November 10, 2006 05:00 PM

R&B singer Gerald Levert died of an apparent heart attack on Friday, PEOPLE has confirmed. He was 40.

“We are devastated. Ours was more than a working relationship,” Lisa Cohen, vice president of Associated Booking Corp. (whose founder, Oscar Cohen, has managed the R&B crooner and his father for 25 years), tells PEOPLE. “The Leverts are family to us. We knew him when he was a kid.”

And hip-hop star Chris “Ludacris” Bridges also mourned the loss of Levert. “I grew up with his music and his father’s music,” he told PEOPLE. “He gave so much to the industry. He’ll live forever through his music.”

In a statement issued by Levert’s family, they thanked fans for the “generous outpouring of love, condolences and support…. As everybody knows, Gerald was a man who loved and breathed music. To his family and friends he was a man of strong character, who had an infectious personality and a zest for life. His greatest love was touching the hearts and souls of all people through his music.”

The son of Eddie Levert, the lead singer of the 1970s soul group The O’Jays, Gerald sang in the R&B trio LeVert, along with brother Sean Levert, and Marc Gordon. During the 1980s and early 1990s, their hits were “Pop, Pop, Pop, Pop (Goes My Mind),” “Casanova” and “ABC-123.”

Gerald Levert’s album’s also included Father & Son, which he recorded in 1995 with Eddie Levert.

Levert also teamed up with other R&B stars Keith Sweat and Johnny Gill for the group LSG, whose 1997 debut album Levert.Sweat.Gill went platinum. The trio also released a 2003 follow-up album, LSG2.

According to the Web site for LeVert’s booking agent, Richard De La Font, Gerald began singing as a young child and was heavily influenced by his father, as well as by James Brown and Marvin Gaye.

Watching the older singers live onstage, Gerald is quoted as saying, “I knew that singing and performing was what I wanted to do. My dad tried to talk me out of it, but it was no use, my mind was made up.”

In 1986, his group signed with Atlantic Records, a collaboration that resulted in numerous No. 1 singles, six gold albums, two Soul Train Music awards and a Grammy nomination. In 1991, with the blessing of the others in his trio, Gerald released his first solo album, Private Line.

When his sixth solo album, The G Spot, was released in 2002, PEOPLE said in its review: “Levert harks back to the soulful Sound of Philadelphia that his father, founding O’Jays member Eddie Levert, helped popularize in the ’70s. But it’s emotive ballads like ‘Closure’ – on which the normally gruff-voiced Levert shows off his silky upper register – that really hit the spot.”

Last year, according to IMDB.com, Levert’s daughter, Carlysia, was featured on an episode of MTV’s My Super Sweet 16.

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