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Did Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Drive Keith Emerson to Suicide?

Carpal tunnel syndrome, a condition that results in pain, numbness or godawful tingling in the arms, wrist and hands has sidelined many a musician. Neil Peart of Rush has battled it along with arthritis for years. Same thing with Phil Collins. And it may have driven ELP’s Keith Emerson to suicide. This is from LA Weekly.

Two years ago, Jill Gambaro received an email from Keith Emerson that now seems tragically prophetic. “Nobody wants to employ a session musician with any disability,” he wrote. “Some musicians have resorted to suicide.”

Last week Emerson himself, a keyboardist best known for his work with the prog-rock group Emerson, Lake and Palmer, committed suicide at his home in Santa Monica. So far there have been no reports that Emerson left a suicide note, so it’s impossible to know what drove him to take his own life. But he had publicly admitted to struggling with nerve damage in his hands — a common result of repetitive strain injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome — and his girlfriend, Mari Kawaguchi, confirmed after his death that “the pain and nerve issues in his right hand were getting worse.” He was suffering from depression and anxiety and, with a tour coming up, his injuries were no doubt adding to his mental anguish.

Is this what drove Keith Emerson to commit suicide? Gambaro believes the answer is yes.

Keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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2 thoughts on “Did Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Drive Keith Emerson to Suicide?

  • Pingback: Did Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Drive Keith Emerson to Suicide? – Medicine Minutes

  • I remember first reading about Keith’s issues with his right hand back in the 90s and I remember him going to physical therapy for it. I had wondered if perhaps his use of digital pianos had contributed; Keith’s playing was often very athletic and even if there weren’t anything about the key action on digital pianos or piano-action MIDI controllers that was exacerbating the problem, the fact that digital pianos max out the keystroke velocity may have set up a harmful feedback loop. On a real piano, the harder you beat the keys, the harder the piano responds, whereas on a digital piano or piano module, once you hit a key hard enough for the keystroke velocity number to reach 255, the electronics aren’t going to give you more than that out of your speakers or headphones. How the electronic controller/instrument translates velocity into volume and timbre of a piano sound is arbitrary; ideally manufacturers want to make it mimic the response of a real piano but no matter how good a job they do that upper bound to velocity is a hard limit. I can imagine Keith subconsciously pounding the crap out of a keyboard controller or digital piano in search of “more, bigger” without getting it and wiping out his hands as a result. His hand problems started just a few years after he began using that kind of equipment in the mid-1980s.


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