New York, NY (Top40 Charts) Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Ric Ocasek, lead singer of the rock band The Cars, died Sunday in New York at age 75. Police said they received a call around 4 p.m. for an unconscious male at a townhouse on East 19th Street. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Law enforcement sources confirmed the deceased was Ocasek.
Biography: Richard Theodore Otcasek (March 23, 1944 or 1949 - September 15, 2019), known as Ric Ocasek, was an American singer, songwriter, musician, record producer and painter. He was best known as the lead vocalist, rhythm guitarist and songwriter for the rock band the Cars. In 2018, Ocasek was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Cars. That same year, he revealed a number of his paintings in a national tour which included an exhibit at the Wentworth Galleries in Tysons Corner, Virginia.
Ocasek grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. When Ocasek was 16 years old, his family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he graduated from Maple Heights High School in 1963. Ocasek briefly attended Antioch College and Bowling Green State University, but dropped out to pursue a career in music.
Ocasek met future Cars bassist Benjamin Orr in Cleveland in 1965 after Ocasek saw Orr performing with his band the Grasshoppers on the Big 5 Show, a local musical variety program. He reconnected with Orr a few years later in Columbus, Ohio, and the two began booking bands together. They formed a band called ID Nirvana in 1968 and performed in and around Ohio State University.
Ocasek and Orr were in various bands in Columbus and Ann Arbor, Michigan, before re-locating to Boston in the early 1970s. In Boston, they formed a Crosby, Stills and Nash-style folk rock band called Milkwood. They released one album, How's the Weather, on Paramount Records in early 1973 but it failed to chart. After Milkwood, Ocasek formed the group Richard and the Rabbits, which included Orr and keyboardist Greg Hawkes, who had played on Milkwood's album. Ocasek and Orr also performed as an acoustic duo during this period. Some of the songs they played became the early Cars songs. Later, Ocasek and Orr teamed up with guitarist Elliot Easton in the band Cap'n Swing. Cap'n Swing soon came to the attention of WBCN disc jockey Maxanne Sartori, who began playing songs from their demo tape on her show. After Cap'n Swing was rejected by several record labels, Ocasek got rid of the bass player and drummer and decided to form a band that better fit his style of writing. Orr took over on bass and David Robinson, best known for his career with the Modern Lovers, became the drummer. Hawkes returned to play keyboards and the band became "The Cars" in late 1976.
Ocasek's breakout success was as a founding member of the Cars, recording numerous hit songs from 1978 to 1988. He played rhythm guitar and sang lead vocals for a majority of songs (bassist Benjamin Orr was lead vocalist on the remaining tracks). After splitting writing duty with Orr in the 1970s, Ocasek became the principal songwriter of the band, and wrote nearly all of the Cars' material, sharing credit on only a few songs with bandmate Greg Hawkes as co-writer. In 2010, Ocasek reunited with the surviving original members of the Cars to record their first album in 24 years, titled Move Like This, which was released on May 10, 2011.
During his time with the Cars, Ocasek developed a reputation as a successful producer, and took this role for many up-and-coming bands of differing genres including Bad Brains' Rock for Light and Guided by Voices' Do the Collapse. His other production credits include Weezer's Blue Album and Green Album (both multi-platinum), Suicide, Romeo Void, Hole, Bebe Buell, No Doubt, Nada Surf, Irish folk-punk band Black 47, Bad Religion, Johnny Bravo, D Generation, The Wannadies, Possum Dixon, Martin Rev, Jonathan Richman, and the 2006 album by The Pink Spiders titled Teenage Graffiti. He also produced a portion of the third Motion City Soundtrack album, Even If It Kills Me. In 2014, Ocasek produced Everything Will Be Alright in the End, the ninth studio album by Weezer and his third collaboration with the band, and For All My Sisters, the sixth album by The Cribs.
The singer released his first solo album in 1982. Beatitude is a somewhat more experimental variation of the Cars' new wave rock sound. On some tracks Ocasek played all of the instruments. Greg Hawkes played on the album. A more synthesizer-heavy follow up, This Side of Paradise, was released in 1986. This featured Hawkes, Elliot Easton and Ben Orr. A No. 15 hit single, "Emotion in Motion," accompanied the album.
