Drummer Ginger Baker, a rock legend for his innovative use of percussion, died Sunday at a hospital in England, The New York Times reports. He was 80.
A message from his family on his official Twitter account confirmed his death: "We are very sad to say that Ginger has passed away peacefully in hospital this morning. Thank you to everyone for your kind words over the past weeks."
Born August 19, 1939, in southeast London, he was drumming in a jazz group by his mid-teens. He also played in the bands Blues Incorporated and the Graham Bond Organisation.
Eventually considered one of the greatest and most influential drummers of all time, his most famous work was in the British band Cream, with Eric Clapton on guitar and Jack Bruce on bass. Cream was a phenomenal success from 1966-1968, and Baker's work made him rock's first star drummer.
When Cream dissolved at the height of its chart success (the band, inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, has sold 35 million albums), he played with Clapton and Steve Winwood in Blind Faith, then with Ginger Baker's Air Force, both short-lived collaborations. He spent decades in and out of groups and playing solo, enchanted by African sounds.
Cream reunited for gigs in 2005, but never took advantage of the massive demand for a full-scale reunion tour; Bruce died in 2014.
Along with success came challenges — Baker wrote in his 2009 autobiography, "Hellraiser," that he had quit heroin 29 times. He said his 2013 project, the Ginger Baker Jazz Confusion, was strictly to make money to survive. Infamously uncooperative with the press and confrontational to deal with — a leading cause of Cream's premature demise — he led with his talent.
Baker is survived by his fourth wife, Kudzai Baker, and by three children from his marriage to artist Liz Finch, including drummer Kofi Baker.