Some Additional Thoughts on the Death of Jaco Pastorius

Jaco Pastorius. Photo Credit: Manfred Becker.
Jaco Pastorius. Photo Credit: Manfred Becker.

(Note: Part one of my analysis of Jaco is here).

I would surmise that one of the reasons the myth of Jaco Pastorius has grown so large in the music world is because of the nature of his death. Yes, he died young, but he didn’t die because of his drug or alcohol habit; he died at the hands of a 25 year old bouncer who laid out a savage beatdown on him. The story itself is tragic, but what is equally tragic is that it is an unresolved story. Was Jaco on the verge of turning the corner and beginning the process of returning to greatness, or was this untimely end to be expected? It’s something we will never solve.

Reading about the beatdown was as bad as anything I’ve read in a book about the Civil War. Luc Havan, the bouncer who ended Jaco’s life, was trained in martial arts and held a third degree black belt in karate. On the night of this incident, Jaco tried to kick in a glass door at Midnight Bottle Club and may have said something derogatory towards Havan, but when Havan started throwing punches, Jaco gave up without any resistance. This is how it went down (from Milkowski, p. 264):

[Jaco’s] skull had been fractured; several facial bones were fractured; his right eye was ruptured and dislodged from its socket; and there was massive internal bleeding. The beating was so intense that Jaco’s teeth went through his lips, and Havan’s ring was imprinted on Jaco’s cheek. There was also heavy bleeding from Jaco’s ear, nose, and mouth. [I’ll also add that had Jaco lived, he would have permanently lost the use of his right eye and his left arm, according to his doctors].

In a sworn affidavit, Detective David C. Jones reported the following testimony from Havan:

In a sworn statement by defendant Havan, Pastorius began to kick the front door of the bottle club. Havan opened the door and Pastorius fled. Havan struck Pastorius with his right hand, causing Pastorius to fall and become unconscious. Havan turned from Pastorius and walked away, leaving him unconscious.

In an interview with the Miami Herald, Jones called bull:

Doctors said, “Sure, he could have received those injuries in a fall–if he fell five or six or seven times”… Both doctors agreed it was unlikely that Pastorius’s injuries were the result of a fall.

Havan served only four months in prison for this crime. In a 2006 interview, Havan continued to stick with his “one punch” story, claiming that that lone punch hit Jaco in the left temple (no mention is made of the imprint from Havan’s ring on Jaco’s cheek). Havan stated:

That’s where I admitted to hitting him, and that’s where he got hit. But his major fracture was on the right side when he fell. The other side of his head hit the ledge by the door. A person who wasn’t an alcoholic or drug addict but was of average health would have recuperated, because it wasn’t that bad of an injury… But because he was in bad health living on the street and not eating a good diet, it made it worse.

I’ll let you decide whether or not having your eye dislodged out of its socket isn’t “that bad of an injury.”

Havan concluded with this:

[Havan] hasn’t made an attempt to apologize to the family since his time in court, saying he doesn’t want to bother them after his first attempt was rebuffed. “The apology is as much to apologize to them as to make me feel better,” he says. “Dealing with life after being involved with this is as important as their loss.”

I certainly understand the guilt that Havan must feel from this tragedy. The dude is now 50 and he must live with the memories of that night for the rest of his life. Ultimately, he will have to answer for his actions to his maker someday, so in that regard I don’t support heaping more scorn onto Havan. He may be a perfectly normal, law-abiding citizen. Perhaps he now has his own family to raise. I don’t know. However, I can’t help but think that this guy doesn’t get it. He is still trying to absolve himself of this crime, and I find the rationalizations made in this 2006 interview pitiful. Jaco started it, so I finished it. I tried to help him, but he wouldn’t listen to me, so I took the problem into my own hands without calling others for help. Jaco died because he was unhealthy; anybody could have recovered from those injuries. I tried making an apology to the Pastorius family after trying to shift the blame for Jaco’s death onto Jaco himself. They didn’t accept my apology, so I’m not going to do anything else to rectify the situation now.

Jaco Pastorius had four kids. Following Havan’s release from jail, Ingrid Pastorius, Jaco’s second wife, remarked that “he served one month for each child he left fatherless.” Was justice served in this instance?

I’d say no way.

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[Update, 12/22/15: In the time since I wrote this post it has been the most popular thing I have ever written on this website, by far. I wrote it not because I’m an expert music historian but simply because I’m a Jaco fan who wanted to know more about the circumstances of his death and share my findings with others. While some comments have been respectful expressions of sadness or reminisces about Jaco’s life and the astounding influence of his music, I receive far more comments on a regular basis from people calling for Luc Havan’s death and/or criticizing me for not doing the same in this piece. While I understand the anger and frustration over the injustice of the case, I think it’s a waste of time to go down that path. I’ve decided to shut down the comments for this post indefinitely. Thanks for reading.]