The Cars disbanded in 1988, and Ocasek disappeared from the public eye for a couple of years. He resurfaced in 1990 with his own album, Fireball Zone. One track, "Rockaway," enjoyed a brief stay on the charts, but his solo albums have seen disappointing sales, especially compared to his success with the Cars. He subsequently released other solo works throughout the decade, including 1993's Quick Change World, 1996's Getchertiktz (a collaboration with Suicide's Alan Vega and Canadian poet Gillian McCain comprising only beatnik poetry set to music, sound effects, etc.), and 1997's Billy Corgan-produced Troublizing (which Ocasek supported with a very brief tour, his first since leaving the Cars). In 2005 Ocasek released another album, Nexterday, to little fanfare, but it received positive reviews.
Recordings by Ocasek were reportedly among thousands of tapes destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.
Ocasek wrote a book of poetry in 1993 titled Negative Theatre. It was at one time expected to be incorporated into an album and multimedia incarnation of the same name, but those plans were dropped abruptly. For many years Ocasek had a hobby of making drawings, photo collages, and mixed-media art works which, in 2009, were shown at a gallery in Columbus, Ohio as an exhibit called "Teahead Scraps".
Ocasek had a cameo role as a beatnik painter in the John Waters film Hairspray, and had a small part in the 1987 movie Made in Heaven in which he played a mechanic.
Ocasek stated in a 2005 interview in Rockline that he hated touring and it was unlikely that he would do so again. He also stated he would not be reuniting with the Cars again, but gave the okay to his former bandmates to do so with Todd Rundgren replacing him on vocals as the New Cars.
On April 17, 2006, Ocasek appeared on The Colbert Report and volunteered to put Todd Rundgren "on notice". He appeared again on the July 26, 2006, episode to cheers from the audience as he volunteered to lead a commando mission to "rescue" Stephen Jr., the baby eagle at the San Francisco Zoo named after Stephen Colbert. He also appeared again on April 18, 2007, in order to support his wife during her appearance on the show, after remarks that she found Colbert "extremely attractive". He has been mentioned many times in other episodes as well.
Cars, with Ocasek, appeared on The Colbert Report on August 9, 2011, to promote their new album, Move Like This.
In 2012, Ocasek released Lyrics and Prose, a complete collection of lyrics from his solo and Cars' albums. The book also contains prose and poetry never set to music and previously unpublished photographs and artwork.
Ocasek was married three times. He married early in life, but divorced and was married to his second wife, Suzanne Ocasek, in 1971. Ocasek was still married to Suzanne when he met 18-year-old supermodel Paulina Porizkova during filming of the music video for the Cars' song "Drive" in 1984. Ocasek and Porizkova were married on August 23, 1989 on Saint-Barthélemy island. The couple had two sons, Jonathan Raven Otcasek (b. November 4, 1993), and Oliver Otcasek (b. 1999). In May 2018, Porizkova announced she and Ocasek had separated a year earlier.
Ocasek had six sons, two from each of his three marriages. His eldest son, Christopher (born 1964), was a singer who formed the rock group Glamour Camp which released one album in 1989. Adam was born in 1970. Eron was born in 1973 and Derek was born in 1981.
He and co-founder of the Cars Benjamin Orr were close friends who became estranged when the band broke up. Their friendship was commemorated in the song "Silver", which Ocasek wrote as a dedication to Orr upon his death in 2000.
Ocasek died of natural causes in New York City on September 15, 2019.
• Beatitude (1982)
• This Side of Paradise (1986)
• Fireball Zone (1991)
• Quick Change World (1993)
• Getchertiktz with Alan Vega and Gillian McCain (1996)
• Negative Theater (1993)
• Troublizing (1997)
• Nexterday (2005)
With the Cars:
• The Cars (1978)
• Candy-O (1979)
• Panorama (1980)
• Shake It Up (1981)
• Heartbeat City (1984)
• Door to Door (1987)
• Move Like This (2011)