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Porcaro was born on April 1, 1954, in Hartford, Connecticut, United States, the eldest son of Los Angeles session percussionist Joe Porcaro. His brothers Steve Porcaro and Mike Porcaro are both still active session musicians. On October 22, 1983, Porcaro married Susan Norris, a Los Angeles television newscaster. They had three sons, Christopher Joseph (born July 3, 1984), Miles Edwin Crawford (born June 12, 1986), and Nico Hendrix (born December 26, 1991).
Porcaro began playing at the age of seven. Lessons came from his father Joe Porcaro, followed by further studies with Bob Zimmitti and Rich Lapore. From the start of his career, Porcaro was viewed as one of the music industry's top drummers, possessing an impeccable sense of rhythm as well as a versatility that bridged virtually every style.
When he was seventeen, Porcaro got his first professional gig playing in Sonny and Cher's touring band. During his 20s, he played on hundreds of albums, including several for Steely Dan. He toured with Boz Scaggs, before co-founding Toto with childhood friends Steve Lukather and David Paich.
Besides his work with Toto, he also performed as a session musician with artists such as Paul McCartney, Willy DeVille, Jackson Browne, Donald Fagen, Ricki Lee Jones, Michael Jackson, Go West, Nik Kershaw, Love and Money, Paul Simon, Don Henley, Madonna, Bonnie Raitt, Dire Straits, David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Pink Floyd, Roger Hodgson; Paul Anka, Eric Clapton, Miles Davis, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, and Larry Carlton.
Richard Marx dedicated the song "One Man" to him and said Jeff was the best drummer he had ever worked with!
Jeff Porcaro died of a fatal heart attack on August 5, 1992, at the age of 38. He was spraying insecticide in his garden and inhaled too much of the spray, triggering the attack. It has been claimed Porcaro's heart was weakened by smoking and cocaine use. An autopsy revealed a serious heart condition that had been previously undiagnosed.
Porcaro's funeral, attended by an estimated 1,500 people (friends, family, colleagues, fans), was held August 10 in the Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery, where he was buried. The Jeff Porcaro Memorial Fund was established to benefit the music and art departments of Grant High School in Los Angeles where he was a student in the early 1970s.
A memorial concert took place at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles on December 14, 1992 with an all-star line up that included Boz Scaggs, Donald Fagen, Don Henley, Michael McDonald, George Harrison, Eddie Van Halen and the members of Toto. The proceeds of the concert were used to establish an educational trust fund for Porcaro's sons.