Grammy-winning singer Bill Withers has passed away at the age of 81.
On Friday, his family broke the sad news that he had died from heart complications in Los Angeles. In a statement, they said, “We are devastated by the loss of our beloved, devoted husband and father. A solitary man with a heart driven to connect to the world at large, with his poetry and music, he spoke honestly to people and connected them to each other."
The statement continued, “As private a life as he lived close to intimate family and friends, his music forever belongs to the world. In this difficult time, we pray his music offers comfort and entertainment as fans hold tight to loved ones.”
Withers’ death comes at a time when many are listening to his hit song “Lean on Me” to get through the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed 50,000 lives worldwide.
Born on the Fourth of July in 1938 in Slab Fork, West Virginia, Withers decided to try his hand at the world of music as he entered his thirties after overcoming a childhood stutter during a nine-year stint in the U.S. Navy.
He signed with Sussex Records in 1970, and his album "Just As I Am" was a smash the following year.
Withers' 1971 debut song “Ain’t No Sunshine” won the R&B Song of the Year Grammy. Its 45-single cover showed Withers at his day job with his lunch box; he was not taking for granted that a record deal would put him on easy street.
His 1972 follow-up album, "Still Bill," produced the iconic #1 hit "Lean on Me," which hit #1 again in 1987 when it was covered by Club Nouveau, winning Withers a Grammy in he process. "Use Me and "Kissing My Love" also went Top 40.
When his label folded, Withers signed with Columbia, and his success took a hit as he feuded with the company over creative decisions. Nonetheless, he released another six studio albums, and had big hits with the singles "Lovely Day" (1977) and the Grover Washington Jr. duet "Just the Two of Us" (1981), the latter of which was also a Grammy winner.
Withers stepped away from the spotlight in 1985 after only 15 years in the business, but his impact was so profound he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015 by Stevie Wonder.
In a 2009 documentary about his life called "Still Bill," Withers said of his music, “I write and sing about whatever I am able to understand and feel. I feel that it is healthier to look out at the world through a window than through a mirror. Otherwise, all you see is yourself and whatever is behind you."
After hearing of his death, big names like Lin-Manuel Miranda and Chance the Rapper paid tribute on their social media accounts. Lin-Manuel tweeted, “Rest In Peace, maestro Bill Withers. What a legacy.”
Chance tweeted, “Aw man, Bill Withers was really the greatest. Grandma’s Hands, Ain’t No Sunshine, Lean on Me, Use Me Up, Just The Two Of Us and obviously Lovely Day are some of the best songs of all time. My heart really hurts for him, it reminds me of playing records with at my grandma’s house."
See more reactions below.
Yet more sad news...— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) April 3, 2020
RIP Bill Withers, 81.
One of the great singer-songwriters, the maestro behind so many iconic songs like Lean On Me, Lovely Day, Ain’t No Sunshine.
Thanks for the music, Bill. pic.twitter.com/gHgDXNBRA5
Since my early high school days, Bill Withers’ music has been a cherished part of my life. It added to my joy in the good times, and also gave me comfort and inspiration when I needed it most. RIP💔 https://t.co/1cKRZT8XhQ— Valerie Jarrett (@ValerieJarrett) April 3, 2020
Withers, who was briefly married to "Room 222" actress Denise Nicholas, is survived by his second wife, Marcia, and their children, Todd and Kori, all of whom work preserving his musical legacy.