Clarence Clemons, E Street Band Saxophonist, Dies at 69

The Big Man of the E Street Band was 69.

By Andrea Swalec
|  Sunday, Jun 19, 2011  |  Updated 9:17 AM CDT
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Clarence Clemons and The Boss played together for decades.

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Saxophonist Clarence Clemons of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band died Saturday in a hospital in Palm Beach, Fla. He was 69.

The cause was complications from a stroke he suffered June 12, according to a spokeswoman for  Springsteen.

The tenor saxophone of the "Big Man" of the E Street Band was one of the defining elements of the band's sound. And Clemons said it was more than a musical instrument. He called his sax "a vehicle to move my spirit around," New Jersey's Star-Ledger reports.

"I don’t think it’s only my saxophone," Clemons told All Access Magazine in 2008, according to the Star-Ledger. "It’s who I am."

Springsteen said in a statement on his website Saturday night that the loss of Clemons was "immeasurable."

"He was my great friend, my partner, and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music," Springsteen's statement said. "His life, his memory, and his love will live on in that story and in our band."

Springsteen often spoke of Clemons in mythical terms, the Star-Ledger reports. The first time they met, a lightning storm raged in Asbury Park, N.J., Springsteen says. The Big Man tore the door off a club, strode onstage uninvited and played. The story is captured on the album "Born to Run" in the song "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," on the cover of which Clemons appears with The Boss.

“I swear I will never forget that moment,” Clemons later recalled in an interview, according to The New York Times. “I felt like I was supposed to be there. It was a magical moment. He looked at me, and I looked at him, and we fell in love. And that’s still there.”

The Stone Pony, the music venue in Asbury Park synonymous with Springsteen and the E Street Band's early years, will be open at noon Sunday for the fans of the Big Man.

Clarence Anicholas Clemons was born on Jan. 11, 1942, in Norfolk, Va., according to The Times. He received an alto saxophone at age 9 as a Christmas gift and later switched to the tenor. He attended Maryland State College (now the University of Maryland Eastern Shore), played football in college and worked as a youth counselor in Newark, N.J.

He began to mix with the Jersey Shore music scene in the late 1960s and early '70s, long before "Jersey Shore" stood for something else.

Clemons married five times and divorced four, The Times reports. He is survived by his fifth wife, Victoria, and four sons: Clarence Jr., Charles, Christopher and Jarod.

Over the years, Clemons became a celebrity in his own right, The Times reports. He jammed with President Bill Clinton at the 1993 inaugural ball and appeared in the Martin Scorsese film "New York, New York."

More recently, Clemons collaborated with Lady Gaga on her "Born This Way" album, playing sax on "Hair" and "The Edge of Glory," Billboard.com reports. He appeared with the wacky star on the May 25 "American Idol" season finale.

Clemons last played with Springsteen in December 2010. He was scheduled to perform the national anthem at Game Two of the NBA finals last week. Clemons had to cancel due to a hand injury and watch from the stands, Billboard reported.

Selected Reading: The Star-Ledger (New Jersey), The New York Times, Billboard, The Associated Press

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