Heavy metal drummer Phil Buerstatte, of Madison, died Sunday, after what, by all accounts, was a troubled and difficult life. He was 46.
Buerstatte died in his sleep in his Madison home, said his brother, Nathan Buerstatte. The cause of his death has not yet been determined, and his sister, Rachel Tvedt, said the family is waiting for toxicology reports.
Friends and family spoke of years of drug addiction, treatment and prison time.
Buerstatte was a member of the Grammy-nominated New York City metal band White Zombie from 1992 to 1994.
Locally, before joining White Zombie, Buerstatte was one of the founding members of the Madison hard rock act Last Crack, which found a lot of success in the late 1980s and early 1990s and had a devoted fan base.
Last Crack’s “Energy Mind” was once described by Metal Maniacs magazine as one of the greatest songs of the decade.
According to a 1995 story in the State Journal, Buerstatte, known as “Philo,” was imprisoned for burglaries, stealing vehicles and eluding police, all stemming from an addiction to crack cocaine.
“If the window on my cell popped open tonight,” Buerstatte told the paper while awaiting sentencing, “I wouldn’t try to escape because I don’t trust myself outside. If I hadn’t been put away, I think I’d be dead.”
No matter how successful you are, Buerstatte said during that jailhouse interview, “you can hit rock bottom in no time because of drugs.”
Nathan Buerstatte, 34, who lives outside of Boston, describes his older brother as “one of just the most kindhearted people that I’ve really ever met.”
Tvedt, who lives in Minnesota, described her brother in similar terms.
“He was very generous, very thoughtful, very sincere. He just loved everybody,” she said. “He lived on very little income, but would give everything he had to somebody who was in need.”
Buerstatte spent a few years in the mid-2000s living in Massachusetts, but came back to Madison, where he lived for the last few years, his siblings said.
Besides playing the drums, his brother said Buerstatte also played guitar and wrote music. He had trouble finding work in recent years because of the time he spent in prison, Tvedt said.
“He kind of bounced around,” she said. “He did a lot of work in people’s homes, like a fix-it type of a person.”
Madison rock journalist Susan Masino, who wrote the book “The Story of AC/DC,” among others, was a longtime friend of Buerstatte’s.
“He was amazing. He was very talented, really very kind. Couldn’t say no to anybody, and that was probably part of the problem,” she said.
Masino said she knew Buerstatte since he was 21. She said he tried many times to get his life on track, “and I just think it wore him out.”
Masino also described her friend as funny, adding that he was “loved by many, many more people” than he ever realized.
“He had a hard time helping himself,” his brother said, “but he would do anything to help other people.”
Arrangements are pending with All Faiths Funeral & Cremation Service, 4058 Lien Road.