Alex Chilton, the influential rock musician, whose work spanned an eclectic gamut from the soul songs of the Box Tops to the multiple incarnations of his pop band Big Star, has died, The Commercial Appeal of Memphis reported. He was 59. The cause of death is believed to have been a heart attack.
Mr. Chilton, who lived in New Orleans, had recently been complaining of health problems, and was taken on Wednesday by paramedics to an emergency room in New Orleans where he was pronounced dead. His death was confirmed to the Commercial Appeal by Jody Stephens, his longtime band mate in Big Star. The group was scheduled to perform on Saturday at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin.
Mr. Chilton, who grew up in Memphis, was just 16 years old when the Box Tops, in which he sang and played guitar, had a No. 1 hit with “The Letter” in 1967. When that group broke up in 1970, Mr. Chilton formed Big Star with Mr. Stephens, a drummer, and the musicians Chris Bell and Andy Hummel. The band’s first album, “#1 Record,” in 1972, did not come close to fulfilling the commercial promise of its title, nor did the followup releases “Radio City” and “Third/Sister Lovers.” But their music – gentle and introspective songs like “The Ballad of El Goodo” and “September Gurls,” and exuberant anthems like “In the Street” – had a profound impact on generations of pop and indie acts that followed.
Perhaps the surest measure of the tug that Mr. Chilton exerted on subsequent artists can be found in the lyrics of the Replacements – another malleable rock act that moved more hearts than retail units – who sang in their song “Alex Chilton”: “Children by the million / Sing for Alex Chilton / When he comes ’round / They sing, ‘I’m in love / What’s that song? / I’m in love with that song.’”