Updated September 22, 2020 - 3:55 pm
Tommy DeVito, founding member of the Four Seasons rock ’n’ roll group and an inspiration for the “Jersey Boys” musical, has died of COVID-19 in Henderson. He was 92.
DeVito passed at 9:30 p.m. Monday, according to a representative of his longtime friend and Four Seasons bandmate Frankie Valli. DeVito had been hospitalized for weeks and was on a ventilator until he died. He died at St. Rose Dominican Hospital, Siena campus in Henderson.
In a joint statement, Valli and fellow Four Seasons co-founder Bob Gaudio said, “It is with great sadness that we report that Tommy DeVito, a founding member of The Four Seasons, has passed. We send our love to his family during this most difficult time. He will be missed by all who loved him.”
DeVito was most recently seen in public during a dinner Aug. 19 at the Italian American Club.
No. 1 singles
DeVito sang baritone and played lead guitar in the Four Seasons, who scored No. 1 singles and hit the top of the pop charts during the ’60s with a string of catchy, radio-friendly singles that built upon precise harmonies and singer Frankie Valli’s voice.
DeVito, who was born in Belleville, New Jersey, told the Review-Journal in 2009 that he grew up poor and on welfare.
“When I was a kid, I was locked up. I was in six or seven jails. I went to prison one time. But my teenage years were a son of a b——. I was a hell-raiser. … I was a menace to everybody.”
During the ’50s, DeVito began playing in bars and neighborhood venues. The Four Lovers, one of the groups in which he played, ultimately would become the Four Seasons.
With a core of DeVito, Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio and Nick Massi, the Four Seasons would go on to rock ’n’ roll fame. The group’s string of hits began with “Sherry,” which hit No. 1 in 1962 and continued with still-beloved songs such as “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like a Man” — both of which also hit No. 1 — “Let’s Hang On,” “Dawn (Go Away),” “Rag Doll” and “Working My Way Back to You.”
Left group in 1970
DeVito left the group in 1970. In 1990, he, Valli, Massi and Gaudio were inducted into the Rock &Roll Hall of Fame. The time in between sometimes was difficult.
In a 2009 interview with the Review-Journal, DeVito recalled how he was cleaning houses for a living in 1971 when one affluent woman, learning that he once had been in the Four Seasons, started to cry.
“She stood there looking at me. She was crying like she was my sister or my mother. She couldn’t believe I was cleaning her house,” DeVito said.
She asked him to stop. DeVito said he continued to clean and the woman continued to cry.
“You’re brought down to your knees,” DeVito said. “It’s like going to hell six or seven times. … That feeling is rough. You say, ‘What the hell did I do with myself? Here I am a celebrity, and I wind up being a guy that’s cleaning houses, dealing (cards), doing anything to make $5.’ It’s a horrible feeling.
“But let me tell you something. You can always learn, no matter how old you are. And I learned pretty fast.”
Attended last ‘Jersey Boys’ show
Years later, DeVito said the “Jersey Boys” script was “about 50-percent true.” He and Valli attended the final “Jersey Boys” performance on the Strip, at the Paris Theater in September 2016.
The story of the Four Seasons was depicted in “Jersey Boys,” a Tony Award-winning musical that debuted on Broadway in November 2005 and was turned into a 2014 feature film directed by Clint Eastwood. The musical and movie cast DeVito as a disruptive influence whose gambling put the group into debt and led to his involuntary relocation to Las Vegas.
“Jersey Boys” also was a staple on the Strip. A production of the show opened at Palazzo in 2008 and moved to Paris Las Vegas in 2012. It closed there in September 2016.
The musical biography’s eight-year run made it the longest-running Broadway musical on the Strip, besting competitors that included “Hairspray,” “Monty Python’s Spamalot” “Mamma Mia!” and “Phantom of the Opera.”
The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. Las Vegas Sands operates The Venetian and Palazzo.
Contact John Przybys at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @JJPrzybys on Twitter. John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.