Final Notes, Tommy Thompson

As I write these words, Tommy Thompson, banjoist, songwriter, actor, playwright, bon vivant, old-time revivalist and “whatzit” innovator, has been gone for about a week—and for over a decade. In 1994, while working on the show “Fool Moon” in New York City, he became aware of his growing mental confusion and left the stage and the Red Clay Ramblers, the band he’d cofounded with Jim Watson and myself in 1972, for Chapel Hill and a battery of diagnostic tests. He soon learned he was afflicted with an “Alzheimer’s-like” illness. I hadn’t seen Tommy for a number of years at that point in his life, and I ran into his former wife, folklorist Cece Conway, at a health food store in Chapel Hill and heard this news from her. There were many concerns—like most traveling musicians, Tommy had been little prepared for medical disaster, his family scattered to the winds.

(To read Bill Hicks’ full obituary for Tommy Thompson, see OTH vol. 8, no. 8, Spring 2003.)


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