Alex Chilton, a mercurial rock musician whose work ranged from the soul songs of the Box Tops to the multiple incarnations of his pop band Big Star, and who left a legacy more easily measured in artistic influence than in commercial impact, died on Wednesday in New Orleans, where he had been living since the 1980s. He was 59.
His death was confirmed by his wife, Laura. The cause was believed to be a heart attack, though autopsy results had not yet been released. Ms. Chilton said she drove her husband to Tulane Medical Center on Wednesday afternoon after he had complained of shortness of breath and chills. Mr. Chilton lost consciousness during the ride and was pronounced dead at the hospital, she said, New York Times reported.
According to a report in Entertainment Weekly, Drummer Jody Stephens should be preparing to play a show with Big Star this Saturday at the SXSW music festival. Instead, he is mourning his friend and bandmate Alex Chilton, who died yesterday. “It took me completely by surprise,” Stephens said this afternoon, over the phone from Austin, Texas. “I saw Alex in November and he looked great. Good shape. Great spirit. Alex was doing wonderfully. Yesterday, I get a call from his wife and, you know, he’s passed away. I spent the rest of the day and this morning just feeling numb. It’s a shocker. You really have to bare yourself emotionally to be in a band. And when you do that, it opens up stronger bonds. There’s a profound relationship.”
Though Chilton was only 59, he lived two or three musical lives. Born William Alexander Chilton, as a teenager he scored a string of soulful late-’60s hits with the Box Tops (“The Letter,” “Cry Like a Baby”), singing in a grizzled voice that belied his youth. But Chilton’s legend hinges largely on the three albums he made with his early-’70s band, Big Star - records that sold almost nothing at the time, but ones that a host of later bands, from the Replacements to R.E.M. to Wilco, would hold up as inspiration, Boston Herald reports.