Alex Chilton dies of heart attack at age 59
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.
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