According to the 911 call placed by a hotel employee at the Embassy Suites near the University of South Florida, O'Neill's daughter and a hotel staff member broke into his room and found the composer's body "cold" and "stiff."
An autopsy is underway to determine the cause of death. USF Police said foul play did not appear to be a factor in O'Neill's death. In a statement on the website for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO), band members said O'Neill suffered from a "chronic illness." No other details were provided.
O'Neill's unique style of music, blending symphonic metal, heavy metal and Christmas classics, gained him fans across the nation. He was known for putting on elaborate productions.
"It was a grandiose experience. You had laser lights, you had smoke and fire. You had snow falling. All of these things, and it just made for a spectacular show, that with the music," said Mason Dixon, a long-time friend and radio personality with Tampa's WRBQ 104.7 FM Q105.
Dixon recalled back in 1995, when a CD from a little-known band called "Savatage" came across his desk. He and his music director at Mix 96 listened to the feature song on the album, "Christmas Eve Sarajevo 12-24."
"We put it on, it started playing, we sat there and both our jaws hit the floor," said Dixon. "It was like, this is amazing. That night, my music director put it on 'Make it or Break it.' He called me that night and said, whatever you do, when you get on the air in the morning, you're going to have to play this song. He said, I have never seen phone response on anything like this," said Dixon.
The song became O'Neill's biggest hit, and a Christmas staple among neighbors syncing music to their Christmas light displays.
O'Neil, a New York native, formed Savatage along with two band members from Tarpon Springs. He later renamed the band the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and expanded the band, adding mostly musicians from Tampa Bay.
"They never forgot where it started, and every year they were here in Tampa Bay, they gave credit," said Dixon.