Clarence Clemons, Bruce Springsteen

Debra L Rothenberg/FilmMagic

The Boss has lost the Big Man.

Clarence Clemons, whose beefy saxophone powered Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band in the studio and on the road for nearly 40 years, died today, June 18th, after suffering a stroke. He was 69.

"The saxophone is really an extension of me," he said in a 2008 interview. "It's what I'm saying without words."

Clemons recorded solo albums, appeared as an actor in everything from The Wire to Diff'rent Strokes and wailed with the likes of the Grateful Dead, Ringo Starr and Roy Orbison. Most recently he accompanied Lady Gaga on her latest single "The Edge of Glory."

But it's his work with Springsteen that made him stand even taller than his six-foot-three-inches.

"When I first met him, I didn't want to let go, and he didn't want to let go," Clemons told the Associated Press in 2009.

Clemons and Springsteen first jammed in 1971. Both were playing clubs in Asbury Park, N.J.: the sax man at the Wonder Bar; the rocker at the Student Prince. When Clemons went to see Springsteen's act, legend has it, a guest of wind blew open the Student Prince's door. No less than fate—or Mother Nature—ensured an introduction.

In 1973, Springsteen, backed by the crew that would become known as the E Street Band, released his first album, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. Clemons was there from the first track, "Blinded by the Light."

Two years later, Born to Run made them all legends. In the forward to Clemons' 2009 memoir, Springsteen argued that the album sang even before it was played.  

"When you look at just the cover of Born to Run, you see a charming photo, a good album cover," he wrote of the iconic fold-out, "but when you open it up and see Clarence and me together, the album begins to work its magic."

Born in 1942 in Virginia, Clemons had been slowed in recent years to the point of needing of a wheelchair. He endured back surgery and double-knee replacement. But he didn't stop playing, touring or standing.

The E Street Band lost keyboard player Danny Federici in 2008.  

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