NEW YORK – 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, made a breakthrough when he jolted the 1969 Woodstock festival by playing the Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends” which critics hailed as one of the rock era’s most successful covers.
Cocker, whose singing was accompanied by spastic flailing of his arms that led uninitiated audiences to wonder if he had neurological problems, later topped the charts with the love ballad “You Are So Beautiful.”
“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.
“Hugely talented — a true star — but a kind and humble man who loved to perform,” he said.
“His iconic performance of ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ continued to thrill audiences across the decades. He was simply unique,” he added.
Marshall did not state the cause of death. The Yorkshire Post, the singer’s hometown newspaper in England, said that Cocker had been battling lung cancer and died in the U.S. Rocky Mountain state of Colorado, where he had long lived.
Cocker’s image as a voice of his generation was enhanced when “The Wonder Years,” a popular U.S. television show launched in 1988 that looked back fondly at the 1960s, chose his version of “With a Little Help From My Friends” as its theme song.
“Goodbye and God bless to Joe Cocker from one of his friends — peace and love,” Beatles drummer Ringo Starr wrote on Twitter.
Goodbye and God bless to Joe Cocker from one of his friends peace and love. R😎✌️🌟💖
— #RingoStarr (@ringostarrmusic) December 22, 2014
The song was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. But despite the acclaim, Cocker never made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, an omission that some fans saw as a snub.
Billy Joel, performing “With a Little Help from My Friends” at New York’s Madison Square Garden in September, voiced regret that Cocker was ill and said he was “amazed” that the singer was not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.