Front­man of pi­o­neer­ing new-wave band the Cars

The Morning Call - - ENTERTAINM­ENT NEWS - By Tom Hays and An­drew Dal­ton

NEW YORK — Ric Ocasek, the Cars front­man whose dead­pan vo­cal de­liv­ery and lanky, sun­glassed look de­fined a rock era with chart-top­ping hits like “Just What I Needed,” was dis­cov­ered dead Sun­day af­ter­noon in his Man­hat­tan apart­ment.

The New York Po­lice De­part­ment said that of­fi­cers found Ocasek at about 4 p.m. af­ter re­spond­ing to a 911 call.

Ocasek was be­lieved to 70 years old, ac­cord­ing to the Bal­ti­more Sun, but other sources sug­gest he was 75.

On Mon­day, the city’s med­i­cal ex­am­iner ruled Ocasek’s cause of death as hy­per­ten­sive and atheroscle­rotic car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease. Pul­monary em­phy­sema was also a con­tribut­ing fac­tor, the med­i­cal ex­am­iner added.

The death comes a year af­ter The Cars were in­ducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, fol­lowed by an an­nounce­ment by model Paulina Porizkova on so­cial me­dia that she and Ocasek had sep­a­rated af­ter 28 years of mar­riage. The pair first met while film­ing the mu­sic video for “Drive,” an­other Cars hit.

Ocasek, who sang, played gui­tar and wrote most of the band’s songs, and Ben­jamin Orr, who played bass and also sang, were ex-hip­pie bud­dies who formed The Cars in Bos­ton in 1976. They were a decade older than many of their mod­ern-rock com­pa­tri­ots but be­came one of the most es­sen­tial Amer­i­can bands of the late 1970s and 1980s with their fu­sion of new wave, 1960s pop and 1970s glam.

Ocasek’s min­i­mal­ist, half­spo­ken dead­pan vo­cals set made the band’s sound, and his long, lanky ap­pear­ance formed their last­ing im­age.

The first three songs on their 1978 self-ti­tled first al­bum were all hit sin­gles and re­main widely known clas­sics and oldies ra­dio air­play: “Good Times Roll,” “My Best Friend’s Girl” and “Just What I

Needed.”

They had 10 other sin­gles in the Bill­board top 40, and of their six stu­dio al­bums, four were in Bill­board’s top 10.

The band’s com­mer­cial peak came with 1984’s “Heart­beat City,” which fea­tured the hit sin­gles “You Might Think” and “Magic,” sung by Ocasek, and the atyp­i­cal bal­lad “Drive,” sung by Orr.

They were al­ways an MTV fa­vorite, and the whim­si­cal, partly an­i­mated video for “You Might Think” along with the mourn­ful video for “Drive” brought them near-con­stant air­play on the chan­nel in the mid-1980s.

The band broke up in 1988, but their in­flu­ence would be deeply felt in the 1990s and be­yond. Kurt Cobain and Nir­vana cov­ered “My Best

Friend’s Girl” at their last live show in 1994, and Ocasek pro­duced al­bums for younger bands in­clud­ing Weezer, No Doubt and Bad Re­li­gion.

The Cars were in­ducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2018 af­ter be­ing nom­i­nated twice be­fore. Dur­ing the cer­e­mony, Ocasek paid trib­ute to Orr, who died in 2000 of pan­cre­atic can­cer.

“It’s quite strange to be here with­out him,” Ocasek said.

In an­nounc­ing the sep­a­ra­tion last year, Porizkova said that their fam­ily is “a well-built car.” But she says that “as a bi­cy­cle, my hus­band and I no longer pedal in uni­son.” Ocasek had six sons, two from each of his three mar­riages.

He grew up in the Bal­ti­more area, and his fam­ily moved to Cleve­land when he was a teenager. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing high school he had stints at An­ti­och Col­lege and Bowl­ing Green State Univer­sity in the mid-1960s be­fore drop­ping out to pur­sue mu­sic.

Ocasek met Orr in 1965 and they formed their own first band called ID Nir­vana in 1968. In the 1970s they re­lo­cated to Bos­ton and formed bands in­clud­ing the folk-rock Milk­wood and also played as an acous­tic duo be­fore find­ing their call­ing when they cre­ated The Cars.

RICHARD SHOTWELL/INVISION

Cars front­man Ric Ocasek, shown in 2015, was found dead Sun­day in his New York City apart­ment.

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