Lou Reed has died at the age of 71.
Rolling Stone was the first to report the former Velvet Underground member passed away earlier today. Reed had undergone a liver transplant in May, but had made public appearances including attending a “Breaking Bad” final season screening event in July and the GQ Men of the Year Awards in London a little under a month ago.
The often cantankerous artist is regarded as one of the seminal figures in rock from his groundbreaking work with the Velvet Underground, as well as his solo work, which often found him experimenting sonically, such as on 1975’s “Metal Machine Music,” up to his 2011’s collaboration with Metallica, “Lulu.”
After graduating from Syracuse University, the native Brooklynite moved back to New York and formed The Velvet Underground with John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker. Reed’s mentor, Andy Warhol, suggested the group add model/singer Nico. Their resulting first album, 1967’s “The Velvet Underground & Nico,” wasn’t a commercial success, although it is now considered a massively influential work for its minimalist, avant-garde, distorted style. The Velvet Underground flamed out after four albums, although songs such as “Sweet Jane” and “Rock & Roll” later became standards and acts such as Sonic Youth, R.E.M., Talking Heads and the Sex Pistols have all cited the band’s influence.
Reed released his first solo album in 1970, but it wasn’t until 1972’s “Transformer,” produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson, that he gained a wider audience, with “Walk On The Wild Side,” his salute to the “stars” of Warhol’s Factory. On conceptual album “Berlin,” Reed told the dark tale of two junkies in the rock opera. Thought the discordant “Metal Machine Music” was regarded as an attempt by Reed to get out of his record contract, Reed later declared the album was a serious artistic endeavor.
Reed continued to release albums that explored difference musical styles that intrigued him, as his legend as an anti-establishment figure grew (ironically, enough so that he became a spokesman for Honda motorcycles in the ’80s). Following Warhol’s death in 1987, Reed and Cale reunited for “Songs For Drella,” a song cycle about Warhol. It was the first time the two had worked together in 22 years. That effort led to a Velvet Underground reunion for a 1990 benefit and a subsequent 1993 European tour.
Until his death, Reed continued making music, most notably, the beautiful meditation on death, 1992’s “Magic and Loss”; 2000’s “Ecstasy,” 2003’s Edgar Allan Poe-influenced, “The Raven,” and even a 2007 album of atmospheric meditation music “Hudson River Wind Meditations.” He also continued working with a new generation of artists, including recording “Tranquilize” with The Killers in 2007, “Some Kind of Nature” with Gorillaz in 2010, the aforementioned effort with Metallica, and “The Wanderlust” in last year’s Metric album, “Synthetica.”
Reed, who married fellow artist Laurie Anderson in 2008, was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with the Velvet Underground in 1996. He was on the ballot as a solo artist in the early 2000s, but was not voted in.