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Criss Oliva


The prelude to madness

Christopher Michael Oliva was born on April 3rd, 1963 in Pompton Plains, New Jersey.  He was the youngest of four children and was known as the "cryer" of the family.  Criss had two older brothers, Tony and Jon.  He also had an older sister named Joann.
    According to his parents, Criss was a spoiled child and got pretty much anything he asked for.  This was because at the age of three Criss almost drowned.  One day after Criss' father got out of work he went fishing.  Criss was being watched by his uncle and was playing near the waters edge.  Somehow his uncle lost track of him and Criss fell into the water.  His father found him floating face up and dove into the water after him.  And even with being disabled Mr. Oliva was able to pull Criss to safety.  From that point on a special bond was made between Criss and his father. 
    In 1973 Criss and his family moved to Escondido, California.  Here Criss spent a lot of time with his brother Jon.  They used to ride motorcycles together in the mountains near their home.
    In 1976 the Oliva family moved to Dunedin, Florida.  Music began to attract the attention of Criss.  He began practicing the guitar after Jon showed him how to play a few chords.  He'd spend hours figuring out the licks on his favorite records. 
    1978 was the year Jon and Criss formed the group Avatar.  After several personnel changes and a name change in 1983 the group Savatage was born.  They released an EP and six albums with Criss before tragedy struck during a tour break. 
    At around 3:30 am on the morning of October 17th, 1993, Criss and his wife Dawn were involved in a head on collision with a drunk driver.  Criss was killed instantly.  His wife was taken to Tampa General Hospital with a number of internal injuries and fractures.  The other driver was said to have had a record of seven prior DUI's and a blood alcohol level of .294% ( Florida's legal limit being .10%).  He was charged and convicted of DUI manslaughter, DUI serious injury, and vehicular homicide.  He only spent 18 months in jail and had his drivers license revoked indefinitely.

The surviving members of Savatage organized a Criss Oliva Memorial Concert on Saturday November 20th 1993 at the Boatyard Village Pavillion near Clearwater. Other bands that performed at the event were: I Mother Earth, White Trash, My Sisters Machine, and a special tribute set from the remaining Savatage members with Jon Oliva back fronting his brothers band. Savatage played without a guiarist, opting to leave a white strat with roses going up the neck which resembled the back cover of the 'Streets' album in the spot were Criss used to stand. (A picture from the Memorial Concert).

Mr. Oliva's final comment of his son was about his love for the guitar. "He lived for that guitar" he said, "I would go over to his home for a visit and no matter what he was doing, on the phone, eating dinner, Criss would always have a guitar n his hands."
   Criss was only 30 years old at the time of his death.  His gravesite can be found at Curlew Memorial Gardens just north of Clearwater, Florida.