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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

R.I.P. James Woolley, former Nine Inch Nails keyboardist

Woolley (left) in the video for Nine Inch Nails' "March Of The Pigs"
Woolley (left) in the video for Nine Inch Nails' "March Of The Pigs"

Consequence Of Sound is reporting that James Woolley, the Grammy-winning keyboardist for Nine Inch Nails during some of the band’s most celebrated live performances, has died. Woolley was 50 years old.

Coming up through Chicago-based industrial act Die Warzau (alongside drummer Chris Vrenna, another NIN alum), Woolley joined Trent Reznor’s decades-spanning musical project at a pivotal moment, just before its first Lollapalooza set in 1991. (And two years after the commercial success of its debut album, Pretty Hate Machine.) Taking over for Lee Mars, Woolley’s tenure saw the band transition into a headlining act, culminating in a performance at Woodstock ’94 that was watched by 24 million people via pay-per-view, and earned the band a Grammy for its performance of “Happiness In Slavery.”

Outside of touring, Woolley appeared on several of the band’s music videos, including “Wish”—also a Grammy-winner—and “March Of The Pigs.” He also appears on portions of the concert film Closure, which documents the band’s Self-Destruct Tour.

Woolley left the band in 1994, during the run of Self-Destruct—and not long before the release of The Downward Spiral, the album that transformed Nine Inch Nails into a full-fledged household name. Never credited on any of the band’s albums, Woolley was nevertheless influential in a key moment in the group’s development, contributing to its mystique as one of the most aggressive touring acts in all of rock.


After leaving NIN, Woolley returned to Die Warzau for a time, and toured for a time with Rob Halford’s 2wo. (He also apparently worked as a sound designer for The Simpsons.) Since 2006, Woolley had been working on music under the name V.O.I.D., but despite frequent promises that an album was in the works, none of the music he’d worked on in the past decade seems to have surfaced.

Woolley’s death was announced on Facebook yesterday by his ex-wife, Kate Van Buren, who wrote, “James worked hard and played hard with NIN. He brought coolness to playing keyboards, which isn’t as easy to do as playing guitar or drums.” She also praised his dedication to their kids.

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