Lou Reed, the pioneering songwriter and musician behind the influential rock band Velvet Underground, which fused art and music in collaboration with artist Andy Warhol, died on Sunday at the age of 71, his literary agent said.
Reed, best recognized by mainstream audiences for his 1972 solo hit Walk on the Wild Side, died at the Long Island home he shared with his wife, musician Laurie Anderson, following complications from a liver transplant he underwent earlier this year, his agent, Andrew Wylie, said.
“I think Lou was as great an artist as it was possible to be,” Wylie said. “It’s a great loss.”
While the Velvet Underground never achieved great commercial success, the band revolutionized rock in the 1960s and 1970s with a mixture of thrashing guitar licks and smooth melodies sung by Reed or sultry German model Nico.
The band has long been recognized as a major musical inspiration for punk art and rock, as reflected in a quote often attributed to musician Brian Eno: “The first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band.”
John Cale, who cofounded the Velvet Underground, but had a sometimes fractious relationship with his former bandmate, released a statement on his Facebook page saying: The world has lost a fine songwriter and poet... I’ve lost my ‘school-yard buddy.’”
Cale and Reed put aside their differences to release a tribute album to Warhol in 1990 called Songs for Drella, which led to a handful of reunion performances by members of the Velvet Underground’s original lineup in the early 1990s.
An admitted hard drinker and drug user for many years, Reed underwent a liver transplant earlier this year in Cleveland, Ohio, after he had canceled a series of California concert dates in April, his wife said.
“I am a triumph of modern medicine,” Reed posted on his Web site on June 1, without acknowledging the transplant.
Reed has been widely credited with expanding the lexicon of rock and roll with provocative lyrics that chronicled androgyny, illicit sex and drug abuse.
Walk on the Wild Side, a catchy tune off his second solo album, Transformer, coproduced by fellow avante-garde rocker David Bowie, became Reed’s only top 20 hit single, although it contained lyrical references to transexuality, drugs and male prostitution.
“I never in a million years thought people would be outraged by what I was doing,” Reed said in a 1989 interview with Rolling Stone. “You could go to your neighborhood bookstore and get any of that.”
In recent years, he took up photograph and exhibited his work.