John Villanueva

Obituary of John Villanueva

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John Edward Villanueva, 77, died suddenly of an aortic aneurysm in Syracuse on Tuesday, November 9th, 2021. His smile and spirit will be sorely missed.

John was born to George and Dolores Villanueva in San Francisco on October 17, 1944, into a large, loving family. An industrious hustler (and occasional troublemaker), his first gig was shining shoes in North Beach, California at 5 years old. As a young man, he worked as a barber, a baker, actor, and could easily be described as a “true blue hippy.”

A friend offered John a job to go on tour supporting a band called Santana. He said yes and quickly developed a skill and passion for touring, and wound up on stage with them at Woodstock. With his brother, Jackie (AKA Dr. Brown) and best friend, Herbie Herbert, they were the three amigos. John toured with acts like Journey, Page and Plant, Billy Joel and Elton John, Kitaro, and many more. John even gave the band Journey its name while helping them get started.

John lived on his boat in the Bay Area until 2000, when he and his soulmate, Ann Cassidy moved to a Hawaiian paradise on the Big Island. John took great pride in renovating a coffee farm, where he grew and harvested Kona coffee. In December of 2017, they gave it all up to move to Syracuse to live closer to Ann’s family.

During his touring years, John traveled the world, feeling an especially strong bond to Japan. At home in Central New York, he loved spending time with his extended family, particularly at the camp on Tully Lake.

John was a caring, generous, positive gentleman of “quiet strength, and calm nature.” Along with music, he loved good food, cooking, the arts, and scenic drives to view waterfalls with his brother-in-law Tommy. John always loved to share great stories and experiences from his youth and travels, and was an avid Syracuse basketball fan, San Francisco Giants, and Eddie DeBartolo-era 49ers fan. He believed in Tibetan Buddhism, equality, and love.

John is predeceased by his parents; brothers, Georgie Villanueva, Dickie Villanueva, Bobby Villanueva, and Jackie Villanueva; his sister-in-law, Barbara, his niece, Holly Katko. John’s long-time friend and partner, Herbie Herbert passed away just two weeks prior to John. He is survived by his loving wife, Ann Cassidy; his brothers, Vincent (Silvia) Villanueva, Carlos Villanueva; sister, Lita Villanueva; in-laws, Suzanne (Andrew) Katko, Bill Cassidy, Tommy Cassidy, Mary Cassidy, Christine (Matt Warshal) Cassidy; and nieces and nephews. 

A private service for the family will be held at Edward J. Ryan and Son Funeral Home.

In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to PBS, or simply make the world better through random acts of kindness. 

John was and will always be a beautiful soul. His natural kindness and interest in everyone has touched us all deeply.


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John Villanueva

In Loving Memory

John Villanueva

1944 - 2021

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