Clarence Clemons Dies, an 'Immeasurable' Loss Says Bruce Springsteen
He was the "Big Man" that Bruce Springsteen leaned on, both figuratively and literally, to provide the soul and heart of the legendary E Street Band. Now, that light has gone out. Clarence Clemons, the larger-than-life sax man in the world's greatest backing band, died Saturday of complications from a stroke suffered last week, a spokesman said. He was 69.
Clemons and Springsteen have been tethered together for 40 years, starting with a mythical rainy night in Asbury Park in 1971 when the horn player sat in with the unknown and struggling songwriter at a local bar. He was soon in Springsteen's backing band and was a part of his debut, 'Greetings From Asbury Park.'
Springsteen released a statement on his website following his friend's death:
"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 opportunity 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."
"When you open it up and see Clarence and me together, the album begins to work its magic," Springsteen wrote. "Who are these guys? Where did they come from? What is the joke they are sharing? A friendship and a narrative steeped in the complicated history of America begins to work and there is music already in the air."
And while guitarist Steven Van Zandt gets to cozy up with Springsteen night after night, trading backing vocals during their marathon concerts, it's always Clemons who has been introduced last by the E Street Band's boss.
That level of respect has been shared by E Street devotees for decades.
Clemons did not depend solely on Springsteen, though, and scored a hit of his own alongside Jackson Browne with 1985's 'You're a Friend of Mine.' He also did a bit of acting in the 1980s, on TV in 'Diff'rent Strokes' and films like 'Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.'
Fans of the gritty HBO drama 'The Wire' will remember his 2-episode stint as Roman.
In 1989, about 17 years into his tenure in E Street, Springsteen called and informed Clemons he was breaking up the band. He was on tour with Ringo Starr at the time and Clemons said the Beatle looked on with concern, believing the saxophonist was being told about a death.
"[Springsteen] said he wanted to try something new, do something different," Clemons explained in the Phoenix Gazette. "It was quite a shock; you go through all the emotions of a divorce, all the emotions, instantly. I didn't say much to him. I just said, 'Good luck.' But before long I started to see the good side."
Ten years later, Springsteen reformed the band and they've produced some of their most inspired work in their history, including the post-9/11 'The Rising' and 2007's rollicking 'Magic.'
Clemons is the second member of the band to pass away in recent years. In 2008, organ and accordionist Danny Federici lost a fight with melanoma, a type of skin cancer.
While he allowed fans into his world as a musician, Clemons didn't speak much about his personal life. The Norfolk, Virginia native was married five times in his lifetime and is survived by four sons, Clarence III, Charles, Christopher and Jarod.
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