Kirk Rundstrom in a photo from Split Lip Rayfield's West Coast Tour in 2005.

Kirk Rundstrom in a photo from Split Lip Rayfield's West Coast Tour in 2005.

Kansas musician and icon Kirk Rundstrom will no longer take the stage, playing for the fans he loved so much. After battling cancer for more than a year, Rundstrom died today at 4:45 a.m. in Wichita. He was 38.

Until the end, Rundstrom dedicated himself tirelessly to his music-recording for his solo project and touring with several bands, including the widely adored hillbilly hardcore band, Split Lip Rayfield. Last weekend, he and his wife, Lisa, were north of New York City at Bicoastal Music, mixing his soon-to-be-released solo album with Colin Mahoney when he fell ill and was hospitalized.

Friends and family joined him in New York, but he was determined to get back home to Wichita, said his friend and manager of Split Lip, Amanda Haase. He made it back to Wichita Monday evening and died Thursday morning in his home. He is survived by his wife Lisa, daughters Ellie and Mollie, father Bernerd, and puppy Amelia.

Donations for the family are being accepted through A memorial service is scheduled for 1 p.m. Monday at the Orpheum Theatre.

Rundstrom learned he had esophageal cancer just over a year ago. Although he was without health insurance, an outpouring of dozens of benefits organized by musicians, artists and fans was immediate and prolonged.

He underwent months of chemotherapy and radiation, and then surgery to remove the tumor in June. It was then that doctors told him the cancer had spread too far and was inoperable-they said he had two to six months to live.

Rather than continue with the conventional treatments, Rundstrom sought relief from his symptoms with alternative treaments including acupuncture, Vitamin C therapy and-perhaps most importantly-music.

In August, Split Lip-reunited with former mandolinist Wayne Gottstine-played five Kansas shows, followed by a national tour with Rundstrom often traveling by plane. Despite being billed as a "farewell tour," Rundstrom would eventually play dozens more shows, continuing to give impossibly energized performances to the end. His last performance in Kansas was Dec. 29 at The Bottleneck, defying the doctors' prognosis more than a hundred percent.

Audio clips

Split Lip Rayfield Farewell Tour

With his death, a rare breed was lost-a champion of the working class, a big dreamer and hard worker who lived to do what he loved most: play music. Though he's gone, his presence will continue to be felt for many years to come.

A Kansas boy born and bred, Rundstrom grew up in the small town of Canton before moving to Wichita at age 16. Though he at one time aspired to the bright lights of Los Angeles, he inevitably moved back to Kansas, "where people were real"-where he could find the sincerity and honesty that he'd grown to love.

All they got

Before the creation of the infamous bluegrass-punk-country hybrid that was Split Lip Rayfield, Rundstrom worked in a number of musical projects, including Technicolor Headrush, Red Lizard, Winking Spaniard, and Scroat Belly. The latter reunited in 2006 to play to grateful friends and fans (view gallery or slideshow of last show at the Bottleneck). A faithful supporter of local music, Rundstrom was a frequent collaborator, perhaps most famously when he teamed up with Truckstop Honeymoon's Mike West for the Grizzly album, Everything But the Smile.

Though Split Lip brought Rundstrom the majority of his exposure, he was also widely successful with his prog-rock band, Grain and Demise, and his solo project, the Kirk Rundstrom Band, whose fourth studio album was slated to be released at a March 24 show at the Jackpot. From the number of bands his guitar was strung through, to the variety of genres they represented, the scope of Rundstrom's talent and dedication remains apparent. Rundstrom often brushed off easy categorization of any of the bands he was in, simply saying that he just loved playing music. This was a man who lived to play, and it was hard to keep him off stage.

"Redneck Tailgate Dream," Split Lip Rayfield live on Stage 5 at the Walnut Valley Festival. Recorded by Phil Cauthon.

Beyond being an inspiration simply to watch on stage-knees bouncing in time and those fierce blue eyes fixed on some elusive prize-he was also a great help to countless friends and fellow musicians. Rundstrom was the tireless champion, giving them the encouragement and support they needed to succeed in the music industry.

