How Did Lou Reed Die, Lou Reed, lead singer of the Velvet Underground, veteran chronicler of life’s wilder, seamier and more desperate side and one of the most influential and distinctive songwriters of his generation, has died at the age of 71.
He had been suffering from liver failure and received a transplant earlier this year.
Reed’s literary agent, Andrew Wylie, said the musician died on Sunday morning in Southampton, New York, of an illness related to the transplant. His UK music agent, Andy Woolliscroft, confirmed the news to the Guardian earlier on Sunday night, saying: “Yes I’m afraid it’s true. I’m very upset.”
John Cale, his longtime friend and a founding member of the Velvet Underground, said: “The world has lost a fine songwriter and poet I’ve lost my school-yard buddy.”
Tributes from musicians and writers were quick to appear on social media.
David Bowie said on his Facebook page: “He was a master.” Iggy Pop called it “devastating news”. Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth wrote: “So sorry to hear of Lou Reed’s passing this is a huge shock!” The chef and author Anthony Bourdain quoted the Velvet Underground’s song Sweet Jane: “‘Heavenly wine and roses seem to whisper to me when you smile’ RIP Lou Reed.” Lloyd Cole wrote: “Without Lou there is no Bowie as we know him. Me? I’d probably be a maths teacher.” Ryan Adams said only: “Lou Reed.”
Nile Rodgers of the funk band Chic tweeted: “Lou Reed, RIP I did the Jools Holland show with him last year and we yucked it up. I didn’t know he was ill.”
The writer Salman Rushdie opted to commemorate the singer in a message heavy with references to his songs: “My friend Lou Reed came to the end of his song. So very sad. But hey, Lou, you’ll always take a walk on the wild side. Always a perfect day.”
Lou Reed poses for the cover session for his album Coney Island Baby, in 1976. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Fans also piled on to Reed’s Facebook page to leave tributes. “One of the greatest men I ever met and one of the kindest and most loving – and that’s from someone who worked with him and knew him since the 1960s,” wrote one.
Another said: “A sad day, not a perfect day at all. RIP., Lou. You’ll never know what your words and music did for me and what an influence you had on the way I think.”
Although the Velvet Underground never achieved great commercial success, their idiosyncratic mixture of harsh guitars and smooth melodies sung by Reed or model Nico proved enduring.
The band’s influence on rock, art rock and punk was memorably summed up by Brian Eno’s observation that although the first Velvet Underground album may have sold only 30,000 copies in its first few years, “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band”.