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    Kid Rock's Li'l Partner Joe C. Dies

    Kid Rock's trash-talking little buddy is gone.

    Joseph Calleja, Rock's pint-sized rapping sidekick, best known to the world as Joe C., died in his sleep Thursday night at his home in Taylor, Michigan, Atlantic Records said in a statement. He was 26.

    Joe C., who made his recording debut on Rock's 1998 multiplatinum disc, Devil Without a Cause, suffered since childhood from an intestinal disorder called Celiac disease, which ultimately prevented him from growing past 3 feet, 9 inches tall--as he proudly proclaimed in one of his raps.

    "Family and friends are everything; without them, all of the fame and fortune means nothing," Kid Rock said in a statement Friday. "We have lost a part of our family. Joey gave us and the world his love. He brought a smile to everyone who has ever known or seen him.

    "In a world full of confusion," Rock added, "Joey made all of us laugh. No matter what color, religion, race, or beliefs we have, he made us all smile. He gave us the gift of joy. Joey, thank you. We will never forget you. We love you."

    Joe C. joined Rock's Twisted Brown Trucker band in 1994, and since then had become a signature member of the group's whacked-out, colorful live shows. He helped boost Rock to worldwide stardom in 1998, and he later appeared in Rock's "Cowboy" video (facing off with Gary Coleman), had his animated likeness appear on an episode of The Simpsons and once played Jerry Lee Lewis's young bride on an episode of Saturday Night Live.

    The rapper also contributed a solo version of "Kyle's Mom's a Big Fat Bitch" for last year's South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut soundtrack. Prior to his death, Joe C. reportedly was working on a solo album.

    Despite his contributions to the live shows, Joe C.'s battle with celiac disease forced him to leave Kid Rock's tour in November 1999. He did, however, make a brief return to the road for several dates on this year's Summer Sanitarium tour, featuring Rock, Metallica and Korn.

    Jason Flom president of Rock's label, Lava Records, said in a statement: "Joe C. was an extraordinary inspiration. He overcame tremendous adversity to become a great performer and a truly wonderful human being.

    "Despite living with chronic pain, Joe C. never let his condition prevent him from living life to the fullest and brightening the lives of everyone who knew him, on or off the stage. He was a deeply loved member of our extended family and we will all miss him greatly."

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