Liver disease claims Lou Reed at age 71
Lou Reed, one of the most influential figures in rock-and-roll history, died Sunday (10/27) at age 71. The death was first reported by Rolling Stone, and later confirmed by Reed's publicist.
The New York Times reported that the cause of death was liver disease; Reed had undergone a liver transplant in May. There were reports that Reed was hospitalized for dehydration in July, but as recently as early October he did a series of interviews to help promote "Transformer," a book of photographs of Reed taken through the 1970s by his friend Mick Rock.
A New Yorker by birth and throughout life, Reed was born in Brooklyn and grew up on Long Island. He began his musical career as a teen-aged doo-wop singer and as an in-house songwriter for a record company, but built his legend as a singer, songwriter and guitarist in the pioneering experimental rock band The Velvet Underground. That band debuted in 1965 with a lineup of Reed, John Cale (viola), Sterling Morrison (guitar) and Maureen Tucker (drums). Within about a year the Velvets were taken under the wing of Andy Warhol, who made them the house band at his famous New York studio The Factory.
While the Velvets had some quiet and melodic tracks in their repertoire, their songs were best known for delving into dark corners of life, from drug addicts to sexual deviants. VU didn't sell many albums -- especially during the time they were an active band -- but their music and attitude laid the foundation for boundary-pushing 1970s bands like the New York Dolls and Talking Heads, and the alternative rock movement that followed in the 1980s, when bands like R.E.M., U2 and Sonic Youth all claimed VU's music as an influence.
Reed left the Velvets in 1970 to embark on a solo career, where he continued his refusal to bow to convention or expectations. Among his most confounding works was 1975's "Metal Machine Music" -- essentially a two-record set of manipulated guitar feedback -- and he continued to tweak his fans to his final release, "Lulu," a 2011 collaboration with Metallica.
Like his work with VU, Reed's solo material is regarded more for its influence and critical acclaim than for sales. His best regarded works include 1973's gender-bending "Transformer" album (which features "Walk on the Wild Side," his best-known song), 1973's "Berlin" and 1992's "New York."
The liver disease that claimed Reed likely was the result of his well-chronicled drug abuse, particularly through the '70s, when he was addicted to heroin and reportedly contracted Hepatitis C. In recent years, Reed claimed that had been completely sober for more than three decades.
Reed, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of The Velvet Underground, is survived by his wife for 15 years, musician and performance artist Laurie Anderson.