Colon cancer claims Pendergrass

NEW YORK - R&B singer Teddy Pendergrass, who had been one of the most electric and successful figures in music until a car crash 28 years ago left him in a wheelchair, has died of colon cancer. He was 59.

NEW YORK - R&B singer Teddy Pendergrass, who had been one of the most electric and successful figures in music until a car crash 28 years ago left him in a wheelchair, has died of colon cancer. He was 59.

Before the crash Pendergrass established a new era of R&B with an explosive, raw voice that symbolised masculinity, passion and the joys and sorrow of romance in songs such as Close the Door, It Don't Hurt Now, Love TKO and other hits that have since become classics.

He was an international superstar and sex symbol. His career was at its apex - and still climbing.

Friend and longtime collaborator Kenny Gamble, of the renowned production duo Gamble & Huff, teamed with Pendergrass on his biggest hits and recalled how the singer was even working on a movie.

"He had about 10 platinum albums in a row, so he was a very, very successful recording artist and as a performing artist," Gamble said yesterday.

"He had a tremendous career ahead of him and the accident sort of got in the way of many of those plans."

Pendergrass, who was born in Philadelphia in 1950, suffered a spinal cord injury in the 1982 car accident that left him paralysed from the waist down - still able to sing but without his signature power. The image of the strong, virile lover was replaced with one that drew sympathy.

But instead of becoming bitter or depressed, Pendergrass created a new identity - that as a role model, Gamble said.

"He never showed me that he was angry at all about his accident," Gamble said.

"In fact, he was very courageous."

Pendergrass died on Wednesday in suburban Philadelphia, where he had been hospitalised for months.

The singer's son, Teddy Pendergrass II, said his father underwent colon cancer surgery eight months ago and had "a difficult recovery."

To all his fans who loved his music, thank you," his son said. "He will live on through his music."

Pendergrass left a remarkable imprint on the music world as he ushered in a new era in R&B with his fiery, sensual and forceful brand of soul and his ladies-man image, burnished by his strikingly handsome looks.

Gamble said Pendergrass was one of a kind as an artist and boasted a powerful voice and "a great magnetism."

He added: "He was a great baritone singer and he had a real smooth sound, but he had a real rough sound, too, when he wanted to exert power in his voice," Gamble said.

But it wasn't Pendergrass' voice that got him his break in the music business - it was his drum-playing abilities.

He met Harold Melvin, who was looking for replacement members for his group, the Blue Notes, and signed on to be the drummer. Later, he became the lead singer of the group, which became known as Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes.

The band started working with Gamble and Leon Huff and had signature hits in the early 1970s with Wake Up Everybody and If You Don't Know Me by Now. But Pendergrass had creative differences with Melvin and soon left for a solo career, according to his website.

Then he became a sex symbol for the R&B genre, working women into a frenzy with hits such as Only You and concerts dedicated for ladies only. - Sapa-AP

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