Singer Joe Cocker dies at 70 after battle with lung cancer

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Singer Joe Cocker Dies at 70 After Battle With Lung Cancer

NEW YORK (AP) -- Joe Cocker, the raspy-voiced British singer known for his frenzied cover of "With a Little Help From My Friends," the teary ballad "You Are So Beautiful" and a contorted performing style uncannily parodied by John Belushi on "Saturday Night Live," has died. He was 70.

His London-based agent, Barrie Marshall, said Cocker died Monday of lung cancer in Colorado, where he has lived for the past two decades.

Cocker, an interpreter more than a writer, became a star through his dazzling transformation of the Beatles' "With a Little Help From My Friends." Featuring a gospel-styled arrangement and furious call and response between Cocker and the backup singers, the song became a No. 1 hit in England and the highlight of his characteristically manic set at the Woodstock festival in 1969.

In a statement Monday, Paul McCartney remembered hearing Cocker's cover of the song he and John Lennon co-wrote for Ringo Starr and finding it "just mind blowing," a "soul anthem."

"I was forever grateful for him for doing that," McCartney said. "I knew him through the years as a good mate, and I was so sad to hear that he had been ill and really sad to hear today that he had passed away."

Cocker's "Mad Dogs & Englishmen" tour and travelling party of 1970, featuring Leon Russell and numerous top session musicians, produced a film and a recording that went gold. But future success was more sporadic, and Cocker suffered from both drug and financial problems.

He had a top 10 hit in 1975 on "You Are So Beautiful," his voice cracking on the final, emotional note, and won a Grammy Award in 1983 for his "Up Where We Belong" duet with Jennifer Warnes, the theme of the movie "An Officer and a Gentleman."

His cover of Bryan Adams' "When the Night Comes" was featured in the film "An Innocent Man" and became a top 20 single in 1990.

Cocker, who received an Order of the British Empire in 2011 for his contribution to music, released 40 albums and continued to tour after the hits stopped. His other popular covers included "Feelin' Alright," "The Letter" and "Cry Me a River," a song previously recorded by one of Cocker's greatest influences, Ray Charles.

His voice, at times so worn it seemed in danger of shredding, was just one part of his legend. No Cocker fan could forget his intense, twitchy stage presence, his arms flailing, his hips stretching, his face contorting. Among those watching were Belushi, whose expert imitation became a feature of his early National Lampoon shows and eventually a part of popular history when he joined Cocker in 1976 for a duet of "Feelin' Alright" on "Saturday Night Live."

Years later, Cocker told The Associated Press' Mary Campbell that he was playing an imaginary piano and air guitar while singing - the elements that contributed to this unique style.

"That was the frustration of not being able to play, really," he said.

Cocker was born in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, and was singing with local bands by the time he was a teenager. His early groups included Vance Arnold and the Avengers and the Grease Band, which backed him on "With A Little Help From My Friends."

Cocker moved to Crawford, Colorado, a town of fewer than 500 people, in the early 1990s. He and his wife, Pam, ran a children's educational foundation - the Cocker Kids Foundation - that raised funds for the town and schools, and ran the Mad Dog Cafe for several years in town, said Tom Wills, publisher of The North Fork Merchant Herald, a local community newspaper.

Wills said Cocker bought about 40 acres of property and built a hillside mansion - which he called Mad Dog Ranch - when he moved to Colorado.

A group of Cocker's friends gathered Monday at community radio station KVNF to play Cocker's songs.

"He had a long battle with cancer. We're trying to do a little tribute for him," said Bob Pennetta, a real estate agent and board member of the Cocker Kids Foundation.

Cocker is survived by his wife, Pam; a brother; a step daughter and two grandchildren. A private memorial is planned. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to The Cocker Kids' Foundation, P.O. Box 404, Crawford, CO. 81415.

---

Colleen Slevin and Jim Anderson in Denver and Hillel Italie in New York contributed to this story.

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Joe Cocker dies at 70
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Singer Joe Cocker dies at 70 after battle with lung cancer
file - Joe Cocker performs at the Woodstock Festival of Arts and Music in Bethel, New York, August 1969. Cocker will turn 65 on Wednesday May 20, 2009. (AP Photo) ** ZU KORR **
August 1969: Full-length portrait of English singer Joe Cocker, wearing a tie-dyed shirt and blue jeans, performing at the Woodstock Music Festival in Bethel, New York. (Photo by Fotos International/Getty Images)
LONDON - JUNE 03: Joe Cocker performs live on stage at Crystal Palace Bowl in London on June 03 1972. (Photo by Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns)
Musician Joe Cocker and concert promoter Michael Lang attend ARMS Concert Benefit Party on December 6, 1983 at the Westwood Marquis Hotel in Westwood, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Joe Cocker during Woodstock '94 in Saugerties, New York - August 1994 in Saugerties, New York, United States. (Photo by Steve Eichner/WireImage)
195174 28: Joe Cocker performs at the Woodstock 25th anniversary concert August 13, 1994 at Winston Farm in Saugerties, NY. An international media event that helped launch the careers of many gold and platinum-selling artists, the Woodstock 25th anniversary festival was attended by over 350,000 spectators and spawned a platinum-selling double, live CD and home video, as well as the highest grossing music pay-per-view broadcast in history. (Photo by Remi Benali/Liaison)
Joe Cocker (Photo by Steve Eichner/WireImage)
British rock singer Joe Cocker performs during his concert in Papp Laszlo Budapest Sports Arena in Budapest, Hungary, Sunday, June 5, 2011. (AP Photo/MTI, Balazs Mohai)
British singer Joe Cocker speaks after receiving the trophy for the category « lifetime achievement award music» during the 48th Golden Camera award ceremony in Berlin, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013. The award honors outstanding achievements in television, film and entertainment. (AP Photo/Maurizio Gambarini, pool)
MUNICH, GERMANY - APRIL 12: Joe Cocker performs on stage at Olympiahalle on April 12, 2013 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Stefan M. Prager/Redferns via Getty Images)
Musician Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes attend 25th Annual Grammy Awards on February 23, 1983 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Betty Galella/WireImage)
Musicians Carlo Santana and Joe Cocker attend Musicourt '82 Benefit Concert on August 27, 1982 at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in New York City. (Photo by Betty Galella/WireImage)
(KL) cdxxcocker10c Rock legend Joe Cocker, dirty hands and a straw hat potting heirloom tomatoes on the back porch of his home of 12 years at the Mad Dog Ranch in Crawford, CO. He will be doing his first 'at-home' concert in June at the fairgrounds in Hotchkiss to raise money for the Cocker Kids' Foundation. Joe Amon, The Denver Post (Photo By Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
(KL) cdxxcocker10b Rock legend Joe Cocker potting heirloom tomatoes on the back porch of his home of 12 years at the Mad Dog Ranch in Crawford, CO. He will be doing his first 'at-home' concert in June at the fairgrounds in Hotchkiss to raise money for the Cocker Kids™ Foundation. Joe Amon, The Denver Post (Photo By Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
PERTH, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 03: Joe Cocker performs on stage at `A Day On The Green' in Kings Park on February 3, 2008 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Matt Jelonek/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 16: MADISON SQUARE GARDEN Photo of John Lee Hooker Tribute, Gregg Allman, John Lee Hooker, Bonnie Raitt, Joe Cocker and Willie Dixon (L-R) photographed at the John Lee Hooker Tribute held at Madison Square Garden in New York City on October 16, 1990 (Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 01: John Lee Hooker and Joe Cocker (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 01: Photo of Joe COCKER (Photo by Phil Dent/Redferns)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 01: Photo of Joe COCKER; posed, studio at Rockwalk induction (Photo by Robert Knight Archive/Redferns)
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