Buddy Arnold, 77; Sax Player Founded Drug Program for Musicians

Times Staff Writer

Buddy Arnold, a jazz saxophonist and recovering heroin addict who spent years helping musicians and other music industry professionals kick their addictions through his nonprofit drug and alcohol treatment program, has died. He was 77.

Arnold, co-founder of the Hollywood-based Musicians' Assistance Program, died Sunday of complications from open-heart surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Founded by Arnold and his wife, former agent Carole Fields, in 1992, the Musicians' Assistance Program has been described as the first unified effort by the recording industry to combat drug abuse by musicians.

From its offices in the musicians union building on Vine Street, the program has provided treatment for drug and alcohol addiction to more than 1,500 musicians and other music industry professionals.

Arnold, who was born in New York, began touring as a big band sideman at the age of 16 in the early 1940s. After leading a band in the Army during World War II, he played saxophone in bands led by Buddy Rich, Stan Kenton and Tommy Dorsey, among others.

In 1950, a year after making his first recording, he used heroin for the first time, setting off a 31-year addiction that led to 34 narcotics arrests, including a 1981 conviction that sent him to San Quentin.

But Arnold overcame his addiction and dedicated his life to helping fellow addicts through the Musicians' Assistance Program.

Mary Turner Pattiz, an addictions counselor and member of the program's board of directors, said Arnold was involved in everything from interventions to intake interviews to group counseling sessions.

"He loved being with addicts; he loved helping people," she said. "He liked to talk to them at their worst, as well as at their best."

Pattiz said the program has agreements with a number of treatment facilities around the country, with the program picking up the treatment cost.

"Buddy had a great line, 'Musicians are overmedicated and underinsured,' " she told The Times on Monday. "This was [an avenue] for the sidemen or engineers -- the people you never heard of, who didn't know where to turn."

John Branca, a music industry attorney and a founding board member, said the program is also a resource that "high-profile individuals or their family can go to and Buddy can confidentially arrange treatment."

"Buddy has worked with a lot of high-profile people," Branca said Monday. "They trust Buddy."

Michele Anthony, executive vice president of Sony Music Entertainment, said in a prepared statement Monday that "Buddy's passion, integrity and commitment made the Musicians' Assistance Program into a truly powerful force for recovery. Under his guidance, [the program] became a vital resource for the music industry."

Hilary Rosen, former chief executive of the Recording Industry Assn. of America, said: "He was just all heart and his life really was about service at this point -- service and music were the two things most important to him."

Rosen said the recording industry association's $2-million grant to the program in 1996 was the beginning of its relationship with the major labels. Operating funds are also raised by an annual music-based fund-raiser, and the program receives a portion of the proceeds from the Grammy nominees' compilation album.

Rosen described Arnold as "irascible in the most old-fashioned sense of the word. He was gruff and tough -- crusty on the exterior and all heart inside."

Anthony Kiedis, lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, which has helped raise funds for the program, described his longtime friend similarly.

"He was crotchety, he was cantankerous, he was wily, he was cut-to-the-chase, but always, to me, in the name of a big heart," Kiedis said.

One reason Arnold was able to get through to the addicts who came to the program "was because he was so brutally honest," Kiedis said.

"Every madman dope fiend person comes into his office trying to con their way through yet another intervention or situation where people are trying to help them, but he couldn't be conned or manipulated. It's like you can't con a con artist.

"There comes a time in most drug addicts' lives where they get a crossroads window to make a change, and he was really highly adept at helping people at that moment."

With Arnold's death, Kiedis said, "it's like the solar system has lost the planet in California. He had that much gravitational impact on the rest of the world around him. I'm just kind of praying someone can fall into that space and pick up where he left off."

Arnold is survived by his wife, whom he called "the biggest miracle in my life"; a son, Rob Loftus, from a previous marriage; a sister, Elaine Weiner; and one granddaughter.

Memorial donations may be made to the Musicians' Assistance Program, 817 N. Vine St., Hollywood, CA 90038.

Funeral services will be private. A memorial service is pending.

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