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Petrus Thomas Ratajczyk (January 4, 1962 – April 14, 2010), better known by his stage name Peter Steele, was the lead singer, bassist and composer for the gothic metal band Type O Negative. Before forming Type O Negative, he had created the metal group Fallout and the thrash band Carnivore.
As the frontman for Type O Negative, Steele was known for his vampiric affect, towering stature, rich bass-baritone vocals and a dark, often self-deprecating sense of humor. “His lyrics were often intensely personal, dealing with subjects including love, loss and addiction.” Steele credited Black Sabbath and The Beatles as his key musical influences.
Steele was known for standing 6’8″ (203 cm) tall, giving him a menacing stage appearance. Despite that perception, Steele admitted to suffering from stage fright which he overcame by drinking alcohol before shows, and by drinking red wine when on stage. He was also described as a person who was “friendly, funny and had a reputation for being generous to his longtime bandmates and kind to the bands he toured with.” In his autobiography Iron Man, Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi described his shock at Steele’s death, adding, “Peter was a big, tall, and very, very nice guy.”
Outside of music, Steele spent time lifting weights both at home and on his tour bus. Steele also enjoyed reading books on the subject of science and he had an interest in European culture. Steele liked working on his house and was interested in architecture and civil engineering. Steele also worked on his cars, including a heavily modified 1985 Pontiac Grand Prix he customized himself. Steele had a love for cats and kept several as pets. In the booklet for the 2009 “Top Shelf” edition re-release of Bloody Kisses, Steele confirmed that the album’s dirge-like 11-minute title track had in fact been written about the death of a family cat called Venus he had owned for 17 years.
During 2005, Steele disappeared for an extended period with no explanation. Rumors of his death, terminal illness, and other speculations increased until the mystery was dispelled in an interview on the 2006 DVD Symphony for the Devil. In the interview Steele briefly mentions his incarceration in Rikers Island and “the psych ward at Kings County Hospital”. Steele’s family members had staged an intervention and insisted he check into a mental institution. Steele later confirmed he had been suffering from paranoia caused by his heavy substance abuse. Steele had been using cocaine since the age of 35, a decision he expressed great regret about. Steele then attended rehab for cocaine and alcohol addiction, and later served a 30-day prison term for assaulting a love rival. Steele made light of his incarceration by wearing a prison uniform on stage during live performances.
Steele stated in a 2003 interview that he was bipolar, and linked his mood swings to the types of songs he wrote. He also suffered from clinical depression for which he had received occasional psychiatric treatment. During a 2007 interview Steele explained:
“I’ve always been a very depressed person, but that’s only one side of me, you know. It makes me feel better when I can express my depression, my anger, my frustration through music… sonic therapy.”
In April 2007, Steele revealed that he began identifying himself as Roman Catholic in recent years, after decades of self-professed atheism. In an interview with Decibel magazine, Steele explained:
“There are no atheists in foxholes, they say, and I was a foxhole atheist for a long time. But after going through a midlife crisis and having many things change very quickly, it made me realize my mortality. And when you start to think about death, you start to think about what’s after it. And then you start hoping there is a God. For me, it’s a frightening thought to go nowhere. I also can’t believe that people like Stalin and Hitler are gonna go to the same place as Mother Teresa.”
Peter Steele died of an aortic aneurysm (initially reported as heart failure) on April 14, 2010 at the age of 48. Prior to his death, Steele was preparing to write and record new music. The remaining members of Type O Negative decided to dissolve the band rather than replace Steele, with Johnny Kelly stating “Even if there is somebody who could take his place it wouldn’t matter. We don’t have any interest in continuing. It’s impossible – it hasn’t even come up in any kind of discussion. When Peter died, Type O Negative died with him.”
On November 21, 2011, an oak tree was planted in Prospect Park to commemorate Steele.
Following his death, the metal band Voyager penned a track entitled “Iron Dream” in memoriam of Steele, released on their 2011 album The Meaning of I. Lacuna Coil wrote the song “My Spirit” in memory of Steele for their 2012 album Dark Adrenaline. The Moonspell song “New Tears Eve”, from the 2012 album Alpha Noir / Omega White, is dedicated to Steele. Biohazard dedicated their 2012 album Reborn in Defiance to Steele. Swallow the Sun wrote the song “April 14th” as a tribute to Steele for their 2012 album Emerald Forest and the Blackbird. Meridian Dawn recorded a cover version of the Type O Negative song “I Don’t Wanna Be Me” in tribute to Steele for their 2014 debut release The Mixtape EP. The Crowbar song “Symbolic Suicide”, from the 2014 album Symmetry in Black, is inspired by the legacy of Peter Steele. The band Danzig, who include Steele’s former bandmate Johnny Kelly, have dedicated live performances of the song “On a Wicked Night” to Steele.
Steele’s biography Soul On Fire – The Life And Music Of Peter Steele was penned by Metal Maniacs editor Jeff Wagner, and was released in 2013. None of the surviving band members cooperated with Wagner in the creation of the book.