NPR logo Alex Chilton, Musician And Producer, Dies At 59

Alex Chilton, Musician And Producer, Dies At 59

See video and read an account of the Big Star/Alex Chilton reunion-turned-memorial show at SXSW 2010.

Some sad news in the midst of South by Southwest's opening night: The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tenn., is reporting the death of Big Star frontman Alex Chilton. Chilton, 59, died at a New Orleans hospital Wednesday after complaining of an illness earlier in the day.

UPDATE: Chilton was mowing the lawn when he suffered a heart attack, according to his widow, Laura Chilton. He showed no symptoms prior to collapsing. A full autopsy is pending.

A reconfigured Big Star — with Chilton, original drummer Jody Stephens, and Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of The Posies — was scheduled to perform at SXSW Saturday night. (Original guitarist and songwriter Chris Bell died in a 1979 automobile accident, while original bassist Andy Hummel