Voice of his generation: Joe Cocker; 70
NEW YORK—Joe Cocker, whose intense, gritty voice won him wide acclaim that spanned both rock and blues, has died at age 70, his agent said on Monday.
Cocker, who started off playing to small audiences in pubs in his native England, made a breakthrough when he jolted the 1969 Woodstock festival by playing the Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends”—one of the rock era’s most successful covers.
Cocker, whose singing was accompanied by a flailing of his arms that led uninitiated audiences to wonder if he had neurological problems, later topped the charts with the love ballad “You Are So Beautiful.”
“He was without doubt the greatest rock/soul voice ever to come out of Britain,” his agent, Barrie Marshall, said in a statement announcing his death Sunday evening.
“Hugely talented—a true star—but a kind and humble man who loved to perform,” he said.
“His iconic performance of ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ continued to thrill audiences across the decades. He was simply unique,” he said.
Cocker’s label, Sony Music, said he was suffering from lung cancer. The Yorkshire Post, the singer’s hometown newspaper in England, said he died in the US Rocky Mountain state of Colorado where Cocker and his wife settled in a small town two decades ago.
Cocker moved to Colorado as he gradually cleaned up his act after a notoriously hard-partying youth, when his love for alcohol and drugs brought fears that he would be the latest rock star to die young.
In one incident, Cocker and his bandmates were arrested in Australia in 1972 for possession of marijuana and then ordered to leave the country due to a hotel brawl, triggering a debate in Australia about its drug laws.
A way of carrying emotion
At Woodstock, the carnival of counterculture, Cocker took the stage twice and also performed a cover of Ray Charles’ post-addiction song “Let’s Go Get Stoned.”
Cocker’s popularity came amid the rise of what was known, sometimes pejoratively, as “blue-eyed soul” of white artists embracing a musical style identified with African-Americans.
Asked in an interview last year with Britain’s Guardian newspaper on how he feels about the spirit of the blues, Cocker said: “It’s an emotion—a way of carrying an emotion. It’s a very simple format but I find myself leaning that way as I get older.”
Cocker’s other well-known hits include 1982’s “Up Where We Belong,” an impassioned duet with Jennifer Warnes that won a Grammy and figured prominently in the movie “An Officer and a Gentleman.”
He also sang Ray Charles’ “Unchain my Heart,” notably at the mammoth 1988 concert at London’s Wembley Stadium that drummed up support to free South Africa’s antiapartheid icon Nelson Mandela on his 70th birthday.
More surprisingly, Cocker performed in 1989 at the inauguration of US president George H. W. Bush. Cocker later said he did not side politically with the Republican president but had hoped—unsuccessfully—that Bush would pardon him for US-based drug offenses.
Cocker’s image as a voice of his generation was enhanced when “The Wonder Years,” a popular US television show launched in 1988 that looked back fondly at the 1960s, chose his version of “With a Little Help From My Friends” as its theme song.
“Goodbye and God bless to Joe Cocker from one of his friends—peace and love,” Beatles drummer Ringo Starr wrote on Twitter.
The song was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and Cocker was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. But despite the acclaim, Cocker never made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, an omission that some fans saw as a snub.
Billy Joel, performing “With a Little Help from My Friends” at New York’s Madison Square Garden in September in a tribute to the ailing Cocker, said he was “amazed” that the singer was not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. AFP
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