NEW YORK, NY — Lou Reed, who took rock ‘n’ roll into dark corners as a songwriter, vocalist and guitarist for the Velvet Underground and as a solo artist, died Sunday, his publicist said. He was 71.
“It is now officially confirmed that Lou Reed did pass away several hours ago,” said Peter Noble.
Noble didn’t disclose details of Reed’s death.
Reed was a rock pioneer who went from record label songwriter to a member of a short-lived, but innovative and influential band.
“Lou Reed’s influence is one that there are really only a tiny handful of other figures who you can compare to him,” said Simon Vozick-Levinson, a senior editor at Rolling Stone, which first reported Reed’s death.
“He spoke incredibly frankly about the realities of being an artist, being a person who lived life on one’s own terms. He didn’t prettify things. He didn’t sugarcoat things. He showed life as it really is and that’s something that made him a true original, and one of our great all-time artists,” he said.
Reed, violist John Cale, guitarist Sterling Morrison, and drummer Maureen Tucker played their first show as the Velvet Underground in 1965.
“The world has lost a fine songwriter and poet. I’ve lost my ‘school-yard buddy,’ ” Cale wrote on Twitter.
The Velvets tackled taboo topics like drug addiction, paranoia and sexual deviancy.
Rock mythology has it that even though they were around only for a few years, everyone who went to a Velvet Underground concert went out and started a band.
Rolling Stone ranks the group’s debut album, “The Velvet Underground and Nico” as the 13th greatest of all time.
And performers from David Bowie to R.E.M. and U2 have cited them as inspiration.
The Velvet Underground was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.
Reed “was one of the first artists to experiment with guitar feedback on record and to show that sort of ugly noise can actually be quite beautiful and moving. He also, lyrically, wrote about all kinds of topics that were taboo before he started exploring them,” said Vozick-Levinson.
He gave a voice to gay and transgender people in a way that had never been done before by a popular artist, which made his work incredibly important to many people, the Rolling Stone editor said.
In 1970, Reed left the Velvets for a long solo career turning out classics like “Walk on the Wild Side” and “Sweet Jane.”
“People say rock ‘n’ roll is constricting, but you can do anything you want, any way you want. And my goal has been to make an album that would speak to people the way Shakespeare speaks to me, the way Joyce speaks to me. Something with that kind of power; something with bite to it,” Reed told the New York Times in 1982 while promoting his album “The Blue Mask.”
Reed’s wife, Laurie Anderson, told The Times of London this summer, that Reed had a life-saving liver transplant in May.
“R.I.P. LOU REED….A LEGEND,” the Pixies wrote on their Twitter page.
Iggy Pop wrote simply: “Devastating news.”
“GRAMMY winner Lou Reed was an exceptionally gifted singer, songwriter, and musician who has had a profound impact on rock music and our culture,” Neil Portnow, president and CEO of The Recording Academy, said in a statement.
“We have lost a true visionary and creative leader, and his groundbreaking work will forever hold its rightful place in music history.”
By Steve Almasy
CNN’s Denise Quan contributed to this report.
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