Vance Bockis, 50, a legend of the Washington, D.C., Metro area punk scene of the 1980s, died Saturday in his Fairfax home after recently having undergone shoulder surgery.
According to his wife, Linda Leisz, Bockis took a fall in June and injured his rotator cuff, which led to last week’s surgery.
“He slipped on a staircase and jammed his elbow,” she said. “After his surgery, he didn’t seem to recover well. We were scheduled to go to the beach Sunday, so I told him Saturday to lay down on the couch and take a nap. After awhile, I noticed that he had stopped snoring so I went to check on him and he was no longer breathing.”
Leisz said Bockis’ cause of death has yet to be determined.
“I’m waiting on a coroner’s report, but apparently there is only one lab in Virginia, and they told me it might be three to four months before we know for sure,” she said.
Leisz said Bockis had been a longtime heroin addict, but had been clean for more than six years.
According to those who knew him well, Bockis was known as much for being a charismatic, charming and down-to-earth personality offstage as he was for his untamed onstage bravado.
Born on a Friday the 13th in 1961, he began playing bass guitar while attending J.E.B Stuart High School in 1978 for the band Petagram. Bockis graduated from the school in 1979.
“It was surreal,” he said about that first rock ‘n’ roll experience in the 2012 documentary about his life “Shift” directed by Falls Church filmmaker Steven Biver.
“I had just learned how to play and before I knew it, we were opening for bands like Judas Priest,” Bockis says in the documentary.
Bockis went on to become the lead singer in punk bands The Obsessed, 9353 and The Factory.
Biver, who worked with Bockis on the film, said he met the charismatic frontman two-and-a-half years ago.
“Some good friends of mine were in a band called Freaktrain and they said ‘You’ve got to meet him’.” Biver said. “When we met, I really connected with him. He was such a pleasure to work with. He was so electric and had such a childlike creative energy.”
Biver said he was inspired by Bockis’ life experiences and wanted to make a documentary about the way Bockis overcame his heroin addiction and made a better life for himself.
“That’s why it is called ‘Shift,’” he said.
In the short film, Bockis recalls a time in the late 1980s that CBS Records wanted to sign The Factory to its recording label.
"I was completely hooked on dope, and I totally unraveled and fell apart. I was so sick when I walked into the offices of CBS Records they just looked at our managers and said 'Get him some help, and come back and see us,'” Bockis said. "I was 112 pounds, and I was completely sick. I needed a shot of dope so bad. It was the last thing in the world I wanted, but I needed it … looking at myself in a bathroom mirror, I saw a greasy, yellow-toned skeleton of a person."
Middleton resident and Factory guitarist Robbie Limon, who knew Bockis for more than 30 years, remembers the CBS Records incident.
“I was with Vance on that gig,” he said Wednesday. “That was a very low point for him, but it made me so proud to hear years later that he had kicked the habit and gotten himself clean.”
Limon, Bockis and other Factory members recently got back together to record new music on the Acetate Records label.
“Vance had always been a phenomenal frontman and a great friend. It was so nice to have him back,” Limon said. “In his sobriety, all the conversations between us ended with ‘I love you.’ We put out one disc of music and were working on a second when this happened. I was shocked, but you know what? He went out on a high note. He was clean and happy and he went out a champion.”
Leisz said that since her husband’s death, her cell phone has been ringing nonstop with calls from fans.
“He was loved by so many and in such a great place in his life, and always had a smile on his face,” she said. “One caller said that Vance ‘brought the sunshine of his soul to the world,’ and I couldn’t agree more.”
Services for Bockis will take place 6 p.m. Sept. 13 at Fairfax Memorial Funeral Home, 9902 Braddock Road. Receiving will be from 6 to 7 p.m. and the service begins at 7 p.m.