British singer Joe Cocker, who had hits that included “You Are So Beautiful” and “Up Where We Belong,” and a contortionist style of performance memorably parodied by John Belushi on “Saturday Night Live,” has died. He was 70.
His London-based agent, Barrie Marshall, said Cocker died Monday of lung cancer in Colorado, where he has lived for the past two decades.
Cocker, a song interpreter more than a songwriter, first became known through his hit cover of the Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends,” and a characteristically manic performance at the first Woodstock festival in 1969. His raucous “Mad Dogs & Englishmen” tour of 1970 produced a film and a recording that went gold.
He had a top 10 hit in 1975 on the aching ballad “You Are So Beautiful,” with his voice cracking on the final emotional note and won his first Grammy Award in 1983 for his “Up Where We Belong” duet with Jennifer Warnes, which was the theme of the movie “An Officer and a Gentleman.”
Cocker, who received an Order of the British Empire in 2011 for his contribution to music, released 40 albums and continued to tour after the hits dried up.
He was known for an intense, twitchy stage presence where his arms would flail and face contort as he wrung notes from his raspy voice. When he performed on “Saturday Night Live” in 1976, Belushi parodied him onstage, exaggerating his movements by flipping to the ground. It was a clip seen as widely as Cocker’s own performances.
Years later, Cocker told The Associated Press’ Mary Campbell that he was playing an imaginary piano and air guitar while singing – the elements that contributed to this unique style.
“That was the frustration of not being able to play, really,” he said.
Cocker moved to Crawford, Colorado, a town of fewer than 500 people, in the early 1990s. He and his wife, Pam, ran a children’s educational foundation – the Cocker Kids Foundation – that raised funds for the town and schools, and ran the Mad Dog Cafe for several years in town, said Tom Wills, publisher of The North Fork Merchant Herald, a local community newspaper.
Wills said Cocker bought about 40 acres of property and built a hillside mansion – which he called Mad Dog Ranch – when he moved to Colorado.
A group of Cocker’s friends gathered Monday at community radio station KVNF to play Cocker’s songs.
“He had a long battle with cancer. We’re trying to do a little tribute for him,” said Bob Pennetta, a real estate agent and board member of the Cocker Kids Foundation.