Above all, Rundstrom was a man with a fervent love for life, one that permeated his entire being, even crippling the cancer that poisoned him. As he played on stage, it was written all over his body: this is what he was meant to do. From the exhilaration in his eyes (never without a hint of mischief), to his wide, childlike grin, to the tips of his tiptoes, you could feel the energy radiating from him. And it did more than just warm your face as you watched from a distance-it rushed into you as well, filling you with an overwhelming love for music and appreciation for the man sharing it.

Kirk Rundstrom lived life to its fullest, something that many only dream of. With his music, he touched the lives of a countless number of people, all across the world, and will continue to do so for ages to come. He never failed to see the good-even in the darkest of situations-and for that, he is an inspiration to us all. Kirk, rest well. You will be missed.

-Phil Cauthon contributed to this story

¢ Video: SLR on the Turnpike, 0ct. 5, 2006
¢ Video: SLR on the Turnpike, June 26, 2003
¢ Photogallery: Scroat Belly, Feb. 3 at the Bottleneck, gallery or slideshow
¢ Photogallery: SLR, Stage 7 at the Walnut Valley Festival, 2006, gallery or slideshow
¢ Photogallery: SLR at Davey's Uptown, Farewell tour with Drakkar Sauna 2006, gallery or slideshow
¢ Photogallery: SLR at The Bottleneck, Farewell tour with Drakkar Sauna, Aug. 21, 2006, gallery or slideshow
¢ Photogallery: SLR at The Bottleneck, Farewell tour with Drakkar Sauna, Aug, 18 2006, gallery or slideshow
¢ Photogallery: SLR at The Cotillion, Farewell tour with Drakkar Sauna 2006, gallery or slideshow
¢ Photogallery: SLR at Liberty Hall, Farewell tour with Drakkar Sauna, Dec. 1, 2006, gallery or slideshow
¢ MP3: "Sunshine," from SLR on stage 7 in Winfield, Sept. 16, 2006. Credit: Sam Stratton,audio clip
¢ MP3: "Wicked Savior," from Scroat Belly at the Bottleneck, Feb. 3, 2006. Credit: Sam Stratton, audio clip
¢ MP3: "Blowin' up the White House," from Scroat Belly at the Bottleneck, Feb. 3, 2006. Credit: Sam Stratton, audio clip
¢ Video: "San Antone," from Split Lip Rayfield at the Bottleneck on Aug. 18, 2006. Credit: Sam Stratton, video clip
¢ Video: "Outlaw," from Split Lip Rayfield at Liberty Hall on Dec. 1, 2006. Credit: Sam Stratton, video clip
¢ Photogallery: Reader submitted photos of Rundstrom, gallery

¢ Music, stories and more available on our band listings for Kirk Rundstrom and Split Lip Rayfield.

Note: Updates on the scheduled release of the last album by the Kirk Rundstrom band will be made here. We will continue to update this tribute as more contributions are received. Please feel free to post your own tribute in the space below. If you have photos, recordings or other multimedia you'd like us to post, contact us via email.


Rundstrom bids an overflow crowd farewell at Split Lip Rayfield's last show on Stage 5 at the Walnut Valley Festival, 2006.


Aufbrezeln Eschaton 16 years, 3 months ago

Add mine to the pile of prayers for friends and family. You kicked so much ass, Kirk, and damn---what a fine, fine legacy you leave your children. You did good.

Bill Woodard 16 years, 3 months ago

Thanks for a beautiful tribute to a terrific artist who was one of the most real and engaging performers you're ever gonna see. Kirk Rundstrom lived and breathed music, and we are better for it. My condolences to his family and friends; known that he will not be forgotten. Rest in peace, Kirk.

smerdyakov 16 years, 3 months ago

What an inspiration to see Kirk stare down death and-far from flinching-smile back and live out his days to the fullest.

It might have been hard for us to see his once hulking neck emaciate, to see his skull showing itself more day by day, to hear his voice change, to see his once boundless energy checked by a reminder of imminence... it damn well would have been hard had he given in to it at all. And surely there were tough times when he did... but he never let his fans see it. His eyes blazed like they always had onstage and his reverence for those in the crowd, for his friends, was palpable.

