Film Registry in 2002, according to Billboard.

Mick Shrimpton's fate inspired a Harry Potter trope

Ric Parnell's drummer character in "This is Spinal Tap" is part of a running joke that the band's drummers all abruptly die at some point, causing a revolving door of ill-fated drummers. One drummer died from a mysterious gardening accident; another choked on someone else's vomit, while another died while attempting some sort of stunt over a tank of sharks. Parnell's Mick Shrimpton dies at the end of the film by spontaneous combustion, per Radio Times.

If this sounds at all familiar, well, it seems that the well-crafted joke has inspired other stories. In the "Harry Potter" series, the Defense Against the Dark Arts professorship is similarly cursed; every book in the series contains a new — and sometimes peculiar — character taking a shot at the position. They never remain due to some excuse (albeit not always a fatal one) at the end of the year, and it was rumored that author JK Rowling was inspired by Spinal Tap's comic trope. In response to a post on Twitter from the account Quite Interesting, which asserted the theory, she responded with, "Sad but true" (via Twitter).

After the movie, he became 'Ric Shrimpton'

Because Ric Parnell's "This is Spinal Tap" character died in the mockumentary, the band's post-film touring presented a dilemma. In order to play with his bandmates, Parnell pretended to be Mick Shrimpton's twin brother, Ric Shrimpton.

Their first tour occurred in 1984, which was followed by a Christmas single titled "Christmas With The Devil." The band then released an album in 1992 titled "Break Like The Wind" and went on tour for it. In 1996, they appeared in a commercial for IBM. After Parnell departed from the group, the band continued to make public appearances and release albums. They toured again in 2001 and performed a new song at an Earth Day concert in 2007, per Billboard.

Parnell then left Spinal Tap for good in 1999, and the band's lore determined that Ric Shrimpton, as with all its other drummers, had also died. So just what happened this time? Ric Shrimpton sold his dialysis machine for drugs and subsequently passed away, according to The Sunday Times.

His Spinal Tap role was held against him

"This is Spinal Tap" was a mockumentary meant to lampoon rock bands and rock culture. It received mixed reviews among the rock industry, especially among those who prided themselves on that culture. Bruce Dickinson, the frontman of Iron Maiden, once confronted Ric Parnell and told him, "I hate you ... you made fun of me and my band." In that same vein, Parnell's role even affected his career. He was once offered a spot on the band Whitesnake, but the invitation was later rescinded once the band learned of Parnell's Spinal Tap history. They were afraid that Parnell's presence would make them look like a joke, per The Sunday Times.

But not all rockers felt the same; some were impressed by how accurately the mockumentary portrayed them. When U2 guitarist the Edge saw the movie, he cried. He felt it aptly reflected the pitiful state of the mainstream rock industry, according to the documentary "It Might Get Loud" (via NJ). Harry Shearer, who plays bassist Derek Smalls in the film, said that the best reviews were from musicians who refused to watch it because the film was too uncomfortably similar to their real lives (via John Muir's book "Best in Show"). Ozzy Osbourne didn't quite agree with this sentiment, however. He famously didn't realize it wasn't an actual documentary and thought Spinal Tap's antics didn't live up to his own experiences, per Far Out Magazine.

His biggest regret was turning down Journey

In his interview with the Missoulian, Ric Parnell said the biggest mistake of his career was turning down an opportunity to play for the band Journey. It was around 1987 and Parnell had formed a studio band called Zoo Drive. Parnell expected the band to have a breakthrough; in fact, they had already played for big names like Jeff Beck and Bette Midler. They also received a financial investment from the heirs of Progresso Soup, worth $100,000.

Meanwhile, Journey's drummer, Steve Smith, left the band. The lead singer, Steve Perry, called Parnell with an offer to fill in for him. Parnell asked for a moment to consider it, pacing in his Venice Beach apartment. Ultimately, Parnell returned the call and turned down the offer, believing the opportunity would betray his bandmates and that Zoo Drive would achieve its own success. However, Zoo Drive ended up disintegrating before they could achieve that big break, and Parnell would later learn that he would have earned half a million dollars with Journey.

The Simpsons was his favorite show

Despite all of his other accolades, Mick Shrimpton's appearance on "The Simpsons" was one of Ric Parnell's proudest moments. In an interview with the Missoulian, Parnell said he was excited to see his character when casually viewing TV. After all, "The Simpsons" was his favorite show. The Season 3 episode, titled "The Otto Show," was released in 1992. The episode features Spinal Tap giving a concert in Springfield under disastrous consequences, forcing them to abandon the stage after only 20 minutes. The disappointed audience then riots, and the chaotic experience inspires Bart Simpson to become a rock star. The show ends with Spinal Tap's tour bus crashing into the side of a cliff, according to "The Simpsons."

Fascinatingly, Parnell's co-star and Spinal Tap bandmate, Harry Shearer, regularly works on "The Simpsons." Shearer played bassist Derek Smalls in the mockumentary. Shearer has been with the show for more than 30 years and voices characters such as Mr. Burns, Ned Flanders, Principal Skinner, and Waylon Smithers, per The Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune.

He retired far from England

Ric Parnell, once a Londoner, decided to retire in the unexpected town of Missoula, Montana. His journey to Missoula began when he toured with blues musician Joe Houston, and Missoula was one of the stops. His band was then traveling to Canada, but he couldn't pass the Canadian border due to a paperwork issue, so he landed back in Missoula. The location grew on him, particularly because of the hippie-redneck combination. Parnell quickly made a home in the city and eventually retired there, playing with various musicians in the area, such as Eden Atwood, the Hermans, and Zeppo Montana. Parnell's approach to Missoula's music scene was to offer his services to any band that would have him, according to the Missoulian.

While a resident, he became an avid golfer and beer-drinker, although he disliked the taste of American beer, per The Times. He also landed a job as a Missoula-area radio host for a show aptly named "Spontaneous Combustion," which seemingly referenced his Spinal Tap character. In an interview with the Missoulian, given when he was 56, Parnell vowed to never leave the city. It appears he kept his promise.

He has an end-of-life GoFundMe page

Just before Ric Parnell died on May 1, a GoFundMe page appeared to help him pay for several of his expenses including his rent, memorial service, and cremation. The description seems to indicate that Parnell expected his passing. The page's fundraising goal of $3,500 was surpassed by a total of $9,201, as of this writing. Donors delivered messages of support and farewell, including a few comic references to "This is Spinal Tap." The page was set up by Parnell's girlfriend, McKenzie Sweeney, per The Sunday Times. Years earlier, though, in his laid-back interview with the Missoulian, Parnell requested that his ashes be spread over the Highlands golf course.

Although Parnell said he cut off his contacts with the music industry, an outpour of tributes came in after his passing. On his Facebook page, musician Deniz Tek recalled how Parnell rarely prepared for sessions but had a talent for spontaneously producing beats (via Loudwire). His Spinal Tap bandmates Harry Shearer and Michael McKean also posted tributes on Twitter, per NME. Of Parnell, Shearer wrote, "No one rocked harder" (via Twitter). Michael Des Barres, whom Parnell once drummed for, also praised Parnell's authenticity.