Spinal Tap Drummer Ric Parnell, a.k.a. ‘Mick Shrimpton,’ Dies at 70

Ric Parnell Spinal Tap
Jim Steinfeldt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Ric Parnell, who played the fictional band Spinal Tap’s drummer Mick Shrimpton in the classic 1984 heavy metal “mockumentary” “This Is Spinal Tap,” has died at the age of 70, according to a post from the group’s Harry Shearer and Yahoo News. No cause of death was initially reported.

The group — fronted by actor-musicians Michael McKean (as David St. Hubbins), Christopher Guest (as Nigel Tufnel) and Shearer (as Derek Smalls) — crossed the line between fiction and reality from their inception: the band literally road-tested tested their concept shortly after making the film, opening shows for psychedelic sludge-rockers Iron Butterfly, and no one in the audience was for the wiser.

Spinal Tap’s drummers are a running punchline in the film — all of the group’s previous drummers had died, one from spontaneous combustion — and although Parnell appears throughout the film, he too spontaneously combusts at the end. He performed on the soundtrack album that accompanied the film as well as a follow-up album.

The group remained an ongoing proposition over the years, performing on “Saturday Night Live” in 1984, reuniting for an album, “Break Like the Wind,” and tour in the early 1990s, and another tour in 2001. As Parnell’s character had died in the film, he toured as Mick’s brother, Ric Shrimpton. The three principals (along with co-creator/ co-star Rob Reiner) reunited at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2019 for an anniversary release of the film, and were even joined by Elvis Costello for an acoustic set, although Parnell did not join them for that performance.

Like the other members of Spinal Tap, Parnell was a genuine musician. Born Richard J. Parnell in London to jazz drummer and bandleader Jack Parnell, he played in such bands as Atomic Rooster and Horse during the early 1970s. He then played in three Italian groups, as was reported to have turned down offers to join the ‘80s rock titans Journey and Whitesnake.

He also played on Toni Basil’s 1982 smash “Mickey” and with Michael Des Barres, Yes singer Jon Anderson, Ravi Shankar, and Wayne Kramer of MC5 Radio Birdman’s Denik Tek.

More recently, Parnell lived in Missoula, Mont., where he co-hosted a weekly radio show comically titled “Spontaneous Combustion.” A GoFundMe has been established to help cover his funeral costs.