Ricky Wilson (Wikimedia Commons)
In 1976, a brother and sister got together with a few friends to form one of the goofiest and most irreverent bands of the New Wave era. The band was the B-52's, and the brother was Ricky Wilson. Wilson, who would have turned 60 today, was with the band for their first four albums, helping to shape their sound with his signature surf style – played on a custom guitar with the two middle strings removed for a unique open tuning.
Wilson and the B-52's burst onto the scene in a big way with their self-titled debut album in 1979. The lead single made the Billboard charts and is still a dance favorite more than 30 years later. It even inspired John Lennon to come out of retirement and start making music again, so much did it remind him of Yoko Ono's sound. Written by Wilson and his bandmate Fred Schneider, the silly, surfy track was "Rock Lobster."
Their follow-up album, Wild Planet, featured the highlight, "Your Own Private Idaho," driven by Wilson's unmistakable guitar sound.
While the band was recording the 1983 album Whammy!, Wilson received the news that he had HIV-related health complications. He continued working, without letting his bandmates know he was fighting for his life.
Ricky Wilson died of AIDS in 1985, just a month after the release of the fourth B-52's album, Bouncing off the Satellites. His friends and family didn't know about his illness until near the end, as he didn't want anyone to worry about him.
Wilson's death could have been the end of the band, so distraught were his sister Cindy and friends after losing him. But the B-52's continued on after a two-year break, achieving real commercial success with Cosmic Thing even while they mourned their missing bandmate. In our minds, Ricky Wilson will always be part of the B-52's.
Written by Linnea Crowther