Corbett’s death was confirmed by his sister in a post on his Facebook page. “Those who knew Gary know that we and the world of music have all lost a very talented, funny, kind and gentle soul,” she wrote. “The pain cuts so deeply that our hearts are bleeding.”
In mid-June, Corbett’s family revealed he was dealing with a “very aggressive form of lung cancer that has metastasized to his brain and hip.” They launched a GoFundMe campaign to help Corbett and his wife, Lenora, who were without health insurance deal with their living expenses and mounting medical costs.
Growing up in Brooklyn, in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Corbett took to music early, starting piano lessons at age four. By the time he was 10, he was earning money playing private parties on weekends. He progressed quickly, performing in a variety of bands and playing many different forms of music, including a ‘40s-style big group with members of The Tonight Show band.
The Hunter gig was short-lived; Corbett was just filling in for Hunter’s regular keyboard player, Tommy Mandel. But he later said the experience gave him the chance to meet a number of key connections, including Bruce and Bob Kulick, who had just finished touring with Meat Loaf.
By the ‘80s, Corbett had become an in-demand session player in the New York City area. He wrote “She Bop,” a 1984 No. 3 Billboard hit for Cyndi Lauper, and also collaborated with Debbie Gibson and Martika.
He joined up with Lou Gramm when the Foreigner singer toured in support of his debut solo album, Ready or Not, in 1987. It was Gramm who recommended Corbett to Paul Stanley when he learned Kiss were looking for a touring keyboardist.
Corbett first toured with Kiss on their 1987 Crazy Nights tour and maintained his role with the band through its 1992 travels in support of Revenge. He played offstage, joining the legion of shadow players in the ‘80s and ‘90s who were heard but not seen at Kiss shows. “There seemed to be a trend in the ’80s that bands didn’t want the image of having a keyboard player onstage,” he explained during an interview with L.A. Weekly. “Some people think keyboards aren’t as much of a rock instrument as a guitar. Gene Simmons is definitely of that mindset.”
Visible or not, Corbett became a valuable part of the onstage sound of Kiss, playing keys but also using synths to fatten the group’s rhythm guitars and other instruments. “Those guys put on such a show,” he said in the same interview. “Gene and Paul are running around so much, and sometimes the playing takes a backseat to the show. So in order for certain parts to never stop, you reinforce Paul’s guitar parts or you’re doubling the bass on certain things to fill out the bottom end.”
Watch Gary Corbett Perform ‘Rock and Roll All Nite’ With Kiss
He teamed up with Cinderella at the beginning of the ‘90s, performing on their Heartbreak Station tour. He scored a platinum album for playing on the band’s Wayne’s World soundtrack track “Hot and Bothered,” which later appeared on their 1994 album, Still Climbing.
Corbett remained a part of the Cinderella organization, participating in their sporadic tours in 2006, 2010 and 2011. More recently, he was part of the all-star collective Scrap Metal with the Nelson twins, Mark Slaughter, Lita Ford and others.
“Gary Corbett was an extremely talented songwriter and keyboard player who I had the pleasure to tour with during my Kiss years,” Bruce Kulick said in a statement. “He did three tours with the band, and although he was offstage, his keyboard support, friendship and good nature made him feel like the fifth member of Kiss. … Gary will be missed.”
Corbett is survived by his wife and family.
In Memoriam: 2021 Deaths
Remembering the musicians, actors, producers and others who have died in 2021.