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.


[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.]

23 thoughts on “Some Additional Thoughts on the Death of Jaco Pastorius

  1. Thank you. Jaco wasn’t my favorite bassist growing up, but I’m listening to his music a lot more nowadays. It amazes me how much he did to change the face of music within such a small period (roughly ten or so years). I can’t help but wonder what he’d be doing today if he were still alive. It’s all very tragic.

    Thanks again for the comment.

  2. Answer to his maker? Are you kidding me?
    God may not even exist. Religion is not fact, that’s why it is called belief..
    Justice NOW, on earth please.

  3. I read the book you reference in your first article back in ’99. I was just then becoming a connoisseur of Jaco’s music. To this day, I still weep thinking about the horrific beating he took. He was a once in a lifetime talent and for him to leave us in way he did is beyond tragic. I just learned today he was on the Al Di Meola song Suite Golden Dawn, a song I’ve owned on album since the 80’s. It’s discoveries like this that keep him alive for me. I also listen to Bright Size Life on a loop on my work computer as my background “thinking music”. Daily inspiration.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment for sharing your story. Jaco was a special musician and person. I was born the same year he died and it saddens me knowing that I never got a chance to see him perform live.

  4. I loaned Jaco my Jazz bass in San Fran in 1985. There are a bunch of pictures taken from that night and one will go on my wall. I tried and tried to buy a print from the photographer who took the shots but he blew me off. It was an interesting afternoon and evening spent with Jaco. He was in pretty rough shape but he was coherent and kind to me. We talked about Motown bass legend James Jamerson quite a bit as he had just passed. It was a thrill to meet him! He was playing with a band called Nightfood. I’ll never forget standing behind the curtains backstage as he tore the roof off of the sucka playing Purple Haze on my bass thru an Ampeg SVT!!!

  5. Kinda hard to believe Jaco’s murderer is still walking, breathing freely, a real estate agent in S. FL i believe… i’d call the murderous scumbag lucky that nobody in the Pastorius family or inner circle hasn’t set up a time to look at a property then put hollow point round through his temple, which, would be no less than he deserves.

    1. I think many of us agree that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime in this particular instance, but enacting revenge on Havan wouldn’t change the fact that Jaco is dead. Having to live with your conscience after committing such violence is a pretty strong punishment too.

          1. well, you said that “Having to live with your conscience after committing such violence is a pretty strong punishment ” and I say that if he doesn’t care it is not a punishment, that’s all. From a legal perspective it makes a difference in that it tells every law abiding citizen that the Law seems to have failed Jaco Pastorius.
            At least the Law of the land he got murdered in, anyway.

          2. Yeah, I don’t know what else to tell you. I think we’re all in agreement that Havan’s punishment was too light and that even in 2006 he was still trying to exonerate himself from the crime he committed. He served his sentence and did everything he was supposed to do from a legal perspective. What he did was wrong, but I don’t know what else we can do because he served his time. We don’t do double jeopardy in this country. Havan may or may not care about his past actions. If he doesn’t care know he probably didn’t care then. I don’t know. Thanks reading and commenting.

          3. “there’s nothing else we can do about it” we can always hope the scumbag gets ran over by a cement mixer instead of assuming he’s getting punished by his own conscience? Thank YOU for mentioning Jaco anyway, I don’t mean to antagonize you or anything.

          4. No worries, you’re fine. I am a bassist and love Jaco just as much anyone else, but I just don’t see what good comes out of wishing revenge on Havan. Thanks again for commenting.

          5. I think we’re at a good point to wrap up this conversation. I’ll conclude by pointing out once again that I wish–just as much as anyone else–that justice had been done for Jaco at the time that Luc Havan was sentenced to a mere four months in prison. It was a farce of justice and an insult to the rest of Jaco’s family and his millions of fans.

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