Street drummer who appeared on America's Got Talent dies 'of overdose'

San Francisco’s drug epidemic claims celebrity victim: Street drummer who appeared on America’s Got Talent and Will Smith movie The Pursuit of Happyness dies ‘of overdose’

  • Larry Hunt was known for drumming on buckets on San Francisco’s Market St.
  • Hunt had been living in a single room occupancy after being homeless
  • Examiners did not release the cause of death but friends said it was an overdose 

A beloved San Francisco drummer who appeared on American’s Got Talent and in the Will Smith film The Pursuit of Happyness died last week, the latest victim of the drug epidemic sweeping the nation.

Larry Hunt, who was known as ‘Bucket Man’ across San Francisco, died on February 23 at the age of 64. His cause of death has not been confirmed, but friends told KTVU he died from an overdose.

Hunt was famous for filling San Francisco’s Market Street with the sound of his drumming, which he played on a set he made out of upturned buckets and pots.

He became such a fixture on the street that producers of Smith’s 2006 film asked him to make sure he was out on the sidewalk while they were shooting so he could appear in a scene. He hosted his own Ted Talk about his drumming, and performed overseas.

Previously homeless, Hunt was living in a single room occupancy (SRO) home when he died. Friends said his death should serve as a warning about the limited support networks the city’s homeless faced.

Larry Hunt died from an apparent drug overdose at the age of 64 in February

Larry Hunt with actor Will Smith. The drummer appeared in the 2006 Smith movie The Pursuit of Happyness

Hunt’s friends told The San Francisco Chronicle there were organizing a memorial for him, and intend to incorporate the items he used in his improvised drum set into the ceremony.

He was famous among tourists and passersby, who often stopped to film him drumming away. In 2016, he told The Chronicle he ‘made San Francisco more alive.’

His drum kid was made out of 14 five-gallon buckets, over which he laid metal pots and pans, a cowbell for extra percussion, and rolls of duct tape to hold the ensemble together. 

‘We are all devastated,’ said local musician Brian Compton, who recalled meeting Hunt in the 1990s while he was drumming near the UC Berkeley campus.

 ‘Every time I would see him on the Berkeley campus playing drums,’ Campton told The Chronicle. ‘As a bass player, I liked what I heard.’

He and Hunt played some college parties together, and Compton recommended the drummer take his talents to the streets of San Francisco.

‘There are too many crazy people in San Francisco,’ Compton said Hunt responded. ‘You’ll fit right in,’ Compton said he told him.

Larry Hunt was known for lighting his sticks on fire and then licking them

Hunt used to drum near the UC Berkeley campus in the 1990s

Medical examiners have not yet released a cause of death, but drugs are suspected.

Reverend Charles Gray, who runs a market stand near where Hunt would play, said his death was an indicator of the kind of support the city’s formerly homeless and elderly need.

‘A lot of these people, they get trapped in these SROs, and they can’t find their way out. It’s a real tough situation,’ he told SFGATE.

‘Whether it was drug-related or whatever it was, it’s a deep depression that comes with living in these conditions,’ he said. ‘People in there need more mental services and more services that can help these people get into a more standard way of living.’

SROs are run with the San Francisco Human Services Agency. The agency told SFGATE they are only able to focus on housing and food for formerly homeless people, and that their residents need to seek out mental health treatment on their own.

‘I don’t have the answers, but I think checking on some of these seniors in these SROs would be more helpful to a lot of them — to see what their talent is and what they have to offer,’ Said Grays. ‘This generation of seniors is being forgotten. When I was coming up, we respected the elders. The elders really got a lot of love. I’m here, and I get no support.’ 

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