Trini Lopez III, the legendary singer and star of The Dirty Dozen, has died at the age of 83. Lopez’s personal assistant confirmed to Heavy that Lopez died around 5:30 a.m. on August 11 in Palm Springs after suffering from the coronavirus. Lopez’s assistant said that the singer had not been sick for very long.
Lopez is best known for his hits, “If I Had a Hammer,” “Lemon Tree” and “Sally Was a Good Old Girl.” “If I Had a Hammer” was a No. 1 hit in 36 countries. Lopez was a native of Dallas and had lived in Palm Springs since the 1960s, according to Palm Springs Life.
His music was used in the movies Apollo 13, Born on the Fourth of July and TV shows such as Supernatural and Ray Donovan. In addition to acting in The Dirty Dozen, Lopez appeared in the television series Adam-12 and The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. There Were Rumors That Lopez’s Death Was a Hoax
A message on the singer’s Facebook page appeared briefly on August 11. The message read, “Today Trini passed to the other side from Covid-19. He loves his God, family and all of you. He was such a gentle and loving man and will be deeply missed.” At the time of writing, the message was removed. This led to rumors that reports about his death were a hoax.
On August 9, one of Lopez’s friends wrote in a Facebook post, “Today is a sad day for one of our dear friends Trini Trinidad Lopez III please say a prayer for him he has Covid and is very sick.”
2. A Documentary on Lopez’s Life Is Due Out in 2021
On August 10, Palm Springs Life reported that documentary filmmakers Todd Hughes and P. David Ebersole were working on a documentary on Lopez’s life titled, My Name Is Lopez, which is due to be released in 2021. Hughes told the website, “[Lopez’s] story is so important right now. He was born in Dallas, Texas, as a full-fledged American – the son of illegal Mexican immigrants.”
During the same interview, Ebersole spoke about the hardships faced by Mexican immigrants in the 1950s and 60s including “Operation Wetback,” the largest mass deportation in American history. Hughes added, “Trini triumphed over all of that, and had this incredible life, and became kind of an American icon in his own way. It’s just a great story.”
3. Lopez Once Worked for Lee Harvey Oswald’s Assassin Jack Ruby
While Lopez lived in his home city of Dallas, he worked for nightclub owner Jack Ruby. In 1963, Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald dead on live television shortly after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Lopez once said in an interview, “I did work for him, but it was a place that was nicer than all the places he had. They were all kind of dives by the way. They were strip joints and all that. The nicest club he had was called The Vegas Club. No strip dancing. Strictly a nightclub. People came in and they danced to my band. It had a big bar. It was the nicest place he ever owned that that’s where I used to work. I never worked those strip joints in my life.”
In the same interview, Lopez said that Ruby had nothing to do with the singer getting a record deal with Frank Sinatra’s Reprise Records. The singer said, “No. Jack Ruby never got me anything. He paid me very little. Reprise wasn’t even around at that time. Sinatra bought the company in the late 50s. We’re talking with Jack Ruby, ’55, ’56.”
4. Lopez Designed Gibson Guitars Favored by Dave Grohl, The Edge & Lindsey Buckingham
Since 1964, Lopez has designed guitars for Gibson. He told the iconic music brand’s website in 2011 that he and Les Paul have sold the most signature Gibson guitars in the world. Lopez added, “Many younger players like my guitar. Maroon 5’s guitarist plays my guitar, The Edge plays my guitar, Paul McCartney’s guitarist plays my guitar, Dave Grohl, Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac played my guitar, Sting’s guitar player plays my guitar.”
Lopez added, “I guess they’re not only fans of me as an artist, but they love the guitar. I’m not Dave Grohl’s biggest fan of course [laughs] but I’m definitely a fan. I’m just glad that people remember me.”
5. Lopez Was Discovered by Buddy Holly
Lopez was first discovered by rock and roll pioneer Buddy Holly. In his 2011 interview with Gibson’s website, Lopez said that he came to Hollywood first because of Holly. Holly had heard Lopez’s work while he was in Wichita Falls promoting the song, “Peggy Sue.” Holly died six months later in a plane crash.
Lopez says that Holly’s band, The Crickets, asked him to become the band’s new lead singer but the new arrangement did not work because as Lopez said, “They were partying all the time!” In a separate 2014 interview, Lopez said of Holly, “Buddy was a very nice person and sweet guy, also very down to earth. That’s why I liked him, too.”