Mark Reale, the founding guitarist of the legendary metal band RIOT, passed away earlier today (Wednesday, January 25) in a San Antonio hospital due to complications of Crohn’s disease — an ailment he has battled for most of his life. He was 56 years old.

Reale had reportedly been in a coma for the past two weeks after suffering a subarachnoid hemorrhage on January 11.

RIOT said in a statement: “To friends and fans of Mark Reale and RIOT, we are deeply saddened to confirm that Mark has lost his battle with a lifelong illness. Your thoughts and prayers are appreciated by Mark’s family, friends, and bandmates at this difficult time.”

Upon learning of Mark’s passing, Brian Slagel, founder and CEO of Metal Blade Records, said, “I was a huge fan of RIOT’s ‘Fire Down Under’ album and got to interview them for my fanzine. Great guys and I was lucky enough to finally reissue ‘Fire Down Under’ and the other early RIOT albums on Metal Blade. We signed the band for their second run, so to speak, and put out some records in the ’90s that did well, especially in Europe and Japan. It was a pleasure working with them and Mark was always a kind soul — an AMAZING player who really has a big time place in the history of metal. One of the really nice guys who put out some incredible stuff.”

Mark is survived by his father, Anthony Reale, and was preceded in death by his mother, Frances Reale.

RIOT played two shows without Reale last week — on January 18 at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in New York City and on January 20 at Montage Music Hall in Rochester, New York — and is currently taking part in 70,000 Tons Of Metal, a four-day all-heavy metal cruise which set sail on Monday, January 23 aboard the Royal Caribbean Majesty Of The Seas from Miami, Florida.

Mark spent most of his life working and performing while enduring almost constant pain and the side effects of treatment for Crohn’s disease. He was in Texas bravely attempting to practice for the shows, but was felled by a severe onset of Crohn’s symptoms, leaving him in the Intensive Care Unit at an undisclosed facility. Mark was struggling with these symptoms throughout the production of RIOT’s new album, “Immortal Soul”, and guitarist Mike Flyntz recorded a major portion of the guitars on the LP with Mark’s creative direction while Reale was unable to perform.

RIOT’s original singer Guy Speranza died on November 8, 2003 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 47 years old. Often regarded as the best RIOT vocalist, he sang on the group’s first three full-length albums — “Rock City” (1977), “Narita” (1979) and “Fire Down Under” (1981) — before being replaced by Rhett Forrester. Forrester himself left in the mid-’80s to pursue a solo career, only to be murdered on January 22, 1994 in Atlanta.

Singer Mike Tirelli, who toured with RIOT after Mike DiMeo officially left the band in 2007, was diagnosed with stomach cancer in the fall of 2008 and underwent treatment for this life-threatening illness. All the treatments were reportedly a huge success in eradicating the disease.