Tommy DeVito, a founding member and lead guitarist of chart-topping 1960s vocal group the Four Seasons and the inspiration for a key character in the 2005 jukebox musical Jersey Boys and its 2014 movie adaptation, died Monday nioght from complications related to COVID-19 in Las Vegas. He was 92.
His death was announced by his friend, the actor Alfred Nittoli, in a Facebook post Tuesday. Four Seasons frontman Frankie Valli and keyboardist-songwriter Bob Gaudio tweeted a joint statement: “It is with great sadness that we report that Tommy DeVito, a founding member of the Four Seasons, has passed. We send our love to his family during this most difficult time. He will be missed by all who loved him.”
Formed from previous New Jersey doo-wop group the Four Lovers — which featured both baritone singer DeVito and, with his instantly recognizable falsetto, Valli — the Four Seasons took their new name in 1960. The founding, classic lineup included DeVito, Valli, Gaudio and Nick Massi, with producer Bob Crewe a vital element of the team.
By 1962, the group topped the charts with its hit “Sherry,” written by Gaudio and featuring what would become the signature sound: Valli’s wide-ranging, falsetto-reaching vocals harmonizing with DeVito’s baritone.
One of the few American doo-wop groups to stand strong against the Beatles-led British Invasion, the Four Seasons would, within the next five years, follow “Sherry” with such hits as “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Rag Doll,” — all four of which hit No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100 — “Candy Girl,” “Dawn (Go Away), “Let’s Hang On” and “Working My Way Back to You.”
DeVito, a native of Belleville, NJ., left the group in 1970, publicly blaming a hearing problem for his departure. In reality, gambling debts to loan sharks and tax issues were behind his exit, with Valli and Gaudio reportedly assuming his debts and buying him out of the group.
DeVito’s troubles and his strained friendships within the band would become a central storyline in Jersey Boys, the long-running Broadway musical with songs by Gaudio and Crewe and a book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. (DeVito was played by Christian Hoff in the original Broadway cast and by The Sopranos alum Vincent Piazza in Clint Eastwood’s 2014 film adaptation.)
“I’m not proud of what I did,” DeVito said in a 2014 interview with NJ.com. “I’m not ashamed of it either.”
It is with great sadness that we report that Tommy DeVito, a founding member of The Four Seasons, has passed.
We send our love to his family during this most difficult time.
He will be missed by all who loved him.⁰⁰- Frankie Valli & Bob Gaudio
— Frankie (@frankievalli) September 22, 2020