Criss was born in Pompton Plains, New Jersey on April 3rd, 1963. He was the youngest of four siblings,
two older brothers,
Tony (9 years older) and Jon (3 years older) and sister, Joann (11 years older). As a child young Christopher was known as quite a cryer to his family. At one point his brothers and sister packed their suitcases and marched down the stairs of their home and declared to their parents they were leaving and were'nt coming back until baby Christopher went back to where he came from.
(A picture of Criss as a child).
Criss was also very spoiled as a child, according to his parents. They tell of how he had got most anything he asked for. A story not widely know, that Criss almost drown at the age of three. His father was fishing after work on a small lake near their home in New Jersey. Criss' Uncle Leo was supposed to be watching the young toddler as he played near the waters edge. Fortunately Mr. Oliva was close to shore, as he sat fishing he looked over and saw his young son floating by face up in the water. Mr. Oliva in shock dove in after his son, although being disabled. He pulled Criss to safety and from then on a special bond between them was made. The one thing that saved Criss' life was a jacket that resembled a life preserver. (A picture taken just before the accident).
In 1973 the Oliva family moved to Escondido, California. One of Criss' hobbies was riding motorcycles in the nearby mountains with his brother Jon. He also enjoyed making plastic model cars and airplanes as well as his Matchbox cars which according to his parents, he had Matchbox tracks running throughout the entire house.
The Oliva family moved to Dunedin, Florida in 1976. Jon already having found music his calling in California, music now attracted the attention of young Criss. After Jon showing him a few chords, Criss was off and running and couldn't be held back from his new found love of the guitar. He spent countless hours figuring out his favorite songs on records, and when he found it difficult to figure out a part on the record he just made up his own licks. This would later help him in his songwriting.
Criss and Jon formed Avatar in 1978 out of their respective bands, Criss' 'Tower' and Jon's 'Alien'. In 1980 they met up with drummer Steve Wacholz and practiced in a shack behind the Oliva home, later dubbed 'The Pit' by the band. (A picture of the Pit). It was here that Steve Wacholz was given his lifelong moniker, 'Dr. Killdrums', which reflected his playing style, HARD.
They played the Tampa/Clearwater club circuit as a trio for a couple of years. (A picture from the 1st Avatar show). Later adding Keith Collins in 1981 to take over bass duties from Jon. In 1982 the band releases an E.P. with Par Records. In 1983 they changed the bands name from Avatar to Savatage due to copyright problems.
At ten o' clock in the morning on Sunday June 24th, 1984 Criss married his girlfriend since middle school, Dawn Hopkins at Philippe Park, near Safety Harbour. (A picture from their Wedding).
The band signed a recording contract with Atlantic Records in 1985 and later replaced Collins with Johnny Lee Middleton. Savatage went on to release six albums (with Criss), recording and toured unrelentlessly through out the years until Jon Oliva decided to leave the band in 1992, Steve 'Doc' Wacholz soon followed as well. (See DKD's site for indepth info). Replacements for Jon and Steve were chosen in Zak Steven and Andy James. Criss carried on with a new record and tour that followed, (A pic from Criss' last show at ML Chasers in Clearwater, Fl.) but while home during a tour break tragedy struck.
On October 17th 1993 at around 3:30am while driving north on highway 301 on his way to the Fourth Annual Livestock Festival held in Zepherhills, Fl. just north of Tampa. An oncoming car crossed the median and struck Criss' 1982 Mazda RX7 head-on killing him instantly. His wife Dawn was rushed to Tampa General Hospital with internal injuries of the head and abdomen, fractured skull, back, right wrist, and lower left leg.
The other driver was found to have a drunk driving record of seven prior DUI's and having a blood alcohol content of .294% (legal Florida limit is .10%) and sustained fractured left ribs, jaw, nose, right wrist, and both lower legs with lacerations to his face, legs and right hand. The drunk driver was charged and convicted of DUI manslaughter, DUI serious injury, and vehicular homicide but served only 18 months jail time and had his drivers license revolked indefinately. He was also ordered to write the Oliva Family an appology letter and is currently paying restitution of $100 a month to Dawn Oliva. (For further info on the accident).
Criss was only 30 years old at the time of his death. For the funeral, Criss' family had longtime friend and artist Gary Smith make up a special painting just for the funeral.