One of the most legendary voices in blues rock, Joe Cocker, has died at the age of 70. The legend was arguably best known for his cover of the Beatles song “With a Littler Help From My Friends,” which was the theme song to the hit show The Wonder Years. You can listen to the track above.
Here’s what we know so far:
1. His Agent Called Cocker ‘Simply Unique’
The legend’s passing was confirmed by his agent. His rep, Barrie Marshall, speaking to the BBC, said that Cocker was “simply unique” and that “it will be impossible to fill the space he leaves in our hearts.” In an official statement, Cocker’s label, Sony Music said:
John Robert Cocker, known to family, friends, his community and fans around the world as Joe Cocker, passed away on December 22, 2014 after a hard fought battle with small cell lung cancer. Mr. Cocker was 70 years old.
Joe Cocker was born 5/20/1944 in Sheffield, England where he lived until his early 20’s. In 2007 he was awarded the OBE by the Queen of England.
His international success as a blues/rock singer began in 1964 and continues till this day. Joe created nearly 40 albums and toured extensively around the globe.
In October 2000, Cocker said in an interview that he “used to smoke 40 a day” but had since cut down. At one of his Madison Square Garden gigs in September 2014, Bill Joel paid tribute to Cocker calling him “a great singer who is not very well right now. I think he should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I’m amazed that he’s not yet, but I’m throwing in my vote for Joe Cocker.” You can watch the clip of Joel’s tribute below:
2. Cocker Got His Start in 1963 When He Opened for the Rolling Stones
He was native of Sheffield, England. Cocker began his career singing in the rough pubs and working men’s clubs of the city during the 1960s. Cocker went by the stage name, Vance Arnold, in the band Vance Arnold and the Avengers. The group covered soul and blue songs by Ray Charles and Chuck Berry. In 1963, they opened for the Rolling Stones in Sheffield and Cocker never looked back. Cocker’s stage performances were legendary and energetic, he explained his style in an interview with the Guardian:
I actually saw myself with Eric Clapton – you know you see all your old stuff on YouTube now – and I was horrified at myself, with my arms just flailing around. I guess that came with my frustration at never having played piano or guitar. If you see me nowadays I’m not quite so animated, but it’s just a way of trying to get feeling out – I get excited and it all comes through my body.
3. He Had Battled Drugs & Alcohol Throughout His Career
The singer’s career had been dogged with drug and alcohol abuse until he cleaned himself up for a triumphant return to the mainstream in the 1980s. His final concert was in Hammersmith, London, in June 2014. In an interview with the Daily Mail in March 2013, Cocker credited his American wife, Pam, with helping him to clean up. He said of Pam, his second wife:
It was Pam who helped me get myself back together. She made me think positively. I was very down on myself. She made me realise people still wanted to hear me sing, and convinced me I could escape the downward spiral.
In a 2000 interview, Cocker spoke about how is years of substance abuse had affected his voice:
There are parts of my falsetto I’ll never get back. The really high end, because those years of drinking and smoking took their toll. But I’ve got a bit of a timbre that’s developed, that I didn’t have in my 20s and 30s, that’s just come through singing a lot. I’ve got a breathing technique now that helps keep me from ripping my throat out, which I used to do when I was younger.
In addition to his wife, Cocker is survived by his step-daughter, Zoey Schroeder and two grandchildren, Eva and Simon Schroeder.
4. He Was Living in Colorado at the Time of His Death
The Guardian reports that he had been living on a ranch in Crawford, Colorado at the time of his death. His farm is named the Mad Dog Ranch, after his album Mad Dogs and Englishmen. A neighbor of Cocker’s in Colorado, Becky Burris, told the Denver Post that the singer had “just become one of the locals.” In that 2008 feature, Cocker spoke about his love of growing tomatoes and walking his dog, Ben, across his land.
5. Cocker Was an Oscar Winner
Cocker was honored with an Order of the British Empire award in 2007 for his services to music. His other awards include an Oscar and a Grammy for his duet “Up Where We Belong” with Jennifer Warnes from the movie An Officer and a Gentleman.