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Lou Reed, Velvet Underground Singer and Rock Legend, Dies at 71

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Lou Reed circa 1975. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Lou Reed circa 1975. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Lou Reed, lead singer and founder of pioneering ’60s rock group the Velvet Underground, died in Long Island this morning. Rolling Stone reports that the cause of his death has not yet been released, but Reed was hospitalized briefly in July for dehydration following a liver transplant in May. He was 71.

Update: According to the New York Times, the cause of death was liver disease, so said Dr. Charles Miller of the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, where Reed underwent his liver transplant surgery and was being treated again until recently.

Related: Lou Reed Remembered By Friends & Musicians

Following the transplant, Reed wrote that he was “bigger and stronger than ever.” His wife of 15 years, artist Laurie Anderson, even said back in June that Lou would “certainly be back to doing [things] in a few months.” Both statements were, of course, before his brief hospitalization in July. Reed had shows scheduled as recently as this past spring (later canceled), and he was scheduled to appear at speaking engagements in the coming weeks.

Lou Reed in recent years. (Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images)

Lou Reed in recent years. (Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images)

Described by writer Ellen Willis as an “aesthete punk,” Reed’s prolific work as a musician has been an inspiration to countless bands, musicians and artists since the ’60s. Born Lewis Allan “Lou” Reed in Brooklyn, in 1942, he attended Syracuse University and worked as a songwriter at Pickwick Records before forming the Velvet Underground in 1964 and quickly catching the eye of Andy Warhol.

Photos: Lou Reed & His Famous Fans

Reed released four classic albums with VU that laid the framework for punk, alternative rock and beyond. Following his departure from the band in 1970 (amidst the making of the revered album Loaded no less), Reed embarked on a successful and wide-ranging solo career, starting with his impeccable David Bowie-produced 1972 debut, Transformer. 

Like most influential artists, Reed battled with the concept of commercial appeal. He produced timeless songs like “Satellite of Love,” “Perfect Day” and his sole Top 40 hit, “Walk on the Wild Side,” while also making significant contributions to avant-garde art and experimental genres such as noise music. He walked a fine line in terms of reach and true influence, summed up nicely by Brian Eno: though the first Velvet Underground album may have sold a mere 30,000 copies in its early years, “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.”

Related: Lou Reed’s Influence: 8 Classic Covers of His Songs

Though he was seen as an emblem for sex, drugs and rock & roll, and an often incorrigible personality, Reed poured passion into his music. A staple of the New York scene and well-known member of Warhol’s Factory, Reed reunited with Velvet Underground bandmate John Cale in 1990 for an emotional tribute to Warhol with the sparse and beautiful rock opera, Songs For Drella. 

Throughout his later life, Reed married Anderson in 2008 and continued to tour his work. He re-recorded one of his most underrated albums, 1973′s Berlin, and released it as a live album. His most recent release was his 2011 collaborative album with Metallica, the divisive Lulu.

Reed’s work as an artist was uncompromisingly challenging, from his early days in the Velvet Underground with a 17-minute story song about seamy New York City life in the ’60s (“Sister Ray”), to his daring 1975 statement Metal Machine Music (a double album of feedback loops). Reed’s work never capitulated to any outside force, a damaged and unwieldy art whose influence is incalculable. He will be dearly missed.

(Additional reporting by Jillian Mapes, Radio.com)

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