Alex Chilton, Big Star's Biggest Star, Dead at 59

Cult rocker and highly influential musician who logged more than four decades in industry passes away days before planned SXSW performance

By Gina Serpe Mar 18, 2010 2:29 PMTags

You may not be able to place the name, but you'll definitely recognize the voice.

Mega influential singer and guitarist Alex Chilton has died at the age of 59, after a music career that spanned more than four decades and included stints as a teen singer in the Box Tops (go ahead, just try not to sing along with "The Letter") and then in alt-rock darlings Big Star (whose hit "In the Street" was the theme song for That '70s Show).

As a driving force behind Big Star, with whom he had been scheduled to perform at South by Southwest this Saturday, Chilton inspired the likes of R.E.M., Wilco, Jeff Buckley and the Replacements, who even went so far as to pen "Alex Chilton," a tribute tune to the singer, back in 1987.

"Children by the millions sing for Alex Chilton when he comes round/ They sing, I'm in love, what's that song?/ I'm in love with that song," go the lyrics.

Not big on publicity, Chilton shunned the spotlight and was more than happy to never reach the level of fame of his contemporaries, despite over-the-top critical acclaim—all three albums Big Star released in the '70s ranked among the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time by Rolling Stone.

Sadly, Chilton passed away in New Orleans yesterday after experiencing what appeared to be heart problems. He was taken by ambulance to a nearby emergency room after complaining about his health earlier in the day, but was unable to be revived. No official cause of death has yet been released.


Pay tribute to the other celebs who passed away this year in our Fallen Stars gallery.