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Emil Richards (1932–2019), percussionist who snapped for “The Addams Family” theme song

Getty Images / Michael Ochs Archives

He played xylaphone on the theme song for "The Simpsons" and bongos on the original “Mission: Impossible” theme

Emil Richards was a percussionist who played vibraphone and other instruments with some of the great musicians of the 20th century and on popular theme songs. A member of the famed Wrecking Crew, prolific session musicians of the 1960s and ‘70s, Richards played percussion on thousands of recordings. Among Richards’ most recognizable contributions is the finger snaps in the original theme song for “The Addams Family.” He played xylophone for the theme song to “The Simpsons” and bongos on the original “Mission: Impossible” theme. Richards also played on recordings for musicians including Frank Sinatra, George Harrison, Judy Garland, Elvis Presley, Marvin Gaye, the Beach Boys, and many more.

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Died: December 13, 2019 (Who else died on December 13?)

Details of death: Died at the age of 87.


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Collector: Richards reportedly had the world’s largest collection of percussion instruments. He was especially interested in ethnic instruments, often ones that were less common in the western world. He used instruments from his collection in recordings, and he donated 65 of them to the Percussive Arts Society museum.

Notable quote: “I like to go home exhausted from playing good, hard music. By hard I mean difficult, because it’s a challenge. I love a challenge.” —Richards, quoted in the Hollywood Reporter

What people said about him: “Yesterday we lost one of my favorite musicians. I listened to his work as a kid and was lucky enough to have had him on almost every one of my film scores and countless episodes of LOST. As a percussionist he was the best. As a human he was even better. I love you Emil Richards!” —composer Michael Giacchino

“Just heard this very sad news. Emil Richards has passed away. Godspeed, old friend, and thanks for the good work.” —singer Nancy Sinatra

“RIP legendary session percussionist Emil Richards. From the bongos on the Mission Impossible theme to the experimental sounds of the original Planet of the Apes score his prolific career spanned decades. Never got to work with him but did get to meet him and see him at work.” —composer Neal Acree

Full obituary: Hollywood Reporter

Related lives:

  • Hal Blaine (1929–2019), Wrecking Crew drummer defined the pop music of a generation
  • Leon Russell (1942–2016), legendary rocker played keyboards with the Wrecking Crew
  • Earl Palmer (1924–2008), Wrecking Crew drummer