(Reuters) Soul and R&B singer Ben E. King, famous for his deep, velvety baritone voice and the classic hit song “Stand by Me,” died of natural causes in New Jersey at the age of 76, his representative said on Friday.
“He passed away on Thursday,” said publicist Phil Brown, adding funeral arrangements would be announced within days.
King was born in North Carolina and moved to Harlem, New York, as a child. He began his career in the doo-wop group The Five Crowns, which later became The Drifters, before branching out as a solo artist.
“With an extremely heavy heart, I must say goodbye to one of the sweetest, gentlest and gifted souls that I have had the privilege of knowing and calling my friend for more than 50 years, Mr Ben E. King,” R&B singer Gary U.S. Bonds said on Facebook.
The Drifters had a string of hits with Atlantic Records and were inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. King co-wrote and sang the lead on the group’s first hit, “There Goes My Baby,” in 1959.
He also was the lead vocalist with the group on songs such as “Save the Last Dance for Me,” “This Magic Moment,” “Dance With Me” and “I Count the Tears.”
After a contractual dispute, King began a solo career in 1960 and recorded his best-known song, “Stand By Me,” which was voted one of the Songs of the Century by the Recording Industry Association of America. King, along with Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, wrote the 1961 hit.
The song, which is featured in and provided the title for the 1986 film “Stand by Me” by director Rob Reiner, was also inducted by the Library of Congress into the National Recording Registry. King had five No. 1 hits with The Drifters and as a solo artist.
Actor Jerry O’Connell, who starred in the film alongside River Phoenix and Corey Feldman, described King as a “wonderful and immensely talented man”.
You know you are good when John Lennon covers your song. Ben E. King was a wonderful and immensely talented man.— Jerry O'Connell (@MrJerryOC) 1 Mai 2015
The song spent three weeks at Number One in the UK singles charts in 1987 after it was used in the film and a TV advert.
King is survived by his wife, Betty, three children and six grandchildren.
Today we lost Ben E. King, a wonderful interpreter of songs. Thank you Ben. Rest in peace.— Carole King (@Carole_King) 1 Mai 2015
RIP the great Ben E King , god bless brother— Alexander O'Neal (@AlexanderO_Neal) 1 Mai 2015
Ben E King will be missed, but those great vocal performances will live forever. – Huey http://t.co/2VjGrVqNQG— Huey Lewis (@Huey_Lewis_News) 1 Mai 2015