Ron S. Peno, frontman and co-founder of Died Pretty, which, thanks to combination of his stagecraft, a handful of evergreen singles, and a cult following, had a seat at the front of Australia’s alternative rock explosion in the 1990s, died Friday (Aug. 11) after a years-long battle with cancer. He was 68.
News of his death was confirmed by the official Died Pretty social accounts.
“With great sadness we announce the passing of our singer Ron S Peno who left us peacefully on Friday evening in the presence of his loving wife Charity and his son Zebadiah, at his home in South Yarra, Melbourne,” the tribute reads.
For the last four and a half years as he battled cancer, “Ron displayed a resolute positivity and a profound depth of character that has proved inspirational to his fellow band members, manager and many friends,” the message continues. “In the face of adversity he was towering.”
Formed in Sydney in the 1980s, Peno and Died Pretty channeled the look and sound of their heroes from New York’s punk scene, including the Velvet Underground and Television, and injected it with psychedelic rock.
As the band built a buzz on the live circuit, their releases would follow the proper trajectory on the ARIA Charts. Early releases merely tickled the tally, though debut Free Dirt from 1986 continues to grow in stature, and cracked Rolling Stone Australia’s list of 200 Greatest Australian Albums of All Time, published December 2021 (placing at No. 153).
Died Pretty’s Lost from 1988 appeared at No. 99 on the ARIA Albums Chart, and 1990 followup Every Brilliant Eye peaked at No. 79, according to data supplied by the trade body to Billboard. Then, with 1991’s Doughboy Hollow, a first top 40 appearance. Peaking at No. 24 on the national albums survey, Doughboy Hollow was powered by two of the band’s evergreen songs, “D.C.” and “Sweetheart,” numbers that captured the spirit of the time. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s triple j station had embarked on its national rollout in 1989, and those two songs sounded sweet on its airwaves (a 2018 poll of the 50 Best Australian Albums of the 90s, published by triple j’s sister station, Double J, placed Doughboy Hollow at No. 22).
Meanwhile, the late Ken West and Viv Lees were working on a game-changing festival, the Big Day Out, which would kick-off the following year in Sydney, and rapidly grew into a national production, selling 330,000 tickets at its peak. Died Pretty was on the inaugural BDO lineup.
After striking a deal with Sony Music’s Columbia division, Died Pretty enjoyed a career-best chart placing in 1993, hitting No. 11 with Trace, and 1996’s Sold would hit No. 29. While signed to Sony Music, Died Pretty were invited to Europe to showcase their talents for the music major’s international executives.
In 2008, induction into Hall of Fame at the The Age EG Awards, celebrating Victoria’s creative scene.
Peno joined his bandmates on the road for several major tours in the past decade, including the A Day on the Green outdoor concert series in 2016, with Hoodoo Gurus, Sunnyboys, Violent Femmes and Ratcat, and a joint national tour the following year with Radio Birdman.
The singer’s battle with cancer became a public one when, in February 2019, it was announced via the band’s social channels that Peno had been diagnosed with oesophageal cancer and that all upcoming shows were scrapped as he underwent treatment.
Support Act, the charity for Australia’s music community, rallied behind Peno with the “Help a Mate” appeal.
“For the 40 years Ron entertained us as Died Pretty’s frontman he was never less than always charismatic,” reads the tribute from his surviving bandmates. “He has provided warm and enduring memories for those who shared the stage with him and for his audience. For many he is the soundtrack of their lives. He leaves us a legacy of extraordinary recordings that will continue to be treasured into the future.
“Our hearts go out to Charity, Zebadiah and all his family and friends at this time. Ron will be sorely missed. The world will be a smaller place without him.”