Nearly half a century ago, a teenager with a love of rock music decided it was time to trade in his own dreams of playing in a band for something a bit more solid.
So Dennis Sheehan decided to work behind the scenes instead, first helping little-known groups such as Jimmy James & the Vagabonds on their nascent concert tours before graduating to assignments with bona fide rock stars such as Led Zeppelin, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, The Damned, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Soft Cell.
FOR THE RECORD
May 28, 8:04 a.m.: An earlier edition of this obituary identified U2 tour manager Dennis Sheehan as Irish. He was born in England and grew up in Ireland.
But for more than 30 years, Sheehan was best known as tour manager for Irish superstar group U2, for whom he had just launched a five-night stand in Los Angeles before suffering an apparent heart attack early Wednesday in his West Hollywood hotel room.
“We’ve lost a family member. We’re still taking it in,” U2 lead singer Bono said in a statement posted Wednesday on the group’s website. “He wasn’t just a legend in the music business, he was a legend in our band. He is irreplaceable.”
Sheehan, 68, was found dead in his room by Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies, who had responded to reports of a person not breathing. Craig Harvey, a Los Angeles County coroner’s office spokesman, said Sheehan appeared to have died of natural causes. No autopsy is scheduled.
Paul McGuinness, U2’s manager throughout its career until he stepped down in 2013, said Sheehan underwent heart bypass surgery in 2005, but continued to exercise regularly.
“He was a walker,” McGuinness told The Times from his home in London on Wednesday. “He might have a glass of wine or a beer once in awhile, but that would be it. He was a very clean-living individual.”
Whether Sheehan’s death will impact the ongoing tour was unclear.
The UK Mirror on Wednesday quoted an anonymous source said to be “close to the band” as saying, “Everyone who works with the band is heartbroken. This has come as a huge shock, but the view is that Dennis would have wanted the show to go on. But that could be subject to change.”
McGuinness, who remains close to the band and plans to travel to the U.S. to see the group when it reaches Chicago for five shows starting June 24, dismissed such a thought. “Of course the show will go on,” he said. “I cannot imagine it would not.”
Still, he acknowledged it would be tough on the band.
“It will be very difficult for them to find a way of working without Dennis because they’ve never worked without Dennis,” McGuinness said. “There’s never been a U2 show in living memory that Dennis wasn’t involved in.”
Sheehan was born Nov. 15, 1946, in Wolverhampton, England, grew up in southern Ireland and met McGuinness in 1982. He recently had ended his stint with Led Zeppelin and had shifted his focus from hard rock to punk rock.
“I did 50 to 60% of the punk acts in England, which was a great learning curve,” Sheehan said in a 2013 interview. “In ’82, I had my first meeting at the beginning of the year with Paul McGuinness. They were looking for a tour manager. They had two albums out and were about to bring out the ‘War’ album, and we haven’t looked back ever since.”
McGuinness said Sheehan impressed him at that first meeting. “I’ll never forget: He turned up wearing a tie and a blazer. He was very formal and had very good manners. I hired him on the spot. We were not doing big tours in those days. It was like a van and a bus. … As the U2 touring operation got bigger and bigger over the years, he became probably the best in the world.”
Sheehan was at the helm of U2’s touring juggernaut and oversaw some of the biggest tours in pop music history, from The Joshua Tree tour in 1987 through Zoo TV (1992-93), Pop Mart (1997-98) and Elevation (2001) to Vertigo ( 2005-2006), 360 Tour (2009-2011) and the recently launched Innocence + Experience series of concerts.
The group’s tours have consistently ranked at or near the top of the highest-grossing tours each year the band was on the road. U2’s 360 Tour is ranked as the highest-grossing concert tour of all time, pulling in nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars over 110 performances.
Sheehan also helped with U2 solo projects, including arranging Bono’s appearance before Congress, where he testified in support of more aid to Africa. He said he often was called on to do “odd little things,” such as ushering members of the band into the White House for a performance for President Bill Clinton.
“I have to say, I’ve never worked with such committed musicians and people like I do with this band,” Sheehan told the Irish Voice in 2001. “Sure, they are my bosses and employer, but that’s not why I say that I do have one of the best jobs in the world. … No one works with or for U2 for very long if they don’t become part of the ‘big family,’ so to speak.”
In fact, the band members once dressed as Led Zeppelin at a birthday party for Sheehan because of the many stories he told of his days working with the fabled rock band.
In 2008, Sheehan received the Parnelli Lifetime Achievement Award, which recognize “the highest achievement in concert production technology.”
“The band works incredibly hard, and they go to extreme lengths to achieve what they want,” Sheehan said when he learned about the Parnelli award. “With many bands, you get to a peak, and that’s it. With U2, they are still climbing that mountain.”
Information on Sheehan’s survivors was not immediately available.
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