Kamen's passing had first been reported on Instagram by photographer Mark Lebon, who wrote "RIP MY DEAR FRIEND" alongside an image of Kamen from his modeling days.
Born Neville Kamen in Harlow, Essex, England, of Burmese, Dutch, Irish, and English heritage, Kamen was a teen model identified as part of Ray Petri's countercultural "Buffalo" movement, which merged past U.S. and U.K. fashion to create subversive, street-ready looks. Kamen appeared on the cover of The Face magazine in 1984 in a ski cap, a yellow bandage over one eyebrow, cheeky sunglasses, a colorful sweater, and frosted pink lips — a Buffalo boy classic.
But Kamen shot to mainstream fame as the star of a 1985 Levi's 501 commercial, in which his stunning, James Dean-vibing character arrives at a laundromat and strips to his Sunspel-brand boxers to wash his T-shirt and jeans as if nothing is out of the ordinary... all while the other patrons gawk.
Set to Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," the instantly iconic ad, directed by Roger Lyons, powered a surge in sales for the jeans brand, and directly led to a music deal for Kamen.
Madonna, citing his "beautiful voice," worked with collaborator Stephen Bray to contribute the song "Each Time You Break My Heart" to his debut, singing prominent backing vocals on the track. A dance hit in the U.S., it was a Top 5 pop hit in the U.K. and other parts of Europe, and he followed it up with a popular cover of the 1966 Motown tune "Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever" (1987).
Madonna remembered Kamen in a sweet Instagram post, writing, "Its heart breaking to know you are gone. You were always such a kind sweet human and you suffered too much. Hope you are happier wherever you are Nick Kamen. 🙏🏼."
In 1988, Kamen's sophomore album, "Us," was produced by Madonna's preferred producer at the time, Patrick Leonard, and she again sang backing vocals on the lead single, "Tell Me."
Kamen's other biggest impression was made with the song "I Promised Myself" (1990), from his fourth album. It went Top 50 in the U.K., but was a chart-topper in other countries.