JOE COCKER, the raspy-voiced British singer known for his frenzied cover of "With a Little Help From My Friends," the teary ballad "You Are So Beautiful" and a contorted performing style uncannily parodied by John Belushi on "Saturday Night Live," has died. He was 70.
His London-based agent, Barrie Marshall, said Cocker died yesterday of lung cancer in Colorado, where he had lived for the past two decades.
Cocker, an interpreter more than a writer, became a star through his dazzling transformation of the Beatles' "With a Little Help From My Friends." Featuring a gospel-styled arrangement and furious call and response between Cocker and the backup singers, the song became a No. 1 hit in England and the highlight of his characteristically manic set at the Woodstock festival in 1969.
In a statement yesterday, Paul McCartney remembered hearing Cocker's cover of the song he and John Lennon co-wrote for Ringo Starr and finding it "just mind- blowing," a "soul anthem."
"I was forever grateful for him for doing that," McCartney said. "I knew him through the years as a good mate, and I was so sad to hear that he had been ill and really sad to hear today that he had passed away."
Cocker's "Mad Dogs & Englishmen" tour and traveling party of 1970, featuring Leon Russell and numerous top session musicians, produced a film and a recording that went gold. But future success was more sporadic, and Cocker suffered from both drug and financial problems.
He had a Top 10 hit in 1975 on "You Are So Beautiful," his voice cracking on the final, emotional note, and won a Grammy Award in 1983 for his "Up Where We Belong" duet with Jennifer Warnes, the theme of the movie "An Officer and a Gentleman."
His cover of Bryan Adams' "When the Night Comes" was featured in the film "An Innocent Man" and became a Top 20 single in 1990.
Cocker, who received an Order of the British Empire in 2011 for his contribution to music, released 40 albums and continued to tour after the hits stopped. His other popular covers included "Feelin' Alright," "The Letter" and "Cry Me a River," a song previously recorded by one of Cocker's greatest influences, Ray Charles.
His voice, at times so worn it seemed in danger of shredding, was just one part of his legend. No Cocker fan could forget his intense, twitchy stage presence, his arms flailing, his hips stretching, his face contorting. Among those watching were Belushi, whose expert imitation became a feature of his early National Lampoon shows and eventually a part of popular history when he joined Cocker in 1976 for a duet of "Feelin' Alright" on "Saturday Night Live."
Cocker is survived by his wife, Pam; a brother; a stepdaughter and two grandchildren. A private memorial is planned.