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Tran-Siberian Orchestra Founder Paul O'Neill Dies At 61

Paul O'Neill, founder of progressive rock band Trans-Siberian Orchestra, has reportedly died at 61 following a battle with an unnamed chronic illness.

O'Neill's body was found in a hotel room in Tampa, and police have said that they have not seen signs of foul play in his death, according to TMZ. It is reportedly unclear when O'Neill died, or how long his body remained in the hotel room before authorities arrived in response to a 911 call.

O'Neill, a New York native, is survived by his wife and daughter, according to Billboard. TSO has not said what its plans are after its founder's death.

Before his work with TSO, O'Neill worked for Leber-Krebs, Inc., where he reportedly managed acts from Aerosmith and AC/DC to Joan Jett. He produced Aerosmith's "Classics Live" I and II in the 1980s, according to Loudwire, before producing and co-writing for the band Savatage.

O'Neill founded TSO around 1996, playing guitar in the band. The act went on to release six full-length albums, five of which became RIAA multi-platinum, platinum, or gold. In 2016, the group reportedly had its strongest year of touring, grossing $57 million from concerts.

In a statement on Facebook, the band said that the "entire Trans-Siberian Orchestra family, past and present" was heartbroken over O'Neill's death.

"He was our friend and our leader -- a truly creative spirit and an altruistic soul," read the post. "This is a profound and indescribable loss for us all."

In a previous interview with Billboard, O'Neill said that he was surprised and grateful at the group's success.

"It's a little bit mind-boggling, what this has become," he said. "Never could I have imagined it would have gone and gotten this big."

"My personal theory is it was being in the right place at the right time," he added. "It was easier for us to jump the generation gap between all the people before us."

"There's something magical about watching a 15-year-old kid get into an Al Pitrelli guitar solo and his father jamming out there with him. That's [proof that] enough time has gone by that everybody has rock in common now, which simply didn't exist when it was born in the 60s."

TSO's concerts became a popular holiday show, using advanced special effects and pyrotechnics. One of the band's songs, "Wizards of Winter," was famous partly for its use in a homeowner's light show in an ad for Miller Brewing Co.

O'Neill said that author Charles Dickens was one of his inspirations.

"He takes on these universal themes -- Why are we here? What are we supposed to be doing? What is the point of our lives, and how do they change as we get older?" he said. "That's deep stuff."

"It says that the thing that counts the most is time and what we do with it and how we treat each other. I think everybody can find something they identify with in there," added O'Neill. "And, of course, it has a happy ending. If it's not a happy ending, it's not one of my stories."

Sources: TMZ, Loudwire, Billboard / Photo credit: Lawrence Fung/Flickr

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