Tommy DeVito, an original member of the Four Seasons, the quartet that rocketed to fame in the early 1960s with "Sherry" and other hits and earned new generations of fans when the Broadway musical "Jersey Boys" told a semi-factual version of the group's story, died Sept. 21 in Henderson, Nev. He was 92.
Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio, the two surviving original members, announced his death. The cause was the novel coronavirus. DeVito had moved to Las Vegas decades ago after leaving the Four Seasons in 1970.
Growing up in difficult circumstances in his native New Jersey, DeVito was, in his own words, "a hell-raiser" as a youth, but he found a purpose with music. He formed a band called the Variety Trio with one of his brothers and Nick Massi, who would become the Four Seasons' fourth member when that group coalesced in about 1960. (Massi died in 2000 at 73.)
The key component, though, was Valli, with his falsetto vocals. In a 2008 interview with the music publication Goldmine, DeVito recalled that his trio performed regularly at a bar in Belleville, N.J., when Valli, a teenager six years younger than him, would sneak in to watch them play. He and the other band members knew Valli from the neighborhood and knew that he had pipes.
"I'd call him up to the stage and let him sing," DeVito said. "He'd get off right away, because he wasn't really supposed to be in there; he was underage."
Before long, Valli was in the group, which went through name and lineup changes before becoming the Four Seasons. "Sherry," the breakout hit, topped the charts in 1962, and a stream of hits followed, including "Walk Like a Man" (1963) and "Rag Doll" (1964).
DeVito didn't entirely shed his hell-raiser past; he ran up debts and caused tensions. In 1970, he was either forced out, as some accounts say, or left because the pressures of touring had disagreed with him, as he explained it.
He quickly burned through his money and took jobs working in casinos and cleaning houses to get by.
DeVito also had some success as a record producer and recorded an album of Italian folk songs.
Seeing a version of himself portrayed in "Jersey Boys" was startling, he said. But he was comfortable with the show, which he described as "about 85 percent true to life."
"When you first see yourself being played, you look at the actor, who is Christian Hoff, and say: 'Do I look like that? Did I talk like that? Was I really a bad guy?' " he told Goldmine. "And I was. I was pretty bad when I was a kid."
Gaetano DeVito was born on June 19, 1928, in Belleville, the youngest of nine children. He left school after eighth grade and started playing in local venues for modest amounts, getting into scrapes with the law from time to time. "Jersey Boys" implies that he was somehow connected to organized crime, but that was an exaggeration, he said, done for the sake of the story.
"I was never part of the mob," he said.
"Jersey Boys" opened on Broadway in November 2005 and ran until January 2017, one of the longest runs in Broadway history. (Clint Eastwood directed a film version in 2014.) The show won four Tony Awards, including best musical and best featured actor (Hoff).
If the musical massaged the truth a bit, DeVito generally complained about only one thing in the script: a crack about the cleanliness of his underwear. "I was the most cleanest guy in the whole group," he said. "I'm clean. I'm very clean."