Stephan Ellis, the former bassist for the renowned 1980s arena rock outfit Survivor, has died at the age of 69. He is perhaps best known for playing on the band’s signature hit, Rocky IV’s ‘Eye Of The Tiger’.
Survivor’s longtime guitarist, Frankie Sullivan, confirmed Ellis’ death on the band’s Facebook. At the time of writing, no cause of death has been revealed.
“We are devastated to hear that Stephan Ellis has passed away,” Sullivan wrote. “Steph was the guy who was only interested in the music. He absolutely had a special charm with the fans and within the band. I loved much when it came to Steph.”
Survivor formed in 1978, but Ellis didn’t join the band until the early Eighties. The bassist arrived in time to help the group record their 1981 album, Premonition, which featured their first Top 40 hit, ‘Poor Man’s Son.’ One year later, Sylvester Stallone approached Survivor to record a song for Rocky IV, resulting in the band’s signature smash, ‘Eye of the Tiger.’
‘Eye of the Tiger’ topped the Billboard Hot 100 for six weeks, while the band’s 1982 LP of the same name peaked at Number Two on the albums chart. The track won the Grammy for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group and was even nominated for Best Original Song at the 1982 Oscars.
Ellis continued to record and perform with Survivor throughout their prolific 1980s heyday. Between 1983 and 1987 – when Ellis was forced to leave the group for medical reasons – Survivor released three more albums and notched a string of Top 10 hits including ‘High On You,’ ‘The Search Is Over,’ and ‘Burning Heart.’ The latter – off the Rocky IV soundtrack – became the band’s second biggest hit, peaking at Number Two.
In his post, Sullivan recalled working with Ellis during this period, specifically the track, ‘Keep It Right Here.’ “The bass part and lines in the intro just folded into the mix and it was the bass part that inspired me to reach higher on my guitar,” Sullivan remembered. “We cut our tracks together, live in the studio. Steph’s runs on the neck of that blue bass are as memorable as the song itself.”
Former Survivor singer Dave Bickler, who sang on ‘Eye of the Tiger,’ added on Twitter, “Just heard the sad news that Stephan Ellis has passed away! A great musician and a great band mate! One of a kind!”
Post-Survivor, Ellis and the band’s ex drummer, Marc Droubay, formed a group with guitarist Rod McClure called Club M.E.D. that released an album, Sampler, in 1990. In the mid-90s, Ellis and Droubay rejoined Survivor though the bassist left again in 1999.
Over the next few decades, Ellis would periodically play a few shows with Survivor, but otherwise remained busy with other projects. He played bass on David Glen Eisley’s 2000 album, Stranger for the Past, while he also produced British singer Samantha Fox’s 2005 LP Angel With an Attitude.