As unforgettable as Teddy Pendergrass' voice and performances were, his most remarkable gift was his perseverance - his unwillingness to quit, no matter how dire the hardship.
When I interviewed him a few years back, it wasn't his music that he spoke of. It was his life's adversities, starting with his childhood in North Philly. But it never came across as self-pitying. Rather, it was almost in thanks for the preparation he was given for the greatest fight he would face.
"I didn't meet my father until the age of 10," Pendergrass, who died last week, told me. "I didn't know much about him, and I wasn't very curious. ... Then my mother, who had raised me alone, felt it was necessary for me to meet the man who was part of bringing me into the world.
"We rode one of those Philadelphia trolleys to his house, which wasn't all that far away. The meeting felt odd. Here was a man who I didn't know, living with a woman who wasn't my mother, and he was raising a child with her, and that child wasn't me.
"I don't remember if he actually said anything to me, but I do remember clearly that, before we left, he asked my mother for 50 cents. How could a man who'd never given me anything dare to ask my mother for money? ... That was the first and last time I saw my father.
"A year later, my father was murdered by a drinking buddy. I didn't know it at the time, but looking back, it seems that from that point on, I decided to never do without. So much of what I did was based on the strength I gained from not having a father there. With that loss, along with a strong and loving mother, I learned that I could persevere through almost anything. I had no idea how that perseverance would end up giving me the strength to deal with unimaginable adversity."
The unimaginable came on March 18, 1982. Teddy was riding a wave of hits and sold-out concerts, but it came to a sudden, crashing end against a guardrail on Philadelphia's Lincoln Drive. The accident severed his spinal cord between the fifth and sixth vertebrae. He had no idea whether he would ever get out of a hospital bed, let alone sing again.
The fall was unthinkable - from the top of the world, his every desire within a snap of his fingers, to a captive, locked away, helpless, pain-ridden, and unable to lift his hand.
But Teddy was girded for the fight by the many obstacles he had overcome, and he made a commitment to get back on stage. And that he did - ranging from his electrifying performance with Ashford & Simpson at Live Aid to his important work with the Teddy Pendergrass Alliance, aiding those who had suffered as he had. In concert, the voice was as powerful as ever, and, while he couldn't stalk the stage as before, his passion nearly pulled the wheelchair off the floor.
As far as the drugs and the rest of his old lifestyle, Pendergrass understood that sometimes God nudges you, and sometimes he kicks you in the butt. "If I had not been in that accident, I would not be here today, because I was killing myself," he said.
Teddy's story shows that difficult lessons, learned well, get us through the toughest times. Despite and because of his trials, his life was, as he put it, truly blessed.