Lou Reed, the pioneering singer-songwriter who pushed rock music’s artistic, lyrical and musical limits in the ’60s and ’70s, has died at the age of 71. Reed’s publicist confirmed his death, but provided no further details about Reed’s passing.
After performing and writing in a variety of bands and gaining work as a paid songwriter in New York City, Reed formed the Velvet Underground with avant-garde musician John Cale, guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Maureen Tucker. In 1967, the New York-based quartet would record and release their seminal debut album, The Velvet Underground and Nico, which would go on to become one of the most significant and acclaimed albums in music history. The Velvet’s early notoriety stemmed from their association with famed artist Andy Warhol, who was named executive producer of the album and who helped generate buzz about their work. The band’s minimalist, almost-primitive sound and Reed’s unromantic lyrics about hard drug abuse, prostitution, sadomasochism and the odd collection of artists and misfits that congregated among Warhol’s “Factory” helped bring the band attention.
Reed was unique amongst the songwriters of his era in that he tackled dark subject matter while many of his contemporaries were reveling in the idealism of the psychedelic late 1960s. The Velvet Underground would become a touchstone for every left-of-center strain of rock music; from punk to glam to art rock to noise rock and New Wave. Reed would leave the Velvet Underground in 1972.
Throughout his acclaimed solo career, Reed continued to achieve success and push boundaries. His sophomore album Transformer was a critical and commercial success, featuring the landmark single “Walk On the Wild Side,” and production assistance from David Bowie. As his career progressed, his work became even more challenging and far-ranging. 1973s Berlin was an unsettling concept record about a doomed couple deteriorating in the German city, and Metal Machine Music featured noise and tape-loops with no lyrics or steady rhythm. He also developed a bit of notoriety for his addiction to heroin during most of the 1970s. As he continued to try on different musical personas, he emerged from the decade as one of rock’s most celebrated survivors and one of music’s most restlessly creative artists.
In his latter career, Reed continued to craft acclaimed music and challenge his audience. His 1989 album New York, a collection of songs inspired by the city that he’d become so closely identified with, was one of his most celebrated recordings. In 1996, Reed and the other members of the Velvet Underground were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He recorded collaborations with alt-rap group The Gorillaz and heavy metal icons Metallica. Reed also contributed a lengthy review of Kanye West‘s controversial 2013 album Yeezus.
Reed underwent a liver transplant in the spring of 2013, but despite claims on his website that he felt “better and stronger” following the procedure, the iconic musician unexpectedly died from what some outlets have reported as liver disease.
Lou Reed remains one of music’s most important and unique figures; and one of New York City’s most definitive creative voices. His legacy has already been cemented, his music has already proven its timelessness.