Lou Reed, rock legend and music pioneer, is dead at age 71. No official cause of death has been released. It is unknown if Reed’s liver transplant operation earlier this year is connected, Rolling Stone reports.
Born Lewis Allan Reed in Brooklyn, 1942, little did young Lou know he would become one of the world’s most famous influential songwriters and sound innovators. Many will likely remember Lou Reed for the Velvet Underground, the late 60s rock act that saw a strange collision of European rock experimentation, like Krautrock, and the styles and lyricism of American garage and folk rock. The group’s 1967 debut, The Velvet Underground & Nico, remains a landmark album in rock history.
Reed later went out on his own in 1970 to begin a diverse and critically acclaimed solo career. Undeniably, it was 1972’s David Bowie-produced solo album, Transformer, which launched Reed from an underground legend to a worldwide rock star. Even those who never followed Reed’s career closely can recall his major hit, “Walk on the Wild Side.”
Rather than settle into his success Lou Reed expanded into new territory, at times earning the scorn of critics and fans alike. 1973’s Berlin was much darker and lyrically dense than anything he’d done before. For his fifth album, Reed released a double-album in 1975 named Metal Machine Music, a lengthy recording of noisy guitar feedback. While some say the album was a joke, with it Reed unwittingly spawned a new generation of avant-garde and noise rock.
Becoming one of the biggest figures in glam rock, Lou Reed’s “sex, drugs and rock n’ roll” lifestyle became the stuff of legends. But, like many, the 1980s mellowed the rock icon, who finally settled down and married Sylvia Morales. Later Reed released several albums, including The Blue Mask, New Sensations, and New York, which saw a more accessible return to form.
In 1994 Reed reunited with The Velvet Underground for a handful of acclaimed shows in Europe. After divorcing Morales, Reed later began seeing performing artist Laurie Anderson. They married in 2008, becoming well-known for their collaborative work and performances as well as their social and political activism.
In this time Reed released several albums. 2005’s The Raven, based on the Edgar Allen Poe poem, and 2007’s Hudson River Wind Meditations were experimental albums that got mixed reception. In 2011 Reed participated in a collaboration with Metallica named Lulu.
More recently, Lou Reed had promoted a book of rock photography and was not publicly known to be ill.
Legend, enigma, poet, and icon, Lou Reed was all of them and his contribution to rock and roll will continue to live as a staple of Twentieth Century music and beyond.
[Image via Danny Norton / Wikimedia Commons]