J.P., or “Jape” as he came to be known, toured throughout 1958, thrilling teen audiences with “Oh, baby, that’sa what I like!” It was on one such tour, tagged the Winter Dance Party of 1959, when Jape came down with the flu. Along with Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and Waylon Jennings, the group rolled into Clear Lake, Iowa, in early February, 1959, amid freezing temperatures and snow. When Holly chartered a four-passenger Beechcraft Bonanza to take his band on to their next gig, Jape asked Jennings if he’d give up his seat on the plane so that the Bopper could get to some medical care. Jennings complied, and the plane took off in a blinding snowstorm. It crashed in a cornfield eight miles away. Remembered by Don McLean in “American Pie” as the Day the Music Died, the February 3, 1959 accident took the lives of Holly, Valens, the Bopper and pilot Roger Peterson.
Jape was 28, and left behind his wife Adrianne and two year old Debra Joy; Adrianne gave birth to son Jay Perry two months later. Over time, rumors grew out of the discovery of a gun near the crash site; conspiracy theorists were convinced that the handgun, with two rounds missing, had played a part in the downing of the plane, and that Richardson was somehow involved. By early 2007, son Jay had had enough, and ordered his father be exhumed for examination. No bullet wounds were found, and the Big Bopper was again laid to rest.
According to our friends over on Wikipedia, an upcoming film spotlighting J.P. Richardson is slated for release on the February '09, 50th anniversary of the crash. The title? The Day the Music Died.
A bit of ironic trivia: It is said that when Holly found out Jennings had opted out of the plane ride Holly had paid $36 a seat for, he quipped, "I hope your old bus freezes up!", to which Waylon reportedly responded, "I hope your damned plane crashes!" The late Jennings, of course, went on to become a huge country star, despite years of experiencing survivor's guilt over his perceived part in the deaths of his pals.
(Jennings died in 2002, due to complications from long term diabetes.)