Glamorizing drug abuse has almost become a badge of honor for rock stars — but few have done so with such cynical abandon as Lou Reed, the hard-living singer who died yesterday aged 71.
His exact cause of death was not immediately revealed, but the AP said it was a “liver-related ailment.”
Earlier this year, Reed received a life-saving liver transplant after experiencing chronic liver failure. Reed was open about his addiction to drugs and alcohol in his music. He’d been sober for decades, but his past drug use took a heavy toll on his body. Like many intravenous drug users, Reed contracted hepatitis C through sharing needles.
The musician and songwriter was the founding member of the Velvet Underground, and addressed his struggles with addiction in some of the group’s biggest hits, including the 1967 single “Heroin.” He once said he used drugs to cope with the modern condition, and ultimately relied on them just to “attain equilibrium,” saying: “In the 20th century, in a technological age living in the city, there are certain drugs you have to take just to keep yourself normal like a caveman, just to bring yourself up or down. But to attain equilibrium you need to take certain drugs. They don’t get you high even, they just get you normal.”
Reed had a profound impact on American culture, introducing avant garde rock and pop art to mainstream music. His work with Andy Warhol is noted as one of the most important collaborations in contemporary culture.
“Lou Reed’s influence is one that there are really only a tiny handful of other figures who you can compare to him,” said Simon Vozick-Levinson, a senior editor at Rolling Stone.
Reed “was one of the first artists to experiment with guitar feedback on record and to show that sort of ugly noise can actually be quite beautiful and moving. He also, lyrically, wrote about all kinds of topics that were taboo before he started exploring them,” said Vozick-Levinson.
He also gave a voice to gay and transgender people in a way that had never been done before by a popular artist, which made his work incredibly important to many people, Vozick-Levinson said.
In June of this year, his wife, Laurie Anderson, said that Reed “[won’t] ever totally recover” from his surgery. His condition was “as serious as it gets”, she told the Times, and it will take “a few months” for him to recover from the life-saving transplant.”
Reed had been sober for over 30 years when he died.
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