Fred Neil, a folksinger best known for writing “Everybody’s Talkin’,” which Harry Nilsson sang in the 1969 film “Midnight Cowboy,” died Saturday. He was 64.
Neil, who suffered from cancer, passed away at his home in Summerland Key, Florida, a spokesperson for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office said. A longtime recluse, the singer was visited around noon by a friend who thought he was sleeping. When he failed to awaken several hours later after a loud dog bark, the friend checked more closely and found he wasn’t breathing.
Known for his deep voice and resonant lyrics, Neil emerged from the Greenwich Village folk scene during the mid-’60s. He released five albums between 1964 and 1971 before moving to Florida and settling into obscurity. In 1970, Neil co-founded the Dolphin Project with marine biologist Ric O’Barry. The organization, according to Neil, was dedicated “to stopping the capture, trafficking and exploitation of dolphins worldwide.” The “Dolphin Project” video, released last year, included old and new songs by Neil.
Although never as popular as Bob Dylan or Tim Buckley, his admirers included Stephen Stills, who has cited Neil as an early influence, and Lovin’ Spoonful founder John Sebastian, who played harmonica on Neil’s second album, Bleecker & MacDougal.
“Fred was an enormously private person,” recalled Sebastian, “a guy who would drop out of sight for years at a time. He brought a real Southerner’s understanding of music to the Village folk scene. A double handful of ’60s guitar-playing, folk-singing guys took whatever they could of his style, but there was no way to imitate the voice.”
The Jefferson Airplane, who performed and recorded Neil’s “Other Side of This Life,” dedicated “The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil” and “The House at Pooneil Corners” to him.
Neil’s “The Dolphins” was included on the recently released Rhino Records anthology Washington Square Memoirs: The Great Urban Folk Boom, 1950-1970.