While his physical body wasted and reminded us that we all will die, his undying spirit reminded us how to live. What a blessing your life was, Kirk-thank you so much. See you in the blink of an eye...

introversion 16 years, 3 months ago

I didn't know Kirk personally, but for a few brief encounters in passing... I did know him through his music. Now more than ever he is a reason to become a better musician and a better person. Thanks for the inspiration and for sharing so much of yourself with us, Kirk. We'll do good by you.

Chris Tackett 16 years, 3 months ago

damn. don't have the words right now. i never met kirk, but i miss him already.

Colby 16 years, 3 months ago

Kirk was a great man. I always loved playing his stuff when I did The Lazer Local Music Show. He will be missed

Mkh 16 years, 3 months ago

Thank You so much, Kirk. Thank you for the Light you brought into the world. R.I.P

dontneedanything 16 years, 3 months ago

i dont think ive ever felt sad while listening to splitlip until now. this is heartbreaking news. peace and love to kirks family and friends. im sure your love made it better for him.

Marcy McGuffie 16 years, 3 months ago

Damn. I knew this was coming, but it still caught me offguard. What a loss. Best vibes to his friends and prayers are with you.

Deb Townsend 16 years, 3 months ago

saw him play with Scroat Belly and SLR several times, he was truly a terrific musician and a great man.

Chris Millspaugh 16 years, 3 months ago

i met my wife at a split lip new years eve show. for a couple years that was our new years eve plan. split lip at the 'neck.

sad to think we wont be able to experience the energy and nostalgia (for us) of a live split lip show ever again.

but memorable and admirable how he went down shooting.

Jan Brocker 16 years, 3 months ago

In the spring of 2006 I saw Jesus Christ Superstar performed by Lawrence musicians about 5 times and loved it; I grew up with the "brown album". They were also raising money for this guy named Kirk. I read an article or two about the show and the guy that had the part of Jesus (Eric), and was introduced that way to SLR (I agree, a little late). Saw the 2nd Bottleneck show in August and was hooked. Winfield, Bottleneck, Cotillion, you name it and I tried to see them. What an amazing guy Kirk was! I'd never met him before he got sick, but the energy, love and spirit that this guy displayed will be forever engraved in my soul. You don't encounter people like him very often, but when you do the feeling is incredibly powerful. Luckily we still have his music; sadly we don't have him anymore. My thoughts go out to Lisa, the kids, family, friends and of course the band. Rest in peace Kirk; you won.

Aileen Dingus 16 years, 3 months ago

I've been trying to think of something to say all day. All I can come up with is "I'm sad." I'm sad for those of us left behind. I'm sad for those who knew him better, and I'm sad that I'm not among those ranks.

sontiatherockstar 16 years, 3 months ago

He may be gone but There is so much beauty that he left behind him. I just started in this music thing but his strength reminds me, and should remind us all that despite what happens we must continue to do what we love. Though Ive only seen him a few times I feel as if a part of my own soul is gone, his legend is everywhere and endless were the words spoken after I first heard his name. He will be missed. But he will also be remembered. For me as a force stronger then sickness,darkness, and the pains of life

joester 16 years, 3 months ago

Rachel, thank you again for putting into words what so many of us feel - how Kirk and his energy seemed to reach so many of us personally. The world is a lesser place without him - those whom he touched - are better for it. We'll miss you Kirk - thank you for sharing your world with us. peace be with you and your family and friends. Teri and Joe - Tempe, Arizona

cheyava 16 years, 3 months ago

SLR came through town twice in the last few years and they performed magic for the high country of Arizona. They built one hell of a following and started this town on the road to an incredible music scene. Kirk was one of the most talented and charismatic performers I have ever seen. His courage and faith in the face of death should be an inspiration to us all.

Althea 16 years, 2 months ago

One minor correction. Kirk's last performance in Kansas wasn't December 29, 2006. I know he performed with Scroatbelly February 3, 2007 at the Bottleneck with Eric Mardis band opening up.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.