Tommy Allsup, famed guitarist who lost a coin toss that saved his life, dies at 85

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Tommy Allsup, a guitarist best known for losing a coin toss that kept him off the plane that later crashed and killed the rock ’n’ roll stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper, died on Wednesday in Springfield, Mo. He was 85.

The cause was complications of a hernia operation, his son Austin, a singer and musician, said. He had been hospitalized earlier this month.

Tommy Allsup was a member of Holly’s band when Holly and the others, who were on tour, died in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa, on Feb. 3, 1959.

Mr. Allsup flipped a coin to see whether he or Valens would get a seat on the plane. He lost and took a bus to the next stop on the tour.

Holly, Valens, the Big Bopper (J. P. Richardson) and the pilot, Roger Peterson, died when the plane crashed in the Iowa countryside. Their deaths were recalled as “the day the music died” in Don McLean’s 1971 hit song, “American Pie.”

Austin Allsup said that his father took losing the coin toss as “a blessing” and was humbled to be connected to “such a monumental moment in music history.”

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