Those who played with bassist Benjamin Orr in the band Big People knew he had reached the end of his short, brave fight against pancreatic cancer. Playing in Palmer, Alaska, on Sept. 28, Orr was too weak to perform the haunting hit ballad he had written and sung back in 1984 with the Cars, one of that decade’s biggest rock acts. “Skip ‘Drive,’ ” he quietly told his band-mates. “I can’t do it.” Says drummer Liberty DeVitto: “We all looked at each other and thought, ‘This is it.’ ”
Sadly, they were right. On Oct. 3 Orr died at home in Atlanta at age 53. Since being diagnosed with the incurable cancer in May, Orr (whose son Ben, 5, lives with his mother in Vermont) kept right on touring the country. “Nothing stopped him,” says his fiancée, Julie Snider, 43, an event coordinator in Atlanta. “He just got up there onstage and sang his heart out.”
Rock and roll was the only road Cleveland native Benjamin Orzechowski had navigated since the late ’60s, when he first teamed with guitarist Ric Ocasek. By 1976 the pair had become the main engines behind the Cars, a new-wave quintet famous for such hits as “Just What I Needed,” “My Best Friend’s Girl” and “You Might Think,” before they disbanded in 1987.
Performing with Big People, which he joined in April 1999, Orr met Snider that September, when she hired the band for a benefit. As he sickened in the course of this year, says guitarist Jeff Carlisi, Snider “felt it was the ultimate gift from God that she was given the chance to take care of him.” Says Snider: “Ben was the kindest, greatest, most loving man I ever met. In the span of one year, we lived a lifetime together.”