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Alex Chilton dies of heart attack at age 59

Alex ChiltonAlex Chilton, dead at 59. (AP Photo/Jack Plunkett)

By Ally Schweitzer

Updated 1:05 p.m.

Singer/guitarist Alex Chilton died Wednesday of a heart attack. He was 59. The musician, known for his output with the Box Tops and his lesser-known but influential rock band Big Star, died unexpectedly in New Orleans. Big Star was expected to play the South by Southwest festival in Austin on Saturday.

Though absent from the pop charts for most of their career, Big Star, formed in Memphis in 1971, influenced rockers from R.E.M. to Teenage Fanclub. The Replacements' 1987 song "Alex Chilton" paid homage to the songwriter and his band, singing, "I never travel far without a little Big Star." Today's 20-somethings were exposed to the band through television comedy "That 70s Show," whose theme song is a reworked cover of Big Star's 1972 song "In the Street."

As soon as news of Chilton's death hit the Internet last night, appreciations began popping up on Twitter and assorted blogs. This morning, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) eulogized Chilton on the House floor, calling him a "friend of mine and a great friend of music in the world." Rolling Stone editor Rob Sheffield called Chilton "the ultimate indie cult hero" whose life decisions never seemed hinged on commercial success. Chilton had his only #1 hit at age 16 (The Box Tops' "The Letter"), then meandered off into a strange career that took him from recording the Cramps in the 1970s to tree-trimming and dishwashing in New Orleans in the 1980s.

Chilton toured with the Box Tops and Big Star throughout the 2000s, even releasing a fourth Big Star studio album, "In Space," in 2005.

By Ally Schweitzer  |  March 18, 2010; 8:30 AM ET
Categories:  Morning click  | Tags: Alex Chilton  
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Next: In concert: Aeroplane at the U Street Music Hall

Comments

RIP Alex Chilton. Cue up the Mats tribute song and some Big Star on the iPod.

Posted by: calhokie | March 18, 2010 9:33 AM | Report abuse

RIP Alex Chilton.
Cue up the Mats tribute song and maybe some Big Star on your iPod.

Posted by: calhokie | March 18, 2010 9:35 AM | Report abuse

I can remember bands playing "The Letter" at Jr. High School dances...R.I.P. Mr. Chilton.

Posted by: fluxgirl | March 18, 2010 9:51 AM | Report abuse

Just listened to the 'Mats. Brings back a lot of memories!!

Posted by: osh123 | March 18, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

Alex Chilton.... making the world a better place one effortless hook at a time. R.I.P.

Posted by: roedel74 | March 18, 2010 1:45 PM | Report abuse

"The Letter" was written by Wayne Carson Thompson. Alex Chilton's claim to fame was to sing it, no mean feat for a 16-year-old.

Posted by: MixedContent1 | March 18, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

Been reading 'Our Band Could Be Your Life' by Michael Azerrad. Just finished the Butthole Surfers chapter. During one of Gibby's most psychotic acid trips at a high profile music fest, he ran thru the venue naked then retreated with a bandmate to their dressing room and started destroying it. There's a knock on the door and it's an unassuming guy looking at them. "What do you want?!" Gibby screams.
"Can I borrow a guitar? Mine's not working."
"What?! Who the f--k are you?!"
"I'm Alex Chilton," said Alex Chilton.
Gibby, still naked, assumes a position of deference, and walks around the dressing room, slowly opening all their guitar cases and gesturing toward them humbly.
(incident reported by the more sober bandmate)

Posted by: ToucanSam | March 18, 2010 4:54 PM | Report abuse

thanks for that, MixedContent1! --ally s.

Posted by: Ally Schweitzer | March 18, 2010 4:55 PM | Report abuse

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