Ric Ocasek of The Cars dies at 75

Ocasek helped define the sounds of late 1970s and 1980s rock music.

By
September 16, 2019 21:13
2 minute read.
RIC OCASEK attends an event in Los Angeles in 2015.

RIC OCASEK attends an event in Los Angeles in 2015.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Influential rock guitarist and producer Ric Ocasek, the leader of the American band The Cars, has died at age 75.

Ocasek helped define the sounds of late 1970s and 1980s rock music, with The Cars’ edgy but accessible mix of new wave, rock and pop.

Ocasek was found dead in his New York City apartment on Sunday by his estranged wife, supermodel Paulina Porizkova, according to media reports. He apparently died of natural causes and police said there was no sign of foul play.
Ocasek, born Richard Theodore Otcasek in Baltimore in 1944, met bass player and future band mate Benjamin Orr after moving to Cleveland for high school.

They gravitated to Boston, and amid that city’s punk/new wave scene of the late 1970s, they joined with guitarist Elliot Easton, keyboard player Greg Hawkes and drummer David Robinson to form The Cars with Ocasek as main songwriter.

The Cars’ self-titled 1978 debut album, boosted by singles including “Just What I Needed,” helped lead the direction rock was taking in the late 1970s musical upheaval spurred by punk and disco. Tall, angular and prone to wearing black and white, Ocasek cut a striking figure – detached and imposing.

His unconventional lead vocals and chunk-a-chunk rhythm guitar became the identifiable sound of the band and countless rock fans weaned on 1980s radio.

The Cars scored their first top-20 single, “Let’s Go,” in 1979 and launched a succession of hits throughout the 1980s such as “Shake It Up” and “Drive,” always identifiable through Ocasek’s distinctive vocals.

In 1987, Ocasek told The New York Times: “I’m happy that the pop songs have a bit of a twist. When I’m writing, I never know how it’s going to come out.”

The band broke up in the late ‘80s, as Ocasek embarked on a career that included the music executive side of the business and as producer and mentor for young bands like Weezer.

Los Angeles-based musician John “Angel” Wendell, whose late 1970s Boston band Thrills opened up for The Cars, called Ocasek “the kindly benefactor and godfather of Boston’s music scene from ‘78 onward.”

The Cars were inducted in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2018, an occasion that saw the band perform together for the first time in years – but without co-founder Orr, who died in 2000.

Ocasek and Porizkova were married for 28 years before their breakup last year. Ocasek was married three times and had six sons, two from each relationship.


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