Joseph J. Siracusa, who played drums in the City Slickers of bandleader Spike Jones in the 1940s and 50s before embarking on a long career in Hollywood animation studios, died Saturday, according to his son Steve Siracusa.
He was 99 years old when he died at the Tarzana home in the San Fernando Valley, where he had lived since 1960. Siracusa, who everyone knew as Joe, had a truly wonderful life after almost a century.
Siracusa loved sharing their experiences – and if you’ve had as much fun as him, who wouldn’t?
The Cleveland native loved making music from an early age, playing in orchestras through high school and afterwards until he was drafted into the army during World War II.
His musical talents got him into a military dance band just before he was supposed to ship overseas. “My drums saved my life!” Siracusa said during an interview in 2020. He also became an all-round performer in the band, he recalled.
“I took the mop and put it on my head like a wig,” he said. “And when the singer started singing, I said, ‘Oh Frankie, sing’ Keep Me, Baby! ‘ – Back then, Frank Sinatra was popular and all the ladies shouted for him. “
After the war, he got a job with Spike Jones and the City Slickers, which required not only tight musicality but the ability to use Jones’ comedic flow on shows across the country. They even played in the White House, where Siracusa President Harry S. Truman shook hands.
Siracusa was a natural not only behind the drums but also in creating gags like a facsimile of his own head that he sometimes wore on his shoulder, or glasses that one of the singers wore those splashed fake tears on Jones, as the one Singer performed the standard “I Cried For You”.
In the early 1950s, Siracusa left the City Slickers and the streets to settle in Los Angeles with his wife, Eleanor and a family that eventually included four children. He found work as a senior executive in various animation studios and worked on such well-known cartoon characters as Mr. Magoo, the Pink Panther and Spider-Man.
In this chapter of his life he met luminaries like Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, and Marvel maestro Stan Lee know and befriended him. He became a member of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts & Sciences and voted for the Oscars every year.
After his wife’s death in 1997, Siracusa remained active and fun. On Veteran’s Day, he would sometimes go to the local supermarket where the managers would have him play patriotic tunes through the PA.
And he loved to dance almost until the end of his life, seldom missed a class at the local senior center, where he danced and also helped the teacher.
“I had such a blessed, wonderful life,” said Siracusa at the end of the 2020 interview.
Siracusa leaves behind two of his four children, Geraldine “Gerry” Gomara and Steve Siracusa, as well as an extended family with 47 grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.
A celebration of life will eventually take place at Christ Community Church in Canoga Park, which Siracusa attended for many years, said Steve Siracusa.
It is tentatively set for February 5, 2022, two days after Siracusa would have turned 100.