Singer Joe Cocker, who’s huge raspy voice and even bigger stage presence thrilled rock audiences at Woodstock and beyond, has died. He was 70.
His London-based agent, Barrie Marshall, told the Associated Press that Cocker died early Monday of lung cancer in Crawford, Colo., where he has lived for the past two decades with his wife Pam.
Cocker was best known for a memorable Woodstock performance in 1969 where he covered The Beatles’ With a Little Help From My Friends.
The ballad You Are So Beautiful, with Cocker’s voice cracking on the final emotional note, was a Top Ten hit in 1975. He reached the top of the charts in the 1980s with the duet Up Where We Belong, with Jennifer Warnes, that appeared in the movie An Officer and a Gentlemen. The song won them a 1983 Grammy Award.
Cocker also had hits with Randy Newman’s song, You Can Leave Your Hat On and When the Night Comes. Rolling Stone ranked him No. 97 on its list of 100 Greatest Rock Singers.
The Sheffield, England-born singer made his public debut at age 12, when his brother Victor invited him onstage to sing with his skiffle band. “My voice hadn’t really broken, but I could sing all the Lonnie Donegan songs from the skiffle era,” Cocker told USA TODAY’s Brian Mansfield in 2012. “My brother and his band loved to hear me sing, because I could do them all in the same key.”
Cocker’s early ’60s band, Vance Arnold & The Avengers, initially missed out on the British Invasion, but he got a second chance during what he called “the Whiter Shade of Pale era.” That 1967 Procol Harum hit reinvigorated the British pop scene and led directly to high-profile appearances like his Sunday afternoon set at Woodstock in 1969, where Cocker’s version of The Beatles’ With A Little Help From My Friends became a career-igniting performance.
“We just had a good day,” Cocker recalled. “We went on real early, and we got a good sound. It took a long time to connect with the audience, though.”
Cocker’s version of the Beatles’ song later regained popularity as the theme for the TV show The Wonder Years.
Contributing: Haley Blum
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