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Brian Frank/staff 3/27/06 Herald (Horizontal Crop of H27show1) Starship guitarist Mark Abrahamian wails away, while lead singer Mickey Thomas bangs a tamborine at a show held as part of the Livermore Valley Wine Country Championship at Wente Vineyards.

Mark Abrahamian loved to play guitar.

He picked up the instrument at age 9 and from then on it was his constant companion. And they'd stay together until the very end.

The San Francisco native, who grew up in Walnut Creek, played his last licks during a Sept. 2 gig with his rock band Starship in Norfolk, Neb. Later that evening, Abrahamian died from a heart attack. He was 46.

He'll be remembered as a hardworking and generous musician, who split his time between playing on stage and during endless practice sessions and sharing his love for the instrument. He was a popular guitar instructor in the Bay Area for years, well before he finally got the call up to join Starship (a Jefferson Airplane/Starship spinoff officially known as Starship featuring Mickey Thomas).

"His life was pretty much music," says Abrahamian's lone brother, Jeff. "He definitely lived his dream."

He signed on in 2000 with Starship, an act with ties that stretch back to the 1960s Bay Area music scene and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band Jefferson Airplane. At the time, it might have seemed like a gamble for the group to hire Abrahamian, who didn't have much experience in playing live. Yet, Phil Bennett -- the longtime Starship keyboardist and a friend of Abrahamian's since childhood -- knew that the guitarist was the right fit.

"He was a player's player," says Bennett, who lives in Pleasanton. "Mark exemplifies a rock guitar player in all different ways — from the playing to the look to the attitude. It was perfect."


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Abrahamian quickly became a vital part in the Starship mix, pushing the band toward what leader Mickey Thomas sees as one of its best eras.

"I am so thankful that Mark came into the Starship family 12 years ago," Thomas says. "Mark's talent and charisma returned the Starship back to a level we had not enjoyed since the '80s."

Being in Starship meant plenty of time on the road -- something that the guitarist, who most recently lived in Austin, Texas, reportedly didn't really enjoy. The group just recently returned from a tour of Japan, when Abrahamian began complaining that he wasn't feeling well, according to his brother Jeff. Nobody seemed to think that it was anything serious.

He was still able to take the stage with Starship on Sept. 2, on a bill that also included fellow classic-rockers Survivor and Boston. Immediately following the gig, however, he began to complain about the heat -- which reportedly was well in the 90s.

"Mark was saying, `Man it's hot. It's hot. I'm hot,'" Bennett says. "He said, 'I'm going to go lay down in the back.'"

He found a room to relax and called his fiancé, Dianna Burley, who Abrahamian planned to marry in December in Hawaii.

"As he was on the phone with her he said, 'I think I'm having a heart attack,'" says Jeff Abrahamian. "And then the phone dropped."

His band mates found an unconscious Abrahamian and tried to resuscitate him, before medical personnel arrived and took the guitarist to the hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.

Abrahamian's death leaves a gaping hole in Starship -- one that extends far behind just the music. He was part of the Starship family and members say he'll always be missed.

"He was a very loving and committed person who was not always comfortable with receiving love in return," Thomas says. "He had a wry splendid smile that we will carry in our minds forever. We can never replace him -- we can only evolve based on the standard he has established."

The family plans to hold a private funeral, followed by some type of more-public memorial service — although details on that have not been decided. Abrahamian is survived by parents Marilyn and Al Abrahamian, brother Jeff Abrahamian and fiancé Dianna Burley.

Follow Jim Harrington at http://twitter.com/jimthecritic, www.facebook.com/jim.bayareanews and http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/concerts.

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To see a video tribute to Mark Abrahamian, go to www.mercurynews.com/entertainment.