Leon Russell has died, officially making 2016 the most devastating year in recent history for music fans. The music legend, known for his iconic collaborations with everyone from Frank Sinatra to Joe Cocker to Elton John, died in his sleep over the weekend at age 74, according to Rolling Stone. A message on Russell’s website revealed that the famed musician, songwriter, and bandleader, who worked for more than 50 years in the music industry, passed away on Nov. 13, at his home in Nashville.
Russell, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee, had been plagued with a series of health problems in recent years, including several surgeries and a heart attack that he suffered in July. Russell had been recuperating from heart surgery at the time of his death, but he had been planning to resume touring in January.
Leon Russell wrote some of the most iconic rock classics of the 20th century, including Joe Cocker’s “Delta Lady” and The Carpenters’ “Superstar.” As a session musician, Leon also played on The Beach Boys’ famous anthem, “California Girls,” the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby,” and the Byrds’ classic, “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Russell’s most famous song, “A Song For You,” has been recorded by dozens of high-profile artists, including Andy Williams, Willie Nelson, Herbie Hancock, Christina Aguilera, and Ray Charles, who belted out a Grammy-winning version in 1993. Russell once revealed that his signature song only took him 10 minutes to write.
One of Leon’s most famous musical collaborations was with longtime pal Elton John, whom he teamed up with for the 2010 album The Union. In an interview with NPR, Elton revealed that Leon Russell was his idol so he came up with the idea to create a tribute album for him to ensure that he would never be forgotten.
“He is a better piano player than I am,” John said at the time. “As far as gospel and stuff like that, that’s why I wanted to make this album. He is my idol.”
The feeling was mutual. Leon Russell wrote and sang the final cut on the album, “The Hands of Angels,” and he dedicated it to Elton.
“I wanted to give him something, for doing this for me,” Leon told NPR. “I’ve thought this was a pretty magnificent gift he was giving me. What do you give to a guy who’s got six fully staffed houses and 10 of everything else in the world? I thought I could give him a song. And he liked it.”
Shortly after his 2010 musical collaboration with Leon Russell, Elton John inducted Russell into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.
After news of his death was announced, fans and friends in the music industry took to social media to pay homage to Leon Russell, including John. Elton posted a photo of himself and Leon to Instagram, describing the late legend as “a mentor and inspiration.”
In addition to Elton John, many other musicians got social media to remember Leon Russell, including Carole King, Cat Stevens, Ringo Starr, and Kiss frontman Paul Stanley, who wrote that Russell’s iconic career had “too many moments of greatness to list.”
Music fans have had a rough year with the deaths of some of the biggest legends in the industry in 2016. Leon Russell died just days after music icon Leonard Cohen. In addition to Russell and Cohen, music greats David Bowie, Prince, Glenn Frey and Keith Emerson all passed away this year.
Take a look at the video below to see a classic Leon Russell performance of “A Song For You” in 1971.
[Featured Image by Kevin Winter/Getty Images]