Death of Joe Cocker, 'greatest soul voice of Britain'

Death of Joe Cocker, 'greatest soul voice of Britain'

NEW YORK - Legendary singer Joe Cocker, whose intense, gritty voice won him wide acclaim that spanned both rock and blues, has died at age 70, his agent said Monday.

Cocker, who started off playing to small audiences in pubs in his native England, won fame when he jolted the 1969 Woodstock festival with his high-powered version of the Beatles' "With a Little Help From My Friends" - one of rock's most successful covers.

Cocker - who on stage would flail his arms so wildly that uninitiated crowds wondered if he had neurological problems - said in a 1971 movie about him, "Mad Dogs and Englishmen," that music served as his release and mused that he could have been a murderer if he had not been a singer.

But some of his biggest hits showed a gentler side, including the love ballad "You Are So Beautiful" and "Up Where We Belong," a Grammy-winning 1982 duet with Jennifer Warnes that figured prominently in the movie "An Officer and a Gentleman."

"He was without doubt the greatest rock/soul voice ever to come out of Britain," his agent, Barrie Marshall, said in a statement announcing his death on Sunday evening.

Paul McCartney mourned Cocker as a "lovely guy who brought so much to the world."

The former Beatle said that he found Cocker's version of "With a Little Help From My Friends" to be "mind-blowing."

The cover "totally turned the song into a soul anthem and I was forever grateful for him for doing that," McCartney said.

Cocker's label, Sony Music, said that he was suffering lung cancer. The Yorkshire Post, the singer's hometown newspaper in England, said that he died in the US Rocky Mountain state of Colorado where Cocker and his wife settled in a small town two decades ago.

Cocker had remained prolific, releasing his 22nd studio album in 2012. He moved to Colorado as he sobered up after a notoriously hard-partying youth, when his love for alcohol and drugs brought fears that he would be the latest rock star to die young.

In 1972, Cocker and his bandmates were arrested in Australia for possession of marijuana and then ordered to leave the country due to a hotel brawl, triggering a debate in Australia about its drug laws.

'A way of carrying emotion'

At Woodstock, despite it being a carnival of counter-culture, Cocker recalled that promoters thought that the then unknown singer's arm movements were too strange and brought attractive women to the stage next to him to deflect attention.

Another problem - he had flown in on a separate helicopter and did not know that his entire band was tripping on LSD, he later told the US rock DJ Redbeard.

"I didn't find out until later," he said. "I thought they were all looking a bit frisky up there."

But Cocker wound up taking the stage twice and also performed a cover of Ray Charles' post-addiction song "Let's Go Get Stoned."

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