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Joe Cocker, English Blues-Rock Great, Has Died at Age 70

The legendary, raspy-voiced soul man succumbed to lung cancer today

Joe Cocker, one of the most singularly voiced vocalists of the rock era, died today after a long battle with lung cancer, as reported by ITV News. “It will be impossible to fill the space he leaves in our hearts,” Cocker’s agent, Barrie Marshall, said to the BBC. Cocker was 70 years old.

Hailing from Sheffield, England, Cocker rose to prominence in the late ’60s, when after spending time with various abortive bands and collaborative projects, he achieved breakout solo success in 1968 with a cover of the Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends.” The rendition, which slowed the original down to a soulful ballad and featured Cocker’s signature throaty rasp and electric vocal ad-libs, went to No. 1 in the U.K., and charted all around the world. Further hit reinterpretations of Traffic’s “Feelin’ Alright” and the Box Tops’ “The Letter,” as well as a show-stopping performance at the Woodstock Festival in 1969, established Cocker as one of the most popular singers on either side of the Atlantic by the beginning of the next decade.

In the ’70s, Cocker would have his biggest solo smash with the love song perennial “You Are So Beautiful,” initially recorded by Billy Preston, which peaked at No. 5 for Cocker in 1975. The hits slowed down for the singer after that, but he would return to the Top 40 in 1982 for his greatest chart success of all, his Hot 100-topping duet with Jennifer Warnes,”Up Where We Belong,” from the blockbuster romance film An Officer and a Gentleman. Further pop success for the rest of the 20th century was fleeting, but Cocker continued to record and play live well into the 2010s, releasing his 22nd album, Fire It Up, in 2012, and touring in Europe in the summer of 2013.

Today, Cocker’s music thanks to the endless number of associations that people might have with him and his hits. Whether it’s having a group sing-along to his “Friends” cover at a wedding or Bar Mitzvah (or while watching Wonder Years reruns), cracking up at him performing alongside John Belushi’s famous imitation of him on Saturday Night Live, having your mind blown by discovering that a sample of his “Woman to Woman” provided the hook to 2Pac and Dr. Dre’s “California Love,” or bawling your eyes out to Richard Gere sweeping Debra Winger away at the end of Officer while the strains of “Belong” play in the background, the singer has impacted just about every music fan in some way or another with his songs and heart-on-his-sleeve wailing. There’s never been another quite like him — not even Belushi — and he will be dearly missed.