Monday, February 22, 1999

Fellow musicians
hit hard by
Feary’s death

The members of Kalapana and
others express regret that he did not
come to them with his drug problem

By Lori Tighe


The drug "ice" brought beloved singer Mackey Feary Jr. down as an ordinary man with human frailties, his friends said.

Fellow musicians and fans are reeling at the death of Feary, of the local group Kalapana, who hanged himself with a bedsheet Saturday in his Halawa Correctional Facility cell.

"Mackey was a one-of-a-kind musician, an idol to many, a child star, a self-made legend in Hawaiian music. What took him down was the drug scene," said Malani Bilyeu, a guitar player with Kalapana, from his Kauai home yesterday.

"Drugs will strike anybody; it doesn't matter who you are. He had everything," said Bilyeu, who said he fought his own drug war and has been sober for eight years. "I will miss him. He was a big part of the music scene, like Iz," he said, referring to Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, who died in 1997.

Members of Kalapana expressed anger through their tears that Feary, 43, didn't turn to them for help.

"It's sad because I'm a friend right here," Bilyeu said. "Why didn't he talk to me?"

Cecilio Rodriguez, of the group Cecilio and Kapono, found out about Feary's suicide from a Guam customs official as he returned to Hawaii from a gig in Japan.

"It hit me in the stomach. I was angry. Mackey, don't you know you have friends around you that care for you?" said Rodriguez, choking back sobs. "I said, 'I've got to go home and think about this.'"

Feary's family seemed concerned that prison guards left the singer alone in his cell, given his depressed state, said Gaylord Holomalia, who played keyboards with Kalapana.

A relative, Rodney Feary, said the family wasn't ready to talk about his death.

All the friends who offered their support and the chances the courts gave Feary weren't enough against his addiction to crystal methamphetamine.

Feary served six months in jail for smashing his wife's car window with a hammer in a Waimalu shopping center and possessing "ice" on Sept. 4, 1996.

The singer tried to hang himself the day after he was arrested, but police rescued him.

Feary dropped out of several drug treatment programs and failed several drug tests while serving five years of probation.

Feary, who had worn out his chances, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in January.

"When he went to jail the first time, I went to see him," Rodriguez recalled. "I told him, 'You're surrounded by friends who love you. Nothing is so bad as to end it all.'"

But Feary looked back with a hardened veneer, he said.

"I loved him as the man I always knew, but there was an invisible wall there."

D.J. Pratt of Kalapana said Feary's problems ran deeper than the drugs. They grew up together and body-surfed as teen-agers at Sandy and Makapuu beaches. They both attended Kalani High School.

"At first I was angry. I was kind of surprised, but not surprised at how far he would take it," said Pratt, who lost a younger brother who also hanged himself. "Emotionally, psychologically, it seems Mackey had problems that people didn't know about," Pratt said.

Feary had been known as the brooding, quiet front man for Kalapana. He joined the band at the age of 16.

"We were all young but he was the kid," Bilyeu said. "He held up the songwriting part of the group. I learned from him. He was one of those special persons born with it."

He wrote songs on planes, buses, even while watching TV.

"I'll never forget: We were watching TV together," recalled Maurice Bega, 41, of Maui, who played with Feary since 1979. "He left the room, then ran back and said, 'Brah, listen to this song I just wrote.' He wrote it while we were watching TV. I couldn't believe it."

Feary structured music and lyrics in his head, unlike many songwriters who need a guitar and endless rewrites.

"He was the most talented musician/songwriter I have ever known in my life. He took me to the next level of performing," Bega said.

But like many of his peers, Feary got sucked into the drug scene.

His use of "ice" affected his marriage to Dana Feary and their four children. Their union began crumbling in the last few years, Bilyeu said.

Feary turned to God for help, but he returned to his old circle of friends. "He couldn't grow. He was still weak," Bilyeu said. "You get leeches pushing the dope. They want to be around the scene. He had too many around. Dealers are always around like lice."

Feary fought a spiritual battle, but he had "ice" flowing through his veins. "You don't control 'ice,' it controls you," Rodriguez said.

"If you don't have forces surrounding you to help you, it calls you back. 'Ice' said it wasn't done with him."

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