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May Wilkerson May Wilkerson

Joe Cocker Dies of Lung Cancer at 70

The British blues singer's hard partying past nearly derailed his career in the '70s. He eventually quit drugs, alcohol and cigarettes and led a quieter life.

6 Substance

British blues-rock singer Joe Cocker died today after a battle with lung cancer. He was 70. Cocker is perhaps best known for his Woodstock-era rendition of the Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends,” but his musical career spanned half a century.

In an interview with the Daily Mail last year, the singer talked about his history of heavy drug and alcohol use, which started when he fell in with hard-partying American rock and roll culture in the ’60s.

“If I’d been stronger mentally, I could have turned away from temptation,” he said. By the ’70s, his substance use affected his performances and he would forget his song lyrics. “There was no rehab back in those days,” he said. “Drugs were readily available, and I dived in head first. And once you get into that downward spiral, it’s hard to pull out of it. It took me years to get straight.”

He said his wife, Pam, eventually helped him quit: “She made me think positively. I was very down on myself. She made me realize people still wanted to hear me sing, and convinced me I could escape the downward spiral.”

He was also a heavy cigarette smoker in his youth, contributing to the raspy voice for which he became known. ”I used to smoke about 40 a day at one time,”  he told The Sun in 2000. “I quit about nine years ago and that’s made a world of difference.”

Later in life, Cocker lived a quiet life in the mountains of Colorado with his wife and dogs. “I literally feel I have become a mountain man over these past couple of years,” he said in 2012. He continued to play music up until his death, and had planned a tour for 2015.