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The Beatles and Stones' collaborator was 59 and ill for a long time

By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated June 06, 2006 04:20 PM
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Credit: Photofest/Retna

Keyboardist Billy Preston, whose gigs included those with the Beatles (on “Get Back”) and the Rolling Stones (“Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?”), died Tuesday after a long illness. He was 59.

Preston’s longtime manager, Joyce Moore, told the Associated Press that the musician had been in a coma since November in a care facility and was taken to a hospital in Scottsdale, Ariz., Saturday after his condition deteriorated. “He had a very, very beautiful last few hours and a really beautiful passing,” she said. “He went home good.”

Preston had battled chronic kidney failure, and he received a kidney transplant in 2002. But the kidney failed and he has been on dialysis ever since, Moore said earlier this year.

Known for his big smile, the Houston-born Preston was a teen prodigy on the piano and organ. After lending his gospel-tinged touch to the music of the Beatles and the Stones, Preston broke out as a solo artist in the ’70s, winning a best instrumental Grammy in 1973 for “Outta Space,” and scoring other hits with “Will It Go ‘Round In Circles,” “Nothing From Nothing” and “With You I’m Born Again,” a duet with Syreeta Wright.

He also penned the Joe Cocker standard “You Are So Beautiful,” and co-wrote with Quincy Jones the score for 1970 movie They Call Me Mr. Tibbs. He was the first musical guest on the 1975 debut of Saturday Night Live, and appeared in the films Blues Brothers 2000 and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Other collaborators over the decades included the Jackson 5, Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.