Joe Cocker, R.I.P.


The death has been announced of Joe Cocker, one of the most distinctive British voices of his generation. Joe was 70, and his longtime agent Barrie Marshall disclosed that he had passed away after a battle with lung cancer, in the state of Colorado.

Cocker, a former apprentice gas fitter from Sheffield, had an active career in music of some 55 years. As a teenager, he fronted such local groups as the Cavaliers and Vance Arnold and the Avengers. After signing for Decca as a solo artist, his unsuccessful debut single was a version of the Beatles song, ‘I’ll Cry Instead,’ which proved appropriate as he would become world-famous in 1968 with his UK No. 1 version of their ‘With A Little Help From My Friends.’

By then, Cocker had formed the Grease Band and started to win his reputation as an intense, no-holds-barred live performer, famous for his wild hand gestures and growling, soulful lead vocals. He performed, brilliantly and memorably, at the Woodstock Festival and on his own celebrated ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen’ tour, with Leon Russell as his musical director.

Cocker’s other famed recordings from the period included his version of Russell’s ‘Delta Lady’ and similarly distinctive readings of the Box Tops’ hit ‘The Letter’ and other Beatles songs including ‘She Came In Through The Bathroom Window’ and ‘Something.’

Cocker had well-known battles with alcohol in the period after his initial success, but made a dramatic return to the charts with his duet with Jennifer Warnes, ‘Up Where We Belong.’ The Grammy and Oscar-winning ballad was the theme from the 1982 film ‘An Officer and a Gentleman.’ His subsequent successes of the 1980s included versions of Randy Newman’s ‘You Can Leave Your Hat On’ and the Ray Charles hit ‘Unchain My Heart.’

In more recent years, Joe continued to record and enjoy huge success as a live attraction, especially in Europe and particularly in Germany, where he continued to command superstar status. He was awarded an O.B.E. in 2007.

“It will be impossible to fill the space he leaves in our hearts,” said Marshall, describing Cocker as “simply unique. He was without the doubt the greatest rock/soul voice ever to come out of Britain and remained the same man throughout his life.” He added that Joe was a "true star” and a “kind and humble man who loved to perform. Anyone who ever saw him live will never forget him.” Paul McCartney has described Cocker as a "lovely guy, who brought so much to the world." Ringo Starr has tweeted the message: "Goodbye and God bless to Joe Cocker."

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