Saxophone player Clarence Clemons, whose horn helped bring such soul to Bruce Springsteen’s legendary E Street Band for decades, died Saturday of complications from a stroke he suffered last week. He was 69.
“It is with overwhelming sadness that we inform our friends and fans that at 7:00 tonight Saturday, June 18, our beloved friend and bandmate, Clarence Clemons passed away,” Springsteen’s spokesperson said in a statement to MTV News. “The cause was complications from his stroke of last Sunday, June 12th.”
Springsteen also reflected on the loss in a statement. “Clarence lived a wonderful life. He carried within him a love of people that made them love him. He created a wondrous and extended family. He loved the saxophone, loved our fans and gave everything he had every night he stepped on stage. His loss is immeasurable and we are honored and thankful to have known him and had the oppurtunity to stand beside him for nearly forty years. He was my great friend, my partner and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music. His life, his memory, and his love will live on in that story and in our band.”
Clemons had suffered a stroke last Sunday in his Florida home. His condition after the stroke was initially thought to be critical, but then appeared to take a turn for the better last Tuesday.
In a statement to MTV News early last week, the Boss said, “By now, many of you have heard that our beloved comrade and sax player Clarence Clemons has suffered a serious stroke. While all initial signs are encouraging, Clarence will need much care and support to achieve his potential once again. He has his wonderfully supportive wife, Victoria, excellent doctors and health care professionals, and is surrounded by friends and family.”
Springsteen, who worked side by side with Clemons for nearly four decades, went on to thank his fans for all of their well-wishes. “I thank you all for your prayers and positive energy and concern,” he said. “This is a time for us all to share in a hopeful spirit that can ultimately inspire Clarence to greater heights.”
Clemons and Springsteen first united in 1971 on an evening familiar to those steeped in Springsteen folklore. Clemons was in Asbury Park when he sat in with an unknown and struggling songwriter at a local bar. He was soon a core part of Springsteen’s backing band and was featured on his debut “Greetings From Asbury Park.” “I swear I will never forget that moment,” Mr. Clemons has said of that night. “I felt like I was supposed to be there. It was a magical moment. He looked at me, and I looked at him, and we fell in love. And that’s still there.”
Clemons’ sax would go on to become a vital part of Springsteen classics ranging from “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” to “Born to Run” to “Jungleland.” His bond with Springsteen was apparent in the famed shot of the pair that graces the cover of Springsteen’s Born to Run album.
In addition to playing on 20 albums in Springsteen’s catalog, Clemons, known to many as “The Big Man,” also played with artists ranging from Jackson Browne to Ringo Starr. He’s also appeared in films like “New York, New York” and “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” as well as the TV shows “The Wire” and “The Simpsons.”
Most recently, Clemons was featured on Lady Gaga’s smash Born This Way album, appearing on two tracks including her latest single “Edge of Glory” and performing with her live on “American Idol” last month. He also figured prominently in the ’Edge of Glory’ video released last week.
When MTV News caught up with Gaga’s longtime collaborator Fernando Garibay, the producer recalled how excited Gaga was to hit the studio with one of her icons for the songs “Hair” and her latest single, “Edge of Glory.”
“She grew up listening to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, and she goes, ’Can we get Clarence?’ And I go, ’Of course we can get Clarence. You’re Lady Gaga!’ ” he said. “You can see the years of influence and you can see her lighting up when he’s playing [with her in the studio].”
Clemons had battled a variety of health problems through the years. But even knee replacement surgery and a spinal fusion surgery did not stop him from joining the E Street Band for a tour in 2009. As he vowed, “As long as my mouth, hands and brain still work I’ll be out there doing it.”