Alex Chilton dies at 59

big_starImage Credit: Chris McKay/Retna Ltd.Singer-guitarist Alex Chilton, who made a name for himself as a member of the Box Tops and Big Star, and later as a solo artist, died Wednesday at a New Orleans Hospital, reports The Commercial Appeal. He was 59. Chilton found fame at the age of 16 as the singer of the ‘60s pop-soul band the Box Tops, who scored a No. 1 hit with “The Letter.” Following the dissolution of the Box Tops in 1970, Chilton would go on to form the Memphis-based Big Star with Jody Stephens, Chris Bell, and Andy Hummel. Although their albums — #1 Record, Radio City, and Third/Sisters Lovers — never achieved great commercial success, the band was influential to fellow musicians and ultimately recognized as a power-pop pioneer. (The Replacements paid tribute to Chilton on Pleased to Meet Me with the song “Alex Chilton,” and That ’70s Show used a cover of Big Star’s “In The Street” as its theme song.) Chilton embarked on a solo career in the mid-’70s that produced albums including Like Flies on Sherbert and High Priest, and re-formed Big Star in the ‘90s. The band was scheduled to play Saturday night at South by Southwest.

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  • Ramo

    So sad to hear this. I love Big Star so much. A truly great, influential band. Alex Chilton was a brilliant songwriter. I still listen to those three records all the time. What a bummer.

    • bambam

      Mr. Chilton wrote “My Baby Sent Me A Letter” which most people have heard, but his best work was with Big Star, which was the jangly guitar pop that influenced the sound of REM and probably most everyone else in that college rock vein from the 80’s, who in turn influenced the 90’s alt rock when it went mainstream with Nirvana and Pixies and stuff like that. Big Star predated the college rock of the 80’s by a decade, and it still sounds sparkling new. Check out Big Star 3rd & Sister Lovers. It is a shame that many music lovers did not know about Big Star, and it is heartbreaking to hear of his passing. Those who were tipped off about Big Star tend to love them and Mr. Chilton deeply. This is a big one for me, I am really upset.

      • bc starke

        Actually, ‘The Letter’ was written by Wayne Carson Thompson.

    • Todd Bartleby

      Must be a slow news day when the death of some wanton, random musician that nobody knows is given a spot on a national mag’s online page…

      • sharon

        just because you don’t know him??? That just makes You the ignorant one…

      • Ellie

        Who is this Chilton guy?

      • anony

        Man you are just mean. He was a national treasure and made music that influence a whole lot of people to become musicians, and a whole lot of musicians to make better music. What you said is mean. Every human means something to some other human, and artists mean a lot to a lot of people even if everybody does not know who they are and they did not have a massive number 1 hit. Which Chilton did, actually. That and he influenced and maybe even created or at least changed the trajectory of some music genres.

      • Teeryan

        National Treasure? I thought Elvis, or Aretha, or Sinatra, or Ella Fitzgerald were. Chilton? never heard of him…

      • MarkC

        You must be trolling for reactions.

      • Kevin J-M

        Oh, gee, that was an ignorant comment. Troll much?

  • Ted Sheckler

    Who?

    • Reese Eaton

      Exactly.

      • Oi

        Both of you (Ted and Reese) SUCK!

      • Alistair Perez

        Who the heck was Alex Chilton? He was a “legend”???

      • kimora

        Who?????

      • CJ Benny

        Although Alex Chilton may not have been famous (I’m guilty of having only found out about Big Star only months ago) in today’s standards of what fame is, he was influential to countless musicians. The importance of the “legendary” musicians such as the Beatles, Elvis, and Michael Jackson cannot be understated but neither can the influence of small cult musicians such as Big Star because much of their ideas and concepts can still be heard in the most famous artists today like R.E.M. and Beck. To those who immediately judge on what kind of person he was just on the basis of an article, take a chance and listen to some of Big Star’s best work. Look them up on youtube before immediately heading to the add a comment button and starting a comments war on what is technically a dead man’s obituary. Yes you may disagree with what the article says but that doesn’t mean you should disrespect the news that a man just died. RIP Mr. Chilton, know that some people are truly amazed by your work, and hopefully more people will discover it.

      • Billy

        “Although Alex Chilton may not have been famous (I’m guilty of having only found out about Big Star only months ago) in today’s standards of what fame is”

        Sorry, but the methods of getting famous may have changed, and people who get famous today tend to be undeserving, but the standards of being famous are the same now, yesterday and always: You are famous when a lot of people know who you are (and no, I don’t mean a niche group of musicians or hipsters, I mean…millions of people), you are a “legend” when you are not only uber famous and even those who don’t care for your music have at least heard of you, but your art, business, or craft has influenced in a major way not only other craftsmen/women, but popular culture (Madonna, Elvis, MJ)
        Chilton may have been recognized by a smallish group of musicians and hipsters, but he was far from a legend…

      • CJ Benny

        You are right Billy, fame and legend have completely different meanings. Big Star was hardly legendary, I’ll say that myself. Though Chilton may not have effected a large group of the public, he was still important to some and deserves to have himself remembered for his music, not his impact or influence no matter how small or big it was.

    • anna

      go back to reading twilight.

      • Andrew

        I hate Twilight, my favorite authors are Ariel Dorfman, Maria Luisa Bombal, Keats, Cortazar, Lope De Vega, and Kerouac…and I still have no clue who this Chilton dude was…

      • dave

        Alex Chilton was a legend to people that have a clue. If you don’t know who he is, why are you reading this. Grow up and have a little respect.

      • Jolene

        How can anybody be a legend when nobody knows who they are? Gimme a break.

    • Shiny

      So your gonna be listening to Pandora and this cool song will come on. You’ll wonder who sang it and you’ll discover it’s by Big Star. Then you’ll realize that was the dude that you were dissin’.

  • G.R.

    What a sad shock… :( RIP Alex.

  • pussfart

    i like one day eat a pie but the other day i had this town i went to the other day was so a were is the car whats ur name OMG can have a soda or a chip who and where want take this out side punk ok ttyl bye

    • Goober

      You are a tool.

  • Teeneer

    Who the hell was him and why should we care??? Was he a huge musical superstar like Madonna or Michael Jackson?? Why does EW bother wasting bandwith on this????

    • STF

      Sorry to interrupt your Lady GaGa listening party. Why don’t you Google him? You might learn something.

      • Eaton

        Why do you automatically assume that if someone doesn’t know whu Chilton was, that means they like Lady Gaga, or any pop music? I like Jazz and Classical (and even in those genres I can’t possibly know who EVERYBIDY is/was) but I have no clue who Chilton was…

      • STF

        The poster referenced Madonna and Michael Jackson. Which, I believe, qualifies as “pop music”.

      • Maria

        You could like Madonna and MJ and NOT like Lady Gaga, you know…

      • STF

        WHO????

      • buferd

        Who’s Lady Gaga?

      • Gumby

        I love it. Eaton listens to jazz and classical, and claims you can’t be legendary unless everyone knows you. You do realize nobody knew who Bach was while he was alive, right? And Mozart spent most of his career in poverty? So much free-lunch arrogance. . .

    • janeygotagun

      Did you not read the bio that went with the story? if you did all your questions would be answered. You were probably too distracted downloading a Ke$ha ringtone to comprehend

    • Teeneer

      How can anyone be “a legendary” singer if not many people have heard of him? Legendary are people who everyone knows, people who have huge influence not only on music but on pop culture: Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Aretha, Tina Turner.

      Alex Chilton????? I don’t think so…

      • mrskin

        He was a legend to many people. If news of his death is not important to you, just skip over it and move on. Better yet, check his music out and you might find that you like it. I think we can all appreciate the thrill of mew musical discovery. In any case, there’s no reason to assume that news should be tailor-made to your own sphere of interest. Wearing your ignorance so proudly only shows how small-minded you are.

      • peachykeen

        there are tons of legendary artists that no one’s ever heard of. all it comes down to is whether they have the drive to be uber-famous also.

      • Oliver

        “there are tons of legendary artists that no one’s ever heard of”

        Absolutely the biggest contradiction in terms ever. If nobody knows who you are, you are not a legend, you are an obscure musician. That’s like saying “There’s tons of catholics that are protestants” LOL

      • peachykeen

        i guess i term someone legendary based on talent, not on how well known they are, but fair enough. i’ll keep my contradiction just the same. this is all nitpicking b.s. anyway from some bored lame-o. it’s what i get for not heeding Mark Twain. “Never argue with a fool. Onlookers might not be able to tell the difference.” my bad.

      • Jolene

        Dude, I am a music major at school, and I know several supremely talented singers and musicians. Does that mean they are legends? Sorry, it’s not I who needs to get a clue.
        Legends are Sinatra, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Patsy Cline.
        Not obscure singers that only a very small niche know about…

      • Believe It

        “Legend” and “popularity” don’t have much to do with each other. Alex is and will be a legend among songwriters because he wrote absolutely amazing songs, and performed them with aplomb. He handled his career without compromise. He’s a legend — you just don’t know about him. And you don’t know what you’re missing.

      • gosseyn

        He was so “unheard of” that news of his death was announced by Brian Williams on the NBC Nightly News national news broadcast.

  • STF

    Horrible news. Another guy who, in an alternate universe, would be a huge star.

  • Muffin

    @teeneer: if you don’t know who Alex chilton was, then you know nothing about music outside the mainstream. Get educated and broaden your horizons outside what you’re told is “cool”.

  • J.B.

    If you don’t know who Big Star is then you are missing out! Thirteen is one of the loveliest, perfect pop songs of all time. “Would you be an Outlaw for my love?”

  • Teeneer

    “legendary”?? WHo the hell was he???

    • STF

      Again…Google is your friend, sweetheart. Pissing & Moaning in a thread dedicated to the death of ANYONE is considered tacky and immature at best. Go take your temper tantrum elsewhere, you insensitive clod.

  • Maria

    Who?

    • Scoob

      He was a legend. Highly regarded by people who know rock music and by many musicians and singers. Just because a few morons here don’t know about him – that says more about those morons than about Alex.

  • MP

    Oh NO. So sad to hear this. R.I.P. Alex.

    • Fbx2Phx

      He, and the BoxTops, were very well known in the 60’s. He was the same age as me, and in my second rock band we covered “The Letter,” as did most of the other local bands of the time. Joe Cocker’s version of that song helped make him a star, and my ’60s cover band still plays that song today. Chilton may not be what most young people today consider a legend, but he sure is to a lot of us “older” rockers.

  • Marilee

    He was legendary because he influenced so many great musicians. A musician does not have to be known by every ignorant fool with an Internet connection to be considered legendary.

    • Mandy Tollivio

      Actually, LEGEND and UNKNOWN are technically opposed. You can’t be an unknown and be a legend.

      MADONNA and FRANK SINATRA are legends.
      Stacey Q and Stevie B are obscure musicians. Just like Chilton was.

      • swthompson

        Tell that to Neil Young who wrote the excellent song “Unknown Legend”

      • Believe It

        Exactly. Just because you don’t know him, doesn’t make him “obscure.” Alex Chilton is considered world class by a lot of great songwriters — many of them Grammy and Oscar winners, and just as many of them plugging away in little rooms. He’s a legend because he changed popular music, and that’s a quantifiable fact. You’d have to be dead inside not to be touched by any one of dozens of his songs. Start with “Thirteen,” and keep exploring.

    • Teener

      Then he was “influential to a lot of musicians”, which is not the same as “legendary”

      • noam

        the music that he created is legendary, though. he pioneered an entire genre (power-pop) that eventually became the norm for america. even if you don’t know the name, i can pretty much guarentee that you’ve heard his music for years.

  • Stig

    I never go far without a little Big Star.

  • Andrea

    I had no idea who he was before a few minutes ago, but little did I know, I’ve been listening to his music my whole life. Famous super star or simple musician, he made great music, and that is enough for me. He left his mark on the world, whether anyone realizes it or not. I like that EW acknowledges that just because a entertainer isn’t a house-hold name, doesn’t mean that they’re life and loss is meaningless. Whether or not you realize this, is all on you and your character.

  • couchgrouch

    Chilton’s songs were melodic and beautifully crafted…qualities people raised on music since the mid 80s might not appreciate. much of what passes for pop today is imbeciles who wear silly costumes and sing over machines. Chilton will be sorely missed among those who love music that’s well written as well as performed. Big Star’s 3rd lp Sister Lovers is a direct ancestor of records such as REM’s Automatic For The People. truly a legendary band among writers and musicians.

    • Jenna

      Who? Wait, he was a legend? How the hell I never heard of him?
      Shouldn’t legends be at least well known, even by people who don’t care for their music?

      • Terry

        Actually, if you look up the definition of legend, no where does it say it has to be popular, only known.

      • udet

        Jenna , who the hell are you ?

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