Michael Buckner | Frazer Harrison, Getty Images Now this is a collaboration that…
- Posted on Dec 5th 2008 5:00PM by James Sullivan
After some success as a blue-eyed doo-wop act in the late 1950s, L.A. high school buddies Jan Berry and Dean Torrence befriended Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys on the touring circuit. Wilson, who was having trouble finishing a song called 'Surf City,' gave it to the duo, and their version shot to No. 1 in the summer of 1963. 'Dead Man's Curve,' co-written by Berry, Wilson and a drag-racing DJ named Roger Christian, immortalized the treacherous corner that had been the site of dozens of accidents, including the one that left Blanc in a three-week coma. (Fans of the cartoon voice man addressed their get-well cards to "Bugs Bunny, Hollywood.") The song was one of nine more Top 40 singles Jan & Dean would release in the next two years. Their short-lived popularity earned the pair a hosting role on the vastly influential 1964 concert film 'The T.A.M.I. Show,' featuring the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, James Brown and others.
By 1966, however, surf music had begun to fade. Brian Wilson was preparing to release the Beach Boys' orchestral opus, 'Pet Sounds.' Jan & Dean, meanwhile, were casting a wide net for a new direction, dabbling in folk rock, instrumentals and the 'Batman' craze.
In April, Berry was on his way to a meeting when he crashed his Corvette into a parked truck not far from Dead Man's Curve. He suffered massive head injuries and was partially paralyzed; rescuers initially thought he was dead on arrival. Given little chance of a full recovery, Berry learned to write with his left hand and gradually returned to recording and performing. Though a psychedelic comeback album called 'Carnival of Sound' was never released, a 1978 made-for-TV movie named after Jan & Dean's most macabre song revived interest in the group.
In the 1980s, Berry founded the Jan Berry Center for the Brain Injured, and a decade later he recorded a solo album, 'Second Wave.' He and his old friend Torrence appeared together periodically until Berry's death of a seizure in 2004, at age 62. Though Mel Blanc had been dead since 1989, his signature Looney Tunes sign-off, "Th-th- that's all, folks!" remains, as ever, in heavy syndication.