[Update Below] Ric Ocasek, the founder, songwriter and frontman of iconic new wave/classic rock band The Cars, has died. According to the Daily News, he was found by his wife Paulina Porizkova, whom he had separated from last year, around 4 p.m. on Sunday in his townhouse on East 19th Street. He was 75.
Cops told the News that they do not suspect foul play, and the city medical examiner’s office will determine his cause of death. (The NY Post reports that Ocasek likely died of unspecified "natural causes.”)
Ocasek, who was born in Baltimore, formed The Cars with longtime friend Benjamin Orr in 1976 (the two had played in bands together since the late '60s). In the early days, "Ocasek and Orr relocated to New York City, Woodstock and Ann Arbor, Michigan, singing Buddy Holly songs as a duo or playing hard rock so they could open for the MC5," according to Rolling Stone.
The band's core sound was a melding of ahead-of-its-time synths/keyboard work, punk minimalism, and melodies that drew equally from rockabilly and power pop. Their self-titled debut album is considered one of the greatest in rock history, filled to the brim with indelible hit singles including “Good Times Roll,” “My Best Friend’s Girl,” "You're All I Got Tonight" and “Just What I Needed.”
As the Times wrote: "From 1978 to 1988, Mr. Ocasek and the Cars merged a vision of romance, danger and nocturnal intrigue and the concision of new wave with the sonic depth and ingenuity of radio-friendly rock. The Cars managed to please both punk-rock fans and a far broader pop audience, reaching into rock history while devising fresh, lush extensions of it."
After their debut, the band released five other albums, including the new wave classic (and my personal favorite) Candy-O, the more experimental Panorama, followed by Shake It Up and their biggest selling album, Heartbreak City, which was full of '80s radio classics including "Drive," "You Might Think," and "Magic." The band released one final album, Door To Door, then broke up in 1988. Ocasek released a few solo albums in the interim, focusing on his production work on albums including Weezer's Blue Album, Guided By Voices' Do The Collapse, and albums from Bad Brains, No Doubt, Suicide, Hole, Bad Religion, The Cribs and more.
For an example of Ocasek's unmistakable keyboard/synth style and tone, just listen to the first song from that GBV album, "Teenage FBI," on which Ocasek played the synth hook.
Orr died in 2000 of pancreatic cancer, and the rest of The Cars briefly reunited in 2010 and released one new album, Move Like This. The group went on hiatus after 2011, until they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 2018.
Update 3 p.m.: The NYC Medical Examiner's office has ruled that Ocasek's death was caused by heart disease, specifically hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease; he also had a contributing condition of pulmonary emphysema. He died of natural causes.
His family also released a statement:
Ric was at home recuperating very well after surgery. Our two sons, Jonathan and Oliver, and I were making sure he was comfortable, ordering food and watching TV together. I found him still asleep when I was delivering his Sunday morning coffee. I touched his cheek to rouse him. It was then I realized that during the night he had peacefully passed on. We appreciate the great outpouring of love. We, his family and friends, are completely and utterly devastated by his untimely and unexpected death and would appreciate the privacy to mourn in private.
The band's official Twitter account also posted this note from Ocasek's sons: