WASHINGTON – Vance Bockis, a popular fixture in D.C.’s punk rock scene, known both for his charismatic stage presence and recovery from heroin addiction, has died following shoulder surgery. He was 50.
Bockis — short in stature, but long on compelling attractiveness — was the frontman in The Factory, in the ’80s and ’90s, a brash band with bravado similar to the Rolling Stones or New York Dolls.
In the mid-1980s, Bockis played bass in 9353, a bizarre, cutting-edge band whose song and video “Famous Last Words” drew national attention.
Bockis’ musical career and recovery was recently documented in a short film, “Shift,” by moviemaker Steven Biver.
Bockis and a reformed 9353 had recently recorded new material, and The Factory had reunited and was scheduled to play later this month with Kix at the Howard Theatre.
In a WTOP interview, wife Linda Leisz Bockis says her husband had rotator cuff surgery Thursday, and died at their Fairfax County home Saturday, apparently of a blood clot.
The autopsy is pending, according to the Virginia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
“Vance was clean and sober for almost six-and-a-half years,” according to Leisz Bockis.
“He was so thrilled with his life being sober,” according to his wife.
In the 2012 biopic, Vance Bockis acknowledged the damage of his drug addiction, “I should be dead or I should be in prison,” he said plainly.
In the ’80s, Bockis’ stage presence blended Iggy Pop, Jim Morrison, and Ozzy Osbourne.
Bockis said CBS Records was interested in signing The Factory.
“I was completely hooked on dope, and I totally unraveled and fell apart. I was so sick when I walked into the offices of CBS Records they just looked at our managers and said ‘get him some help, and come back and see us,’ Bockis recalled earlier this year in the Biver film.
“I was 112 pounds, and I was completely sick. I needed a shot of dope so bad. It was the last thing in the world I wanted, but I needed it,” Bockis said. Looking in his bathroom mirror, Bockis saw a “greasy, yellow-toned skeleton of a person.”
Realizing he was wasting his gifts, Bockis hit rock bottom.
“Some people would call that humility to finally admit the truth. Some people would call it God’s grace. I guess in the real world we would call it a moment of clarity,” Bockis recalled.
Bockis and his future wife met four years ago at a fundraiser for their mutual support groups, and continued their involvement in Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.
Bockis’ wife said he had previous blood clots, high blood pressure, and circulation problems attributable to his prior drug use.
“He tore himself up shooting dope. He’d been hard,” said Leisz Bockis.
As he recently returned to music following his recovery, “He surrounded himself with musicians who knew him in the day and wanted him to succeed,” according to his wife.
“Vance was a performer. He wanted to be in front of people. That’s what he loved,” Leisz Bockis said.