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Gin Blossoms founder lost 10-year fight against demons

Lisa Davis

Phoenix Gazette, December 07, 1993

Like it did with Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin and so many others, the dark side of making music has claimed the life of one of the Valley's biggest talents.

Douglas Hopkins, founder and former lead guitarist of the Gin Blossoms, killed himself in his Tempe apartment Sunday with a gun he bought at a pawn shop Friday.

His death follows a decadelong bout with depression and alcoholism. He had attempted suicide six times before, including two weeks ago.

Hopkins, 32, wrote jangly guitar-oriented songs reminiscent of the Byrds and Beatles. Many of his songs refer to drinking and the pain that friends and family say he couldn't seem to escape.

"I told him I was sorry I couldn't make him happy," Hopkins' sister, Sara Bennewitz, remembers of her last conversation with him Thursday. "He just said, 'I was born unhappy.'

"I told him I loved him and that I knew I wouldn't see him again. He patted my hand and said goodbye."

Hopkins was kicked out of the Gin Blossoms, while they were recording their first major-label album, "New Miserable Experience." Lead singer Robin Williams [sic] said Hopkins became unreliable and unable to play his leads during the recording sessions.

"I credit Doug for having gotten up every morning for the last two years since that happened," Bennewitz said. "To hear your music being played and see your band on national television is really hard."

The band toured with UB40 and the Neville Brothers and played clubs nationally in its own right.

"Found Out About You"--written by Hopkins--is No. 5 on the Billboard modern rock chart and No. 60 with a bullet on the magazine's pop singles chart. The Gin Blossoms performed on the "Late Show with David Letterman" in October and they were the first band showcased on "The Jon Stewart Show," a new MTV program.

Hopkins said in an earlier interview that he didn't like the trappings of being a rock star--in-store appearances, radio station visits and interviews.

But whatever demons that seem to have driven Hopkins to put a .38-caliber pistol in his mouth and pull the trigger predate his separation from the band.

"It wasn't any single event that caused this," Bennewitz said. "It was a lifetime of unhappiness."

Music, it seemed, was his escape.

"I remember him telling me once that he could hear all the music in his head. All the different parts," said Jim Swafford, a long-time friend.

A 1979 graduate of McClintock High School in Tempe, Hopkins taught himself the guitar after being told he couldn't play because his fingers were too big. He also played keyboards and flute.

"We grew up in suburbia and Doug stuck out like a sore thumb," Bennewitz said. "But we were always close and my parents supported whatever he did."

Before the Gin Blossoms, Hopkins formed a series of bands including The Moral Majority, The Psalms and Algebra Ranch that played at Valley hot spots.

Hopkins graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor's degree in sociology. Only a few blocks away, his apartment was filled with books on everything from philosophy and religion to "Emily Post's Etiquette" and dog training.

"I always thought he was just way too smart to be here on Earth," Swafford said. "He was eternally bored."

"He's one of the most intelligent men I've ever met," he said. "I learned a lot from him. He made me laugh a lot, and I'm going to miss that."

Hopkins' dry wit and wide-reaching vocabulary created songs like The Moral Majority's musical tribute to Jerry Falwell, "Jerry Doesn't Like It" and was the endless entertainment of his friends.

"His talent and musical influences reached beyond the Gin Blossoms and into the music community at large," the band said in a statement released Monday. "He was a gifted musician and his songwriting and songs were part of the very foundation upon which the band was built."

Hopkins had remained friends with band members even after their separation. After being ejected from the Gin Blossoms, Hopkins played briefly with the Chimeras, a local band.

Doug was the classic Rolling Stone-era rock 'n' roller, along with all the problems that entailed," says Karen Lander, spokeswoman for the Tempe/AZ Musicians Coalition.

"Doug was the most important figure on the local music scene. He was the most gifted songwriter...We were all hoping he would pick up the pieces and make a record that would dazzle you," Lander says. "When he came into the room with a guitar, there was a hush. You knew you were in the presence of something extraordinary."

On Friday, Hopkins bought the gun he used to take his life at a Valley pawn shop, according to police reports.

The timing caused some to speculate whether the Brady bill, signed into law last week and set to take effect March 1, would have stopped Hopkins.

Family members had been trying to have Hopkins committed for treatment, Bennewitz said, but he wouldn't cooperate.

Memorial services are scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at Tempe Mortuary, 405 E. Southern Ave. Cards and gifts should be addressed to the mortuary.