There were hints that Eddy Detroit wanted to die. He told a friend on Sunday he was thinking about jumping out the window of his eighth-floor apartment but was afraid the fall would break his glasses.
“But that’s classic Eddy,” says his friend and colleague Michelle Katz. “You were never sure whether he was kidding or not.”
The beloved local punk-rock legend wasn’t making a joke, as it turns out. Detroit killed himself on June 15 by leaping from atop the 17-story Fellowship Towers, a subsidized apartment building in central Phoenix where he’d been living. He was 68.
Born Edward Michael Dunn in 1952, Detroit was a legend in DIY punk-rock and jazz bands both here and abroad. Known primarily as a singer and percussionist, Detroit — who took his stage name from his Michigan hometown — released punk-era indie-label albums and singles and helped pioneer acoustic punk because the Phoenix club he ran in the '90s had no amplifier. He played onstage and in recordings with everyone from punk monarchs Sun City Girls to folkie Denny Dougherty of The Mamas and the Papas.
Somewhere in there, he became known as a pagan philosopher, a tarot card reader, and a spiritualist with Dionne Warwick’s Psychic Friends Network. Before moving to Phoenix and becoming a music legend, Detroit worked as a door-to-door salesman, a band manager, and a marijuana dealer. (Phoenix New Times profiled Detroit in 2020.)
“He wrote songs about things he knew,” says Nadine Wells, who ran a Valley party house called Players where Detroit performed in the '80s with his girlfriend, Joanie Moss. “Eddy played the bongos and sang. He was an old-time swinger who wasn’t afraid of anything. He liked living in the ghetto and hanging out at truck stops with skinheads and street people. Everyone loved him.”
In recent months, Detroit had battled acute insomnia and chronic depression, according to Katz. “He was on his second prescription medication to help him sleep, and it wasn’t working,” she says. “Then his doctor took him off all the sleep meds, and that made it worse. It was all such a mess.”
While he was trying to get a handle on his sleep meds, Detroit developed diverticulitis. Last month, he disclosed that he was having suicidal thoughts and was admitted to St. Luke’s Behavioral Health Center.
“After he was released, he still wasn’t sleeping or eating,” Katz says. “Friends were telling him we wanted to help, but by then he wasn’t able to hear it. He decided getting better was too much trouble, and he just gave up.”
Ophelia Padilla, a 13th-floor neighbor of Detroit’s, thinks the COVID-19 pandemic was to blame. “The loneliness, the restrictions, all the staying at home,” she says through tears. “They affect elderly people in a big way. It was that final straw, and Eddy was completely lost.”
Detroit’s longtime friend Howard McKown agrees. “The pandemic did him in,” McKown says. “Eddy had a history of mental health issues and a diagnosis of bipolar disorder that he was always able to keep under control. But he hated being trapped inside. That’s when the insomnia started.”
The singer’s many friends and fans stepped in. Gary Ammann, a fourth-floor neighbor, suggested hypnotherapy. McKown helped Detroit book an evaluation with a psychiatrist the day before he died. Wells telephoned each day.
“I spoke with Eddy a few hours before he died,” Wells says. “He told me he didn’t know what to do. He was afraid of getting kicked out of his apartment, of losing his social security. I kept saying, ‘None of that is going to happen. Stop doing the marijuana.’ He had smoked it every day for 40 years. But he couldn’t sleep and that messed with his mind.”
It was McKown who found Detroit’s suicide note. “He said he was tired of living in this cruel world,” he says. “He wanted someone to call his sister, and then call the New Times.”
Fat Gray Cat singer Michael Pistrui worries that people will forget what a talented musician Detroit was. “Before Eddy was my friend, and before we worked together, I was a fan of his music,” Pistrui says. “I still can’t believe I got to play onstage with him. We’re not kids, we’re in our 50s, but our band considered him a mentor. He’ll always be a music hero to me.”
“Eddy was fond of saying, ‘Be grateful for every day,’" says Pete Petrisko, a longtime friend and champion of Detroit’s. “By the same measure, Phoenix is left owing him a debt of gratitude for all he's given us over these many years. He’ll live on through his music.”