Tony-winner, women’s health advocate Newman dead
LOS ANGELES, Sept 16, (Agencies): Ric Ocasek, frontman of the popular late 1970s and 1980s band the Cars, was found dead in his New York home on Sunday. He was 75.
The NYPD confirmed that Ocasek’s body was discovered after police received a call regarding an unconscious male at his townhouse. Emergency services pronounced him dead at the scene. No cause of death has been announced.
The Cars, who were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018, were one of the most significant and influential bands of the late ‘70s-early ‘80s era. With a sound that melded pop, new wave and classic rock, the Cars had 13 top-40 singles, including “Just What I Needed”, “Best Friend’s Girl”, “Let’s Go”, “Shake It Up”, “You Might Think” and the ballad “Drive”. Their 1978 self-titled first album is among the all-time best debuts of the rock era, and was the first experience of anything resembling “new wave” for a huge percentage of America’s youth at the time. The group split in 1988 but reunited decades later for an album in 2011 and an appearance at their Rock Hall induction last year.
Ocasek also produced albums and songs for artists including Bad Brains, Weezer, Guided by Voices, No Doubt, Bad Religion and Nada Surf. He released seven solo albums, and although none had the impact or success of the Cars’ material, his influence is vast. To cite just one example, in March of 1994 Nirvana opened their final concert with a jokey medley of The Cars’ “Best Friend’s Girl” and “Moving in Stereo”, the latter of which was featured in the generation-defining 1982 film “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”.
Ocasek – born Richard Theodore Otcasek – was raised in Baltimore but moved to Cleveland at the age of 16. (There is some confusion about his year of birth, but 1944 is most frequently cited.) He briefly attended college but dropped out to pursue music, and in 1965 met future Cars bassist/singer Benjamin Orr. The two spent many years struggling before they found success, forming a succession of bands in Ohio and Michigan before relocating to Boston in the early 1970s. There they performed as a duo and eventually formed a folk-rock band called Milkwood that released one commercially unsuccessful album on Paramount Records.
They eventually united with future Cars lead guitarist Elliot Easton in a band called Cap’n Swing that received airplay on Boston rock powerhouse WBCN, but rebooted as The Cars late in 1976, bringing in keyboardist Greg Hawkes and former Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers drummer David Robinson.
From there things moved quickly. In 1977 a nine-song demo, including the band’s future breakout hit “Just What I Needed”, received heavy airplay on Boston stations and led to a deal with Elektra. Their self-titled debut, released in June of 1978, featured an unusual but remarkably commercial mixture of styles that ranged from new wave to what is now called classic rock, with flashes of glam, punk, rockabilly and more. The album reached No. 18 on the Billboard 200, spawning hits with “Just What I Needed”, “Best Friend’s Girl” and “Good Times Roll”.
Their 1979 sophomore effort “Candy O” continued in a similar vein, spawning the hit single “Let’s Go”, but “Panorama” the following year was more synthesizer-heavy and experimental, and less commercially successful. The band took a break and Ocasek produced the “Rock for Light” album by hardcore legends the Bad Brains and also worked with synth-punk icons Suicide and San Francisco band Romeo Void, and released a solo album called “Beatitude”.
The Cars returned in force in 1982 with the “Shake It Up” album, which dovetailed with the rise of MTV and, driven by eye-catching videos – several of which starred models, including Ocasek’s future wife, Czech-born Paulina Porizkova – the group became more commercially successful than ever. The title track became their biggest hit single to date, reaching No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, and spawned another hit song and video with “Since You’re Gone”.
Ocasek was married three times and left his second wife, Suzanne, after meeting Porizkova in 1984. He is also survived by six sons, two of whom he had with Porizkova; in 2018 she confirmed that the two had separated the previous year after 28 years of marriage.
NEW YORK: Phyllis Newman, a Tony Award-winning Broadway veteran who became the first woman to host “The Tonight Show” before turning her attention to fight for women’s health, has died. She was 86.
Newman’s son, Adam, said his mother died Sunday of complications in New York from a longtime lung disorder.
Newman won the 1962 Tony for best supporting actress in the musical “Subways Are for Sleeping”, where her costume consisted of a bath towel and which had lyrics co-written by her late husband, Adolph Green. She earned a second Tony Award nomination in 1987 for her performance in the Neil Simon play “Broadway Bound”.
She played Aunt Blanche in the Neil Simon play, then began a brief role in the ABC soap opera “One Life to Live”.
“I was supposed to do just five episodes of ‘One Life to Live’,” she told The Associated Press in 1988. “I played Renee Devine, an ex-madame from Las Vegas who dressed to kill. The character just took off.”
Her other Broadway credits include “On the Town”, “Awake and Sing!” and “The Prisoner of Second Avenue”. She was standby for Judy Holiday in “Bells Are Ringing” and replaced Barbara Harris in “The Apple Tree”.
Her television credits include starring opposite Alan Arkin in “100 Centre Street”, “Oz”, “Coming of Age”, “Murder, She Wrote”, “thirtysomething” and “The Jury”. She was the first woman to be a guest host for Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show”.
Her films include “The Human Stain”, “It Had To Be You”, “For the Time Being”, “A Price Above Rubies”, “The Beautician and the Beast”, “Mannequin”, “To Find a Man” and “Bye Bye Braverman”.
In later years she focused on fundraising and founded the Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative of the Actor’s Fund in 1996. Her work earned her the 2009 Isabelle Stevenson Award from the Tony Awards. She also hosted the annual benefit Breathless on Broadway to raise money for research to combat the lung disease pulmonary hypertension.
She started writing her autobiography, “Just in Time: Notes From My Life” after being diagnosed with breast cancer. “I started writing it because I didn’t want to talk about it. Not that it was a secret. After I had 50 pages down, Simon & Schuster bought it,” she said in 1988.
“Betty Ford was an example for me in talking about my illness. I’m getting some very terrific letters from women about it.”