Clarence Clemons, the saxophonist in Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band whose jovial onstage manner, soul-rooted style and brotherly relationship with Springsteen made him one of rock's most beloved sidemen, died Saturday at a hospital in Palm Beach, Fla.
Clarence Clemons, the saxophonist in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band whose jovial onstage manner, soul-rooted style and brotherly relationship with Springsteen made him one of rock’s most beloved sidemen, died Saturday at a hospital in Palm Beach, Fla. He was 69.
The cause was complications from a stroke, which he suffered last Sunday, said a Springsteen spokeswoman.
From the beginnings of the E Street Band in 1972, Mr. Clemons played a central part in Springsteen’s music, complementing the group’s electric guitar and driving rhythms in songs like “Born to Run” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” with muscular, melodic saxophone hooks that echoed doo-wop, soul and early rock ‘n’ roll.
Equally important to the group’s image was the sense of affection and unbreakable camaraderie between Springsteen and his sax man.
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A former college football player, Mr. Clemons towered over Springsteen at 6 feet 4 inches and about 250 pounds — his self-evident nickname was “the Big Man” — and for most of its history he stood out as the sole black man in a white, working-class New Jersey rock band.
For many fans, the bond between Springsteen and Mr. Clemons was symbolized by the photograph wrapped around the front and back covers of the 1975 album “Born to Run.” In that picture, Springsteen leans on a shoulder to his right for support, and the flip side reveals it belonged to Mr. Clemons.
Mr. Clemons played with other top artists over the years and recently was featured on Lady Gaga’s album “Born This Way.”
Clarence Anicholas Clemons was born Jan. 11, 1942, in Norfolk, Va. His father owned a fish market; his grandfather was a Southern Baptist preacher. While he grew up with gospel music, the young Mr. Clemons was captivated by rock ‘n’ roll.
A gifted athlete, he tried out for the Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns, but a knee injury ended his hopes for a football career.
His fifth wife, Victoria, survives him, as do four sons.