Lou Reed, Velvet Underground musician, dies at 71
Lou Reed, who grew up in Freeport and was best known for his influential work with the Velvet Underground and solo material including "Walk on the Wild Side," died Sunday in Southampton. He was 71.
His literary agent Andrew Wylie told The Associated Press that Reed's death was related to his battles with liver failure and that Reed had been in frail health for months. Reed, who lived in Amagansett with his wife, musician/artist Laurie Anderson, had been battling liver failure and underwent what seemed like a successful liver transplant at the Cleveland Clinic in May, posting on Facebook, "I am a triumph of modern medicine, physics and chemistry. I am bigger and stronger than ever."
Reed -- born in Brooklyn and raised in Freeport -- was a true rock and roll original, reinventing himself several times over, from androgynous, makeup-wearing glam rocker to droning noise rocker, from chronicler of Andy Warhol's Factory friends to rebellious punk. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of the Velvet Underground in 1996 and into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2010.
"Walk on the Wild Side" was Reed's biggest hit, reaching No. 16 on Billboard's Top 100 singles chart in 1973 despite its frank cataloging of some of the stars of New York nightlife that included direct references to transsexuals, drug use, prostitutes and sex. The song showed how Reed could write a strong pop hook and still paint an uncompromising picture. It includes a special reference to Massapequa Park transsexual actress Candy Darling, whom he immortalizes in the line "Candy came from out on the Island -- in the backroom she was everybody's darling."
Michael "Eppy" Epstein said he still remembers when Reed played two sold-out nights at his Roslyn club, My Father's Place, in 1979 because he had such respect for the Velvet Underground. "The shows were incredible," Epstein said. "There were just so many people. He just seemed numb to all the people. But when he was on stage, really enjoying playing to that audience."
In June, at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, Reed took stock of his influence on generations of musicians. "Where did the noise festival come from? 'Metal Machine Music,' " his 1975 album, Reed told the festival crowd. "Where did punk rock come from? Lou Reed. This is not being immodest. It's just fact."
Reed also spoke about the importance of music, saying, "Without music, we might as well close the planet. Music is the lifeblood of everything."
Neil Portnow, president and chief executive of The Recording Academy, which issues the annual Grammy Awards, said Reed had a "profound effect on rock music and our culture." Reed won a Grammy in 1998 for best long-form music video for "American Masters -- Lou Reed: Rock And Roll Heart," a documentary chronicling his career.
"His uniquely stripped-down style of guitar playing and poetic lyrics have had a massive influence across many rock genres, including punk and alternative," Portnow 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."
Reed's death drew immediate reactions on Twitter from across the cultural spectrum. Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons wrote, "New York lost one of our greatest gifts today." Author Salman Rushdie said his friend Reed "came to the end of his song."
"But hey, Lou, you'll always take a walk on the wild side," Rushdie wrote. "Always a perfect day."