PASSINGS: Jeff Hanneman, Urban Leonard ‘Ben’ Drew, John Williamson

Jeff Hanneman

Founding member of metal band Slayer

Jeff Hanneman, 49, a guitarist and founding member of the thrash metal band Slayer whose career was irrevocably changed after a spider bite, died Thursday of liver failure at a Los Angeles hospital, according to spokeswoman Heidi Robinson-Fitzgerald.


Hanneman was born Jan. 31, 1964, in Oakland and co-founded the speed metal pioneers in Huntington Park in the early 1980s. He and Kerry King played screaming guitars, vocalist Tom Araya played bass and Dave Lombardo played drums (Paul Bostaph later replaced Lombardo). The group’s first two albums, “Show No Mercy” and “Hell Awaits,” featured “undiluted blasts of pure white metallic noise,” according to the Encyclopedia of Pop Music.

“Rock ’n’ roll was never supposed to be polite,” Hanneman said in a 1988 interview with The Times’ pop music critic, Robert Hilburn. “Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith weren’t polite. They were against the grain. And that’s what we want our music to be: rude, aggressive ... like real life.”

That was two years after Slayer’s breakthrough album “Reign in Blood,” which featured such song titles as “Necrophobic” and “Raining Blood.”

“We write the songs that we do because that’s what we like,” Hanneman told Hilburn. “But they are just stories — not things we actually do or recommend anyone else go out and do. Take the song ‘Piece by Piece,’ about chopping up somebody. To us, it’s like a horror movie. It’s fun because [the songs and movies] shock you. The kids get into it on the same level we do. They know it is just a story and just fun.”

The guitarist had recently begun writing songs with the band in anticipation of recording a new album later this year. He had been slowly recovering from a flesh-eating bacterial disease believed to be the result of a spider bite that nearly cost him his arm after he failed to seek immediate treatment.

Robinson-Fitzgerald said it’s believed that the 2011 spider bite contributed to the failure of Hanneman’s liver, but it is unclear whether an autopsy will be scheduled.

Urban Leonard ‘Ben’ Drew

1st Allied pilot to shoot down 2 German jets in combat

Urban Leonard “Ben” Drew, 89, who became the first Allied pilot to shoot down two German jets in combat during World War II, died April 3 at his home in Vista of complications from pneumonia, said his son, David Michael Drew.

He accomplished the feat on a single mission over Germany in October 1944 while piloting a P-51 Mustang fighter nicknamed “Detroit Miss” for his hometown. Concrete evidence of the exploit was scant — a gun camera that would have documented the events jammed, and Ryan’s wingman was shot down and held as a prisoner of war.

Nearly 39 years later, Ryan received the Air Force Cross in recognition of the mission after his account of the event was confirmed by both U.S. and German military archives. The medal honors extraordinary heroism and valor in combat.

Urban Drew: A news obituary of World War II ace Urban Drew in the May 6 LATExtra section incorrectly identified him twice in the story as Ryan.

Born in 1924 in Detroit, he was raised along with a younger brother by their schoolteacher mother. His father died when Drew was 3.

At 18, he joined the Army Air Forces in 1942 and taught fledgling pilots combat tactics for a year before heading to England in 1944. As a member of the 361st Fighter Group, Drew quickly established himself as a flying ace. He later flew missions in the Pacific.

After the war, Drew was instrumental in the founding of the Michigan Air National Guard, according to the 2007 book “Wolverines in the Sky.”

Based in Burbank, Drew became a commercial pilot for the cargo airline Slick Airways in 1956. He later co-founded a short-lived enterprise, American International Airways, and Seven Seas Airlines, which provided charter flights overseas. Other airline ventures were based in Saigon and South Africa, where the thrice-divorced Drew lived into the 1980s.


John Williamson, a pioneer of the 1960s sexual revolution who operated Topanga Canyon’s Sandstone Retreat from 1968 to 1972, offering seminars on human bonding, relationships and sexuality in a clothing-optional setting, died of cancer March 24 at a Reno hospital, his wife, Barbara Williamson, said this week. He was 80.

-- Los Angeles Times staff and wire reports