Chuck Schuldiner: Lust for Life
He called his band Death, but Chuck Schuldiner loved life, family and of course, metal.
“I just remember us being so nervous to meet King. Chuck was in awe,” says Christy. “And for me, it was just so weird: there I was, a Chuck Schuldiner fan since I don’t know when, and I’m watching him get tongue tied in front of his hero. But Chuck was just like any other metal fan. That’s what made him and his music so great.”
He was born Charles Schuldiner on May 13, 1967, in Long Island, New York, the youngest of three children born to Malcolm and Jane Schuldiner. Malcolm was a Jew of Austrian decent; Jane was born and raised in the bible belt South. Raising their children, they exposed them to the practices and customs of both parents’ faiths, “including the holidays,” says Jane. “They ended up being the best of both.”
When Chuck was one, his parents moved their brood to the budding suburb of Altamonte Springs. Jane calls Chuck’s childhood “a Leave It to Beaver life.” Altamonte Springs was largely undeveloped at the time, and the Schuldiner home was nestled in forests where Seminole Indians once hunted. “Chuck and his brother and sister grew up playing in those woods, building forts in the trees and seeing quite a lot of wildlife there also,” says Jane. “Chuck and Frank camped out in the backyard with flashlights and snacks lots of times, and there were many of the children in the neighborhood at the house most days.”
Chuck’s childhood was, by all accounts, happy and traditional. Family photos from the time give some clues to his preteen interests: young Chuck dressed up as an Indian scout, displaying the catch from a fishing trip and posing in his soccer outfit. His artistic streak displayed itself early. Says Jane, “Chuck was interested in art and sculpture from a young age and loved both equally.”
Although Frank was seven years older than Chuck, the two were close companions. One day, while returning home from a visit to an out-of-state uncle, Frank was killed in a car accident. He was 16. His death was devastating for Chuck, and the sobering reality of the loss haunted him. “He never really came to terms with it,” says Jane. “He always missed Frank.”
In the months after Frank’s death, Malcolm and Jane began looking for a way to help Chuck deal with his grief. He had begun to take an interest in music, and the guitar had aroused his curiosity. “We discussed it with him, and an acoustic guitar seemed the best,” says Jane. “It was portable, something he could carry with him when we went on vacation or camping, to a friend’s house or wherever.”
Chuck signed up for classical guitar lessons, but the tedium of study quickly wore down his enthusiasm. “I took two lessons, and [the instructor] showed me ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb,’ ” Chuck recalled to Pit magazine’s Brook Everitt in 1999. “I said screw it and went on my own.”
“Chuck found the acoustic guitar lessons and his teacher boring,” says Jane. “He didn’t like the repetitiveness of it all.” It’s possible that Chuck would have abandoned the guitar entirely had his parents not made yet another attempt to indulge his interest. While at a yard sale, Chuck spotted an electric guitar, a pointy knockoff in the spirit of B.C. Rich, whose guitars Chuck would later employ. Once it was in his hands, his old acoustic guitar was completely forgotten. “The first time he played the electric guitar, it was as if a switch was turned on in him,” says Jane. “And it never turned off.”
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