Bill Rieflin, who drummed for Ministry, R.E.M., and most recently King Crimson, has passed away at the age of 59. The accomplished musician died after a long battle with cancer.
The news was reported by King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp, who wrote on Facebook, “A call from Tracy Rieflin in Seattle … Tracy told Toyah and me that the day was grey, and as Bill flew away the clouds opened, and the skies were blue for about fifteen minutes. Fly well, Brother Bill! My life is immeasurably richer for knowing you.”
Rieflin got his start in the late ’70s and early ’80s in Seattle, playing with bands like The Telepaths and The Blackouts. Eventually a few members of The Blackouts, including Rieflin, were recruited by Al Jourgenson to join Ministry.
It was in the industrial scene that Rieflin made a name for himself, having played drums on classic Ministry albums The Land of Rape and Honey, The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste, and Psalm 69: The Way to Succeed and the Way to Suck Eggs. Rieflin also performed on a number of albums from industrial stalwarts KMFDM, as well as efforts from Revolting Cocks and Pigface, among others.
“Today we lost a wonderful artist, tremendous human being and an integral part of Ministry’s developments and success,” read a statement on Ministry’s social pages.
Rieflin also played with Swans and performed on one track on Nine Inch Nails’ The Fragile.
In 2003, Bill Rieflin joined R.E.M., playing drums with the band until their breakup in 2011. In addition to touring with R.E.M., he appeared on the albums Around the Sun, Accelerate, and Collapse Into Now. Update, March 25th: R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe and Mike Mills have paid tribute to Rieflin in separate statements.
At the time of his death, Rieflin was a current member of King Crimson, although he had stepped away from touring back in 2016.
Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic is among the artists who are mourning Rieflin, writing on Twitter, “So sorry to hear of Bill Rieflin passing away. A straight up person and excellent musician.”
Update, March 25th: Bill Rieflin’s family has issued the following statement regarding his passing:
“Musician Bill Rieflin passed away after an eight-year duel with cancer.
Seattle native and life-long resident, Bill was a world-class musician who was at home on the drums, guitar, bass, and keyboards. He was also an accomplished composer and producer who possessed a sophisticated ear, a depth of rare talent and complete dedication to his craft.
Known for much of his career as an extraordinary drummer, Bill performed with a wide range of artists and bands from Swans and Ministry to R.E.M. and King Crimson and many more.
Bill also lost his beloved wife of 27 years, master painter Francesca Sundsten, to cancer last year.
His refined manner, brilliant mind, eye for the ironic and legendary sense of humor defined him as a man of discerning taste, palate, and company.
We will miss him terribly.
Rest easy, Bill.”
Today we lost a wonderful artist, tremendous human being and an integral part of Ministry’s developments and success…
Safe travels my brother on the way to your next universal gig.
— Ministry (@WeAreMinistry) March 24, 2020
So sorry to hear of Bill Rieflin passing away. A straight up person and excellent musician.
— Krist Novoselić (@KristNovoselic) March 24, 2020
— KING CRIMSON (@DGMHQ) March 25, 2020
Bill Rieflin (1960-2020)
It is with heavy hearts we acknowledge the death of our dear friend and consummate drummer, Bill.
— R.E.M. HQ (@remhq) March 25, 2020
Bill Rieflin was a gentleman and a gentle man, but he could beat the shit out of a set of drums. A musical polymath, deeply intelligent and very funny. I’ll miss sharing his darkness and his laughter. Words really don’t suffice. R.I.P., Spill Brieflin.
— Mike Mills 🌿 (@m_millsey) March 25, 2020