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|Posted: Fri Jun 11, 2004 1:58 am Post subject: Ray Charles dies at 73 from Liver Disease
|By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Ray Charles, who overcame poverty, blindness and heroin addiction to lay the foundation for soul music and become one of America's most beloved entertainers, has died at the age of 73 after a long fight with liver disease.
Charles, hailed as "The Father of Soul" and best known for such hits as "Georgia On My Mind" and "Hit the Road Jack," died on Thursday at his Beverly Hills home, surrounded by family, friends and business associates, according to the singer's longtime publicist Jerry Digney.
"Mr. Charles was conscious and engaged almost to the end, and wanted the world to know that he will miss the chance to entertain his many family and friends, as he had done, up until last summer, for the past 58 years," longtime manager Joe Adams said at a news conference outside the musician's studio.
The legendary entertainer made his last public appearance on April 30, turning up in a motorised wheelchair for a ceremony dedicating his longtime recording studio in Los Angeles as an historic landmark.
Visibly frail, his voice reduced to a whisper, Charles' demeanour then was a far cry from the wildly enthusiastic performer known to millions of fans for more than half a century.
Charles' biographer, David Ritz, said the singer-songwriter had been unable to speak for the past two to three weeks.
Charles was forced to cut short a North American tour last summer due to hip pain, marking the first series of concerts he had missed in more than 50 years. He later underwent hip replacement surgery.
But other ailments were diagnosed, and unspecified complications forced him to scrap plans to resume touring with a performance in New York last month.
Charles triumphed over adversity from a young age. Left blind by glaucoma at the age of 6, he attended a school for the disabled in St. Augustine, Florida, where he learned to read and write music in Braille and play the piano, saxophone, organ, trumpet and clarinet.
In a 2002 interview, Charles credited his mother with pushing him to be independent, despite his blindness.
"She'd make me cut wood, wash clothes and build a fire under the pot. ... People thought that was abusive. My mother had the attitude 'He's got to learn, and just because he's blind doesn't mean he's stupid.'"
Quitting school at age 15 after his mother died, Charles moved to Jacksonville, Florida, then on to Seattle to pursue a music career.
Charles came into his own musically in the early 1950s after signing with Atlantic Records, where he recorded the seminal hit "I Got a Woman," popularly credited as the first true soul record ever made.
He went on to collect 13 Grammy Awards during his career, including a lifetime achievement honour in 1987. He played his 10,000th concert last May in Los Angeles and in 2002 celebrated the 40th anniversary of his first hit on the country music charts, "I Can't Stop Loving You."
Charles made his biggest mark in the 1950s by blending the spirituality of gospel music he learned in the black churches of his youth with the sensuality of the blues to pioneer an emotionally raw genre called soul. Soul in turn helped pave the way for such performers as Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke and the birth of rock 'n' roll.
"He is one of the most important artists of the last century," Ahmet Ertegun, who signed Charles to his Atlantic Records label 52 years ago, told Reuters. "The only artist that had a greater influence was Louis Armstrong."
Charles released his latest album, "Thanks for Bringing Love Around," in 2002, including a new version of "What'd I Say," a song he originally released in 1959 that became one of his first hits.
Other hits include the ballad "Georgia On My Mind," which became the official state song of Charles' home state, as well as "Hit the Road Jack," "The Right Time," "Yes, Indeed," "Hallelujah, I Love Her So" and "I Can't Stop Loving You."
While best known for his contributions to soul music, Charles achieved success with pop standards, jazz tunes and country music.
As his health was failing in recent months, Charles had been finishing work on an upcoming CD of duets, titled "Genius Loves Company", with such performers as Elton John, Norah Jones, B.B. King, Diana Krall, Johnny Mathis and Willie Nelson. It is slated for release at the end of summer.
I'M RICK JAMES BITCH!!!!!!-DAVE CHAPPELLE