‘The Mad Hatter,’ Darryl Hensley dead at 79

(Above) Radio personality and former KZEV Radio station owner Darryl Hensley, better known as “The Mad Hatter,” died Wednesday, Sept. 27, as the result of a bicycle accident.  Hensley is credited with starting the Buddy Holly Tribute, which has evolved to become The Winter Dance party held each February at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake.-Mirror-Reporter file photo.

Darryl Hensley, better known locally as “The Mad Hatter” and creator of the Buddy Holly Tribute first held at the Surf Ballroom in 1979.

Hensley, 79, was on a dinner ride with the Bike Burlington bicycle club when an accident occurred about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 27.

An Illinois State Patrol accident report stated Hensley was traveling southbound, attempting to turn east onto County Road 1100 North, when he was struck from behind by a vehicle driven by Shawn Marie Dunne, 57, of Burlington.  Hensley’s bicycle struck the hood and windshield of the 2015 Chrysler driven by Dunne and tossed his body approximately 50-feet into the northbound lane of an adjacent blacktop.

Emergency crews at the scene said Hensley apparently died instantly of massive blunt force trauma. They did not attempt to revive him.

The Winter Dance Party began after an on-air jest made by The Mad Hatter back in 1979 on local Clear Lake radio station KZEV. Hensley built KZEV in Clear Lake in the late 1970s and organized the first Buddy Holly Tribute on the 20th anniversary of Holly’s death.  The event has evolved to celebrate the lives of Holly, along with Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, who died in a plane crash along with Holly following their February 1959 concert at the Surf Ballroom.  Today, the event is known as The Winter Dance Party.  It is still held each year on the first weekend in February.

Hensley left Clear Lake to work at radio stations in Minnesota and Iowa.  He was an account executive for Pritchard Broadcasting in Burlington, Iowa at the time of his death.

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