Published June 19, 2011
The saxophone player for the E Street Band died Saturday night due to complications of a stroke he suffered earlier this month.
Clarence Clemons, 69, was considered a major influence for Bruce Springsteen and played with him for decades. Springsteen said Clemons lived a wonderful life in a statement.
“He carried within him a love of people that made them love him,” he said. “He created a wondrous and extended family. He loved the saxophone, loved our fans and gave everything he had every night he stepped on stage.”
Springsteen called Clemons a great friend and partner.
Clemons was called the “Big Man” because he was 6-foot-5-inch and 270-plus pounds. Perhaps built more for football than the sax.
But play the sax he did. And his solos became a signature sound for the E Street Band on many key songs, including "Jungleland," a solo he spent 16 hours perfecting, and "Born To Run," Newscore reported.
In recent years, Clemons had been slowed by health woes. He endured major spinal surgery in January 2010 and, at the 2009 Super Bowl, Clemons rose from a wheelchair to perform with Springsteen after double knee replacement surgery.
But his health seemed to be improving. In May, he performed with Lady G sax. Goodbye Big Man," tweeted actor Rob Lowe.
An original member -- and the oldest member -- of the E Street Band, Clemons also performed with the Grateful Dead, the Jerry Garcia Band, and Ringo Starr's All Star Band. He recorded with a wide range of artists including Aretha Franklin, Roy Orbison and Jackson Browne. He also had his own band called the Temple of Soul.
The stage "always feels like home. It's where I belong," Clemons, a former youth counselor, said after performing at a Hard Rock Cafe benefit for Home Safe, a children's charity, in 2010.
Born in Norfolk, Va., Clemons was the grandson of a Baptist minister and began playing the saxophone when he was 9.
"Nobody played instruments in my family. My father got that bug and said he wants his son to play saxophone. I wanted an electric train for Christmas, but he got me a saxophone. I flipped out," he said in a 1989 interview with the AP.
The break with Springsteen and the E Street Band didn't end his relationship with either Springsteen or the rest of the band members, nor would it turn out to be permanent. By 1999 they were back together for a reunion tour and the release of "The Rising."
But the years took a toll on Clemons' body, and he had to play through the pain of surgeries and other health woes.
"It takes a village to run the Big Man -- a village of doctors," Clemons told The Associated Press in a phone interview in 2010. "I'm starting to feel better; I'm moving around a lot better."
He published a memoir, "Big Man: Real Life and Tall Tales," in 2009 and continued to perform.
He is the second member of the E Street Band to pass away: In 2008, Danny Federici, the keyboardist for the band, died at age 58 of melanoma.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.