Legendary blues musician B.B. King has died at the age of 89 in Las Vegas, his attorney tells The Associated Press.
His attorney, Brent Bryson, told the AP that the “King of Blues” died peacefully in his sleep at 9:40 p.m. local time. Funeral arrangements are underway, Bryson said. The death was confirmed by the county coroner.
One of the greatest guitar players and best blues musicians of all time, King had a career that spanned more than seven decades, performing as many as 250 shows during several of those years. He continued to perform into his 80s, with his final tour concluding last October after he fell ill.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. King Was Receiving Hospice Care at His Las Vegas Home
B.B. King had been in hospice care at his Las Vegas home, he announced last week on his website.
“I am in home hospice care at my residence in Las Vegas. Thanks to all for your well wishes and prayers,” he said.
King was hospitalized on April 30 to be treated for dehydration, according to KLAS-TV.
His daughter, Patty King, told the news station that her father wasn’t eating and became dehydrated, so he was taken to the hospital for observation. After tests, doctors determined he might have suffered a minor heart attack, his daughter said. The elder King was also hospitalized in early April for several days, also for dehydration.
King cancelled the remaining shows of his 2014 tour because of exhaustion and after falling ill in Chicago.
2. He Battled Type II Diabetes For 25 Years
King was diagnosed with Type II diabetes in 1990, but he didn’t let that hold him back. He continued to play more than 200 shows a year, touring into his 80s, despite battles with exhaustion and other diabetes-related complications. He also aimed to raise awareness about the disease.
“I didn’t think too much about it, honestly, because I was not familiar with diabetes,” he said about his diagnosis in an interview with Health Update magazine. “I had to be educated on what it meant. I started to read literature about it, and I started taking medication for it.
“At the time, I was, believe it or not, trying to lose weight. I’d heard of this weight loss program drinking fruit juice. I was on the road doing weekly concerts in different cities and by the end of my week in this one city after doing the fruit juice diet, I didn’t feel like I even had enough energy to pick up a fork or a spoon. When I got home the next day, I told my doctor what had been happening. She checked my blood sugar right off and said, “You’re not going home. You’re going straight to the hospital. … We found out my blood sugar was 640. If I had not been a pretty strong guy, I would’ve been in a coma.”
He talked about raising awareness about the disease in an interview with Diabetes Health magazine:
My father died at 87, and the only thing I know is that he had high blood glucose and gout. My mother died when I was 9. I think she went blind before she died. It must have been related to diabetes. Nobody knew what to do at that time. We were people living out in the country. We didn’t have all the modern conveniences like blood glucose testing.
I hope my voice and the things I say will encourage someone out there and help them learn the truth about diabetes and act on it. A lot of people would like to have the actual truth. Some people don’t believe that diabetes is life threatening. But it is. I lost a sister and a niece who had diabetes. I tried to beg them to do what they should, but they’re not with me anymore.
3. He Was Married Twice & Had 15 Children
King was married twice, first to Martha Lee Denton from 1946 to 1952 and then to Sue Carol Hall from 1958 to 1966. Both of his marriages ended because of the demands of his career, which took him on the road for as many as 250 performances a year, according to his biography on the website jazzandbluesmasters.com.
He fathered or adopted 15 children, according to Forbes.
While King was on his death bed, a fierce court battle began between his 11 surviving children and his longtime manager, Laverne Toney, Forbes reported. Three of his children went to court in Las Vegas and made elder abuse allegations against Toney, saying their father wasn’t receiving proper medical care, that Toney was restricting his friends and children from visiting and that there was money missing from King’s bank accounts. Toney, who had power of attorney for King, denied the allegations. A hearing officer dismissed the case.
4. He Was Born Riley B. King on a Plantation in the Mississippi Delta
Riley B. King was born September 16, 1925 on a sharecropper plantation in Itta Bena, Mississippi, according to the biography on his website.
“I was a regular hand when I was 7. I picked cotton. I drove tractors. Children grew up not thinking that this is what they must do. We thought this was the thing to do to help your family,” he told the Associated Press.
He began his musical career playing on street corners for dimes in his youth, sometimes playing in four towns a night. He hitchhiked to Memphis, Tennessee to pursue a
career in the business in 1947.
His music was heavily influenced by where he grew up. “We don’t play rock and roll,” he said in 1957, according to his bio on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame website. “Our music is blues, straight from the Delta.”
The name B.B. King comes his nickname as a disc jockey, Beale Street Blues Boy, which was shortened to Blues Boy and then B.B.
King was known for playing with Gibson guitars, which he always nicknamed “Lucille.” King said he named the guitar after he nearly lost one of his beloved instruments in a fire:
The way I came by the name Lucille, I was over in Twist, Arkansas … One night the guys started a brawl, started brawling, you know what I mean. The guy that was mad with his old lady, when she fell over on this gas tank that was burning for heat, the gas ran all over the floor. And when the gas ran all over the floor, the building caught on fire and almost burned me up trying to save Lucille. … Oh, I imagine you’re still wondering why I call her Lucille, the lady who started the brawl that night was named Lucille.
5. He Won 15 Grammy Awards During His Career & Was Honored With the Lifetime Achievement Award
King was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and was honored by the Grammys with a Lifetime Achievement Award that same year.
He won 15 Grammy Awards during his career. His first Grammy came in 1971 when he won Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for The Thrill Is Gone. He won Best Traditional Blues Recording three times, for Blues ‘ Jazz in 1984, My Guitar Sings the Blues in 1986 and Live at San Quentin in 1991. And he won Best Traditional Blues Album seven times, for Live at the Apollo in 1992, Blues Summit in 1994, Blues on the Bayou in 2000, Riding with the King in 2001, A Christmas Celebration of Hope in 2003, 80 in 2006 and One Kind Favor in 2009.
King had a major influence on the music industry, as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame says in its biography of him:
More than any other musician of the postwar era, King brought the blues from the margins to the mainstream. His influence on a generation of rock and blues guitarists – including Eric Clapton, Mike Bloomfield and Stevie Ray Vaughan – has been inestimable.
King is also known for his chain of entertainment venues, called B.B. King’s Blues Club, which he first opened in Memphis in 1994. He later opened seven more, with locations ranging from Orlando, Florida to Las Vegas, to Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut.