Legendary DJ John Peel Dead at 65

John Peel, a longtime British Broadcasting Corp. disc jockey whose enthusiasm for the offbeat, the eclectic and the obscure launched the careers of dozens of bands, has died, the BBC said Tuesday. He was 65.

The broadcaster said Peel suffered a heart attack Monday while vacationing in Peru with his wife, Sheila.

Dr. Alcides Vargas, who worked to revive Peel, told Peru's Radioprogramas radio that the DJ suffered a heart attack in a hotel in Cuzco (search), 350 miles southeast of the Peruvian capital, Lima. He was pronounced dead on the way to a clinic.

Peel's program on Radio 1, the BBC's flagship pop music station, exerted a huge influence for more than 30 years. He was often the first to play demo tapes by little-known bands, and his enthusiasm propelled some to fame.

Prime Minister Tony Blair's official spokesman said Blair — who once played guitar in a college band called Ugly Rumours — was "genuinely saddened" by the news.

He said Peel "was a unique voice in British broadcasting who used that voice to unearth new talent and different subjects and bring them to the awareness and make them accessible to a much wider audience."

Peel promoted reggae, hip-hop and punk on the sometimes conservative BBC, and championed acts ranging from Jimi Hendrix and David Bowie to The Smiths, The Fall (search), Pulp and Northern Irish punks The Undertones (search), whose "Teenage Kicks" Peel rated his favorite song.

His live studio sessions were coveted by bands, and many were released on record as the "Peel Sessions."

"Over the years we've had almost everybody, except The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, of the kind of big bands of the past," Peel once told an interviewer. "More recently Oasis — I never really thought Oasis were much good, to be honest, so they didn't do one."

Bands Peel did like, such as post-punk outfit Joy Division (search) and its successor, New Order, often remained deeply grateful

"If it wasn't for John Peel, there would be no Joy Division and no New Order," band member Bernard Sumner said. "He was one of the few people to give bands that played alternative music a chance to get heard, and he continued to be a champion of cutting-edge music throughout his life."

Blur frontman Damon Albarn (search) said, "John Peel's patronage was for me, like countless other musicians, one of the most significant things that happened to us in our careers."

Pulp's Jarvis Cocker (search) said Peel "was one of those few people about whom you could truly say that the world would have been a much different place without him. For many years he almost single-handedly championed new and challenging music in the U.K."

Elvis Costello (search) called Peel "a great man, a fabulous curmudgeon — he was as rare as the music that he loved."

Guy Garvey, frontman of Manchester band Elbow, said: "We owe him everything. He was the first person to ever play us on the radio, which I am sure lots of people can say."

Peel was born John Ravenscroft near Liverpool in 1939. As a teenager, he later said, his life was changed by hearing Elvis Presley singing "Heartbreak Hotel." He later joined the British army and worked in a cotton mill.

In the early 1960s he moved to Dallas, where his roots in Liverpool — newly famous as home of The Beatles — enabled him to get a job on WRR radio, hosting a program called "Kat's Karavan." He then worked at stations in Oklahoma City and San Bernardino, Calif.

Returning to Britain, he worked on the pirate station Radio London, broadcasting from a boat off the English coast, where he adopted the name John Peel.

He joined the BBC in 1967, broadcasting on Radio 1 and internationally on the World Service. Since 1998, he also presented "Home Truths," a whimsical show about the travails of family life, on the BBC's talk-based Radio 4.

He is survived by his wife and four children. Funeral details were not immediately announced.