UPDATE: Tuesday, 8: 59 AM, with reaction from An Officer And A Gentleman director Taylor Hackford:
Joe Cocker, the gravel-voiced singer whose music graced memorable scenes in Nine 1/2 Weeks and An Officer And A Gentleman along with the Woodstock documentary, died today in Crawford, Colo., at 70 from a form of lung cancer.
Although he was primarily known for his covers of songs written by the Beatles, Randy Newman and others, Cocker’s music appeared in seemingly countless TV shows and films, beginning at the end of the 1960s with appearances on a series of music shows and documentaries, including Mad Dogs & Englishmen and the original Woodstock documentary of the legendary rock concert, which won the Best Documentary Feature Oscar.
Best known were his performances of Newman’s “You Can Leave Your Hat On”? in a particularly steamy scene between Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger during Nine 1/2 Weeks. Another big romantic shot came in the finale of An Officer And A Gentleman, where he sang “Up Where We Belong” with Jennifer Warnes as Richard Gere‘s character sweeps Debra Winger‘s character up and carries her out of the factory. The latter song went on to become a No. 1 hit in the United States, sold more than 2 million copies and won the Best Song Oscar. He and Warnes performed the song during the 55th Academy Awards ceremony in 1983.
An Officer And A Gentleman director Taylor Hackford tells Deadline that Cocker was his only choice for the duet with Warnes. “Joe’s tough, bluesy voice gave that record the working-class ethos I wanted. His “rough” to Jennifer’s “smooth” was perfect for our film,” said Hackford in a statement. “Joe was on tour, and his manager didn’t want him to record the record, but Chris Blackwell of Island Records made it happen. Joe flew to LA and had only a few hours to record, so Joe & Jennifer recorded their vocals separately. The first time they performed it together was on the Grammys after the record had been #1 for weeks – They won the Grammy that night. . To those who say Joe Cocker was wild and erratic, I respond: With me he was totally cool and professional,” Hackford added.
Other songs with which he was inextricably linked are “With A Little Help From My Friends“ (memorably performed in the Woodstock documentary; watch the clip above), “You Are So Beautiful,” “Unchain My Heart,” “California Love,” “Feeling Alright” and “The Letter.” His intensely soulful, even tortured performances, where he contorted his body around a song, made up for any technical shortcomings in his not-classical voice.
Cocker’s music was a backdrop to TV shows such as The Wonder Years, Family Guy, Hello Ladies, The Wire, Entourage, House M.D., Friends, Full House, Beavis And Butt-Head, Miami Vice and Saturday Night Live. John Belushi’s spot-on impression of Cocker was a recurring bit during SNL‘s first season. During Cocker’s live performance on the show in 1976, Belushi came onstage dressed in near-identical clothing and traded lines of “Feelin’ Alright” with Cocker, contorting his body and voice in a striking imitation of the singer’s distinctive style.
Cocker was born May 20, 1944 in Sheffield, England, as John Robert Cocker. Cocker was awarded the OBE by Queen Elizabeth II in 2007. He is survived by his wife Pam Baker.
UPDATE, 11:17 AM, Dec. 28: I received an email from “TeamTylerHilton@gmail.com” on FanBridge, a site where celebrities manage their fan relationships. In the email, Tyler Hilton, the actor (One Tree Hill, Walk the Line) wrote a heartfelt homage to Cocker for his influence as a performer and musician, and for recording a song in 2012 that Hilton once wrote with Cocker in mind. Here’s the entire email:
My parents took me to see Joe Cocker in concert when I was kid. He had just gotten sober and he was feeling good, especially for an older man who’d done some living. 2 hours I sat there enthralled with story after story this guy had, song after song, twitchy dance after jerky move and was hit hard by it all. I’d never seen or heard anyone like him. I wanted to write songs like his, sing like this, do this with my life! Romantic, rough, tortured, he just had this way of taking any song and both scare you with and make you feel sorry for his pain. I ended up writing this song years ago with my friend that we called our little Joe Cocker song. We were both such huge fans and decided to try and write a song for my album that would sound like one of his. It was one of my favorite songs I’d ever written but the problem is no matter how many times I’d sing it, I just wanted to hear Cocker doing it. I didn’t end up recording it for the album I was working on at the time and just let the song remain a quite favorite of mine until I heard a few years later that my friend Matt Serletic was going to be producing Joe Cocker’s new record! I was like, “DUDE, I have this song I’m gonna send you that would be so cool to hear him sing! Lemme send it to you!” He said sure and it got added to the pile of songs he and Joe went through and ended up in the pile of songs discarded. Fair enough. They went looking for other tunes and finally came back around their own discard pile and, according to Matt, Cocker heard my song again and said, “Let’s give this one a try.” I knew none of this at the time it was going down until I was back stage in Birmingham, AL and I get a call from Matt. He says, “Hey, man, I’m in the studio with Joe and he has a lyric question for you.” I was just in the middle of saying, “Joe WHO?” when this rugged British voice came on the line and said, “Hey, Tyler, it’s Joe Cocker man. What a cool weird tune you have here I love it! I’m trying to hear what you’re saying in this one line can you tell me the lyric? Tyler?” The line had pretty much gone silent. My band was wondering why my mouth was hanging open. “Uh…hey Joe. Yea which part you talking about?” and then I was singing back and forth with Joe Cocker until he had my song down. I could barely go on stage I was so floored! WAS THIS HAPPENING???? It was, and he sang the s*** out of the song, like I knew he would!!! This man, with had one of the most beautiful voices in the world for my money, recorded and released my song “You Don’t Know What You’re Doing To Me” in 2012 on his record “Fired Up”, and and gave me the thrill of a lifetime. A dream come true beyond anything I can even describe. A song I wrote, for him specifically no less, with no idea how he’d ever hear it, on one of his records. Wouldn’t have believed it could happen if it hadn’t. My dad found this version of the song from one of his concerts where he used to close his shows with it sometimes from what I hear. I guess people have to go and I’m still wrapping my head around that part of life. I would have given anything to hear him sing this in person or thank him face to face. But in the meantime, here it is for you all to enjoy. Joe Cocker singing my song “You Don’t Know What You’re Doing To Me”.
Thank you for everything, really.
Good bye Joe.