Joe Cocker died Dec. 22 of lung cancer. He was 70 years old.
Cocker is mostly known for his gravelly voice, unusual spastic performing style and a string of big hits in the 70s and 80s (“You Are So Beautiful” and “Up Where We Belong”), and of course his incendiary version of “A Little Help From My Friends” at Woodstock. He was also known to be the target of a spot-on hilarious parody by John Belushi.
Back in the day, Cocker was almost as legendary for his heavy drinking and heroin use as he was for his music. Ironic that the alcohol and drugs didn’t kill him … lung cancer did. His good friend George Harrison also died of lung cancer several years ago.
Of course, not that it completely matters, and I hesitate to even go here .. but he did smoke (and this blog is about the dangers of tobacco), though he says he quit in 1991. Here is a passage from a 2000 newspaper interview (and a surprisingly large part of this article is about Joe’s smoking):
Joe Cocker in his prime must have made Joe Camel proud.
“I used to smoke about 40 a day at one time — cigarettes,” says the blue-eyed British growler, the clarifier hinting at a past full of ingestible vices.
Some left marks on a voice already famous for texture. A typical Cocker hit — 1969’s Feelin’ Alright, 1975’s You Are So Beautiful, 1990’s When the Night Comes — sounded heart-wrenching and pipe-wrenching, too. That style, a throat full of soul, turned r&b and rock covers into classics.
But a fine line separates nicely ravaged from shot. Cocker, who opens for Tina Turner on Wednesday at the National Car Rental Center, didn’t want to cross that line if he planned to keep singing.
“I quit [smoking] about nine years ago,” says the Sheffield, England, native, “and that’s made a world of difference.”
I hope Joe and John are sharing a Guinness together right now.