“It is with great sadness and heavy hearts that we tell you of the passing today of Jimmy ‘The Rev’ Sullivan,” the surviving members of Avenged Sevenfold posted on their website on Dec. 28, 2009. “Jimmy was not only one of the world’s best drummers, but more importantly he was our best friend and brother,” the statement continued.
On June 9, 2010, the Orange County, California Coroner’s office told Rolling Stone that Sullivan died from an accidental overdose of prescription medication and alcohol. Toxicology tests conducted by Coroner Mitchell Sigal determined that the toxicology reports indicated that Sullivan suffered “acute polydrug intoxication due to combined effects of Oxycodone, Oxymorphone, Diazepam/Nordiazepam and ethanol.”
Sullivan was born Feb. 10, 1981. He started taking drum lessons at age 10, and immediately proved to be a natural. Within a year, he was one of the top performers in his drum teacher’s college percussion ensemble. He appreciated all types of technical and challenging drumming, including jazz and prog rock, but his favorite style was metal and in his early teens he discovered the percussive power of Slayer, Metallica and Pantera. At the same time, he appreciated the flashy playing of more mainstream acts including Guns N’ Roses and Motley Crue and combined them all into his multifaceted performances.
“He was a truly rounded drummer that played with passion, heart and a lot of soul,” says Pantera and Hellyeah drummer Vinnie Paul. “The Rev was one of the most creative drummers of recent times. He put his rudimental upbringing into his music which made his music very challenging and dangerous.”
After he finished high school in 1999, Sullivan took his skillful playing to the stage, forming Avenged Sevenfold with vocalist M. Shadows, guitarist Synyster Gates and Zacky Vengeance, and bassist Matt Wendt. Although they had trouble getting gigs at first and being accepted in the insular Orange County Scene, Avenged Sevenfold wasted no time writing and recording original songs. They released their debut EP Warmness on the Soul in 2001, then followed a year later with their full-length debut Sounding The Seventh Trumpet, which was a pivotal album for the emerging California metalcore scene.
Slowly the band increased its fanbase and by the time they toured with 2003’s Waking the Fallen Avenged Sevenfold had developed a loyal following, which they enlarged after appearing on that year’s Warped tour.
“They were brand new,” says Warped founder Kevin Lyman. “They hadn’t done their big record yet. But I knew they were going to be big because they had a smoke machine with them on the tour. Anyone who brought a smoke machine to a daytime show outdoors, you knew they were on a mission and they weren’t going to let anything stop them.”
Avenged Sevenfold, “Bat Country”
Avenged Sevenfold’s commercial breakthrough came with 2005’s City of Evil, an album which fused the riffage of “The Black Album”-era Metallica and the double-bass thunder of Pantera with a more mainstream approach heavily influenced by Guns N’ Roses. Like his bandmates, Sullivan grabbed the reigns, playing with flair, precision and power.
“Jimmy was just born to play drums,” says Bullet For My Valentine frontman Matt Tuck. “He had a passion and enthusiasm for it from the time he was a kid, and that’s what made him so good. But in addition, he had a huge amount of love for everyone he met. When we’d go out for drinks, he would always grab you and hug you and kiss you and tell you how much he loved you. Jimmy had a huge passion for living life for however long he was going to be on this earth. It was cut dramatically short, but the amount of time he was here, rest assured, he had a great time.”
After grieving for Sullivan, Avenged Sevenfold hired one of Sullivan’s favorite drummers, Dream Theater’s Mike Portnoy, to play drums on their fifth album, Nightmare.
Loudwire contributor Jon Wiederhorn is the author of Raising Hell: Backstage Tales From the Lives of Metal Legends, co-author of Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal, as well as the co-author of Scott Ian’s autobiography, I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy From Anthrax, and Al Jourgensen’s autobiography, Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen and the Agnostic Front book My Riot! Grit, Guts and Glory.
Top 66 Rock + Metal Drummers of All-Time