Local musician passes away after long battle with cancer

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Local musician and entertainer Steve Downey passed away quietly in his home in Wichita on Nov. 15, 2021, after a long battle with colon cancer. He was 69-years-old.

Steve Downey. Courtesy: Dee Downey.

Steve is survived by many, including but not limited to: his wife Debra (Dee) Downey, daughters Kelsi Kay and Jenny Collier, son-in-law Court Collier, son Ben Ragan, and his grandchildren Hudson, Ella, and Ollie.

Funeral services are currently scheduled to be held at the end of January.

Born and raised in Wichita, Steve spent over 55 years performing music for the area. He was a self-taught guitarist, vocalist, arranger, and songwriter beginning at age 13.

Those who knew him say that he was a born entertainer. He was well-loved for his comedy, impressions, bold humor, and large personality that he brought with him on stage. Outside of spending time with his friends and family, he enjoyed gardening, baking, movies, and books.

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Steve Downey, age 13. Courtesy: Dee Downey.

One of Steve’s longtime friends and bandmates was Jim Hill. They met in high school and have been like brothers ever since. According to Jim, Steve was the kind of person who would make everyone laugh, even when it was time to perform. They called each other almost every day, especially when they were feeling down and “spill their guts.”

“If you went out to see Steve Downey, there was no way you could not pay attention to the guy,” said Jim.

According to Dee, Steve received his first toy guitar when he was 5-years-old back when Elvis was popular. After that, he would put on shows for his family, and he soaked up their attention. Steve truly loved to make people laugh and receive applause. From that point on, he lived and breathed rock ’n’ roll.

It was believed that Steve had perfect pitch. He grew up in north Wichita, listening to the different sounds the trains made while passing. Trains play a series of notes, and Steve would be able to tell you which notes the train was sounding off.

Young Steve Downey. Courtesy: Dee Downey.

Around the age of 13, Steve became mesmerized by The Beatles after they appeared on Ed Sullivan. He immediately begged his mother for his first real guitar. He practiced every night. Since then, Steve performed on a stage, entertaining crowds, both alone and among friends.

Another friend and bandmate of Steve’s was Don Oversteak. They have played in bands together since the 1970s. He claims that very few people disliked Steve. There wasn’t even an animal he couldn’t befriend. Steve was not a wallflower; he was a wild child.

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One of Steve’s bands was formed in the 1970s and was called Legion. It included five members, and Steve was the lead vocalist and guitarist. He always believed that they were ahead of their time. Steve was proud of Legion. The friendships formed in this band continued throughout his life.

Legion: Steve Downey, Pat Kelly, Rick Lamb, Bryan Hill, and Chris Church. Courtesy: Dee Downey.Bryan Hill and Steve Downey. Courtesy: Dee Downey.Steve Downey and Rick Lamb. Courtesy: Dee Downey.Steve Downey, Rick Lamb, and Chris Church. Courtesy: Dee Downey

Steve played a variety of music, including pop, oldies, country, big band, and R&B. When he would play, he would draw large crowds, whether it was at a sockhop, singles mixer, nightclub, convention, dance, supper clubs, or another kind of celebration. He was well-known for his single act, but he often played in bands and duos alongside Wichita’s other well-known musicians.

Dee was married to Steve for over 30 years. They met in 1983 and began dating in the early 1990s. Both have two children from previous marriages. Dee’s career lies outside of music in health care and waitressing, but she would often watch Steve perform at the restaurants she worked and was by his side as much as possible during his performances.

Later on, when Steve was diagnosed with colon cancer, he refused to stop performing. He would often sit at the cancer center receiving chemotherapy for close to five hours, and after resting for a little while, he would play a show with chemo still coursing through his system.

“Music was his medicine,” according to Dee.

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He would develop blood disorders and have complications. He suffered through blood clots, bleeding in his brain, a stroke, and a heart attack. It was then decided that he would no longer be receiving chemotherapy.

Nothing stopped him from getting back up on that stage despite suffering through so much. Steve proceeded to entertain crowds, even when he needed a walker.

In 2017, Margarita’s Cantina hosted a “Steve Downey Celebration” where they honored Steve’s musical career. According to his friends, around 300 people showed up to celebrate his life. Six months later, Steve took Don out to lunch and boldly asked him if he was mad that he was still alive. Of course, Don said “no.” He felt blessed to still have him around.

“One wish maybe I would’ve like to have gotten him more involved in the band later on, but his health kind of got in the way. I wish maybe we would’ve been able to spend more stage time together,” said Don.

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