The large stone slab marking the final resting place of rocker David Murray Brockie features his face surrounded by sharp, tentacled armor and hands clasping a jagged sword. On this plot in Hollywood Cemetery — the burial grounds for two former U.S. presidents — the alien engravings and Dwarven runes pay tribute to the outsized character friends and fans bid farewell five years ago by burning his costume in a Viking funeral ceremony.
On Friday, people from all around the country, most of them dressed in all black or in denim vests covered with patches, gathered in the iconic Richmond cemetery for the unveiling of Brockie’s headstone, who before his death in 2014 made a name performing around the world as Oderus Urungus, the obscene, foul-mouthed alien frontman of Richmond metal band GWAR.
It would have been his 56th birthday.
“We were all still in shock at the memorial after he died. That was really sad,” said Casey Orr, who recently returned to performing in GWAR as Beefcake the Mighty. “I think a lot of people were worried about bringing up those horrible feelings again. But this is more about celebrating all the great stuff we remember about him.”
Originally from Canada, Brockie came to Richmond in the early 1980s and performed in the hardcore punk band Death Piggy before going on to co-found GWAR in 1984, elevating the prominence and reputation of the city’s artistic scene by bringing together a collective of musicians and artists who have been involved in the band’s productions over the past 35 years.
Throughout his career with GWAR, which remains active today without any of its original founding members, Brockie helped create a large, complex mythology around the band, performing as the leader of a grotesque intergalactic barbarian war party in jagged, fleshy, prosthetic warrior costumes. Their risque, satirical stage show regularly features simulated executions of fans and celebrities, dousing audiences in fake blood and other fluids.
Brockie was found dead in his Richmond home on March 23, 2014, after an accidental heroin overdose, according to the state’s chief medical examiner. A few months after his death, the band held a Viking-style funeral for Brockie’s character, burning his costume in a public ceremony at Hadad’s Lake in Henrico County.
The headstone unveiled Friday is etched with lyrics sung by Brockie: “Life is painful/Life is long/Life’s too short/It’s like a song.”
Ashley Mercurio, a 28-year-old who came from Massachusetts for the memorial unveiling, said she first saw GWAR when she was 16.
She said she later met Brockie when he wasn’t performing as Oderus Urungus, and would try to spend time with the band before and after their performances whenever they would come near her hometown.
“It’s giving me so much closure that we’ve needed. I suppressed my sadness for so long. I see this and I’m automatically crying. But I’m not sad,” she said. “He’s finally at rest. And I can come visit him whenever I want.”
Mercurio said she got to know Brockie personally and considered him to be a sort of encouraging father figure.
“He was such a great, humble man,” she said.
Russ Bahorsky, who used to play in GWAR and Death Piggy with Brockie, said they came across each other the first time at a punk concert in Washington, D.C., in the early 1980s, but were later introduced in Richmond at a Shafer Court concert at Virginia Commonwealth University. He said they started Death Piggy shortly after that, which eventually led to the creation of GWAR.
While many will remember Brockie for the outrageous, larger-than-life character he played, shocking and delighting audiences, Bahorsky said he was always compassionate.
“He was a complicated guy. He would always surprise you,” Bahorsky said. “He was always either deeper and more caring or more flamboyant than you ever thought he could be.”
GWARbar at 217 W. Clay St. will hold a public party featuring performances by RAWG — a GWAR tribute band featuring its members out of costume — and other local metal bands on Saturday in honor of Brockie’s birthday starting at 1 p.m.