Joe Cocker, the English blues and soul singer best known for his cover of The Beatles’ “With a Little Help from My Friends” – memorably used for the opening titles of the television show The Wonder Years – has died at the age of 70, his agent confirmed to the CBC.
The U.K.’s Yorkshire Post reports that he died at his Colorado home following a battle with lung cancer.
Cocker’s 40-year career also included hits like “You Are So Beautiful” and “Up Where We Belong,” the latter of which was a duet with Jennifer Warnes that won him a Grammy in 1983. His agent, Barrie Marshall, told the BBC that Cocker was “simply unique” and that “it will be impossible to fill the space he leaves in our hearts.”
Cocker was born in Sheffield in 1944, and by 1961, he was performing in soul bands while working as a gas fitter by day. His first hit was a dramatic rearrangement of “With a Little Help,” which turned the fairly sedate Ringo Starr showpiece into a rollicking soul rave-up. (Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page plays on the studio recording.) It was a number-one hit in United Kingdom and reached number 68 on the U.S. charts.
Cocker and his band performed at Woodstock in 1969, where they had to be airlifted in by helicopter due to the crowds. Cocker’s idiosyncratic performance style, which saw him gesticulate wildly and contort his face with the effort of singing, made him a popular live act through the next few years. (John Belushi imitated Cocker – next to the musician, while he performed – on an episode of Saturday Night Live in 1976.)
Cocker struggled with alcoholism and debt through the ’70s. In 1982, he recorded “Up Where We Belong” for the soundtrack to An Officer and a Gentleman, which earned him a Grammy – the song also won an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Cocker married Pam Baker, a local summer camp director who convinced Jane Fonda to rent her California home to Cocker, in October 1987.
Cocker continued performing and recording throughout the ’90s and 2000s. He was one of the few artists to return and perform at Woodstock in its 1994 incarnation, and in 2007, he was awarded an Order of the British Empire for services to music. Cocker is survived by his wife of 27 years, Pam; his brother, Victor; his step-daughter, Zoey Schroeder; and two grandchildren, Eva and Simon Schroeder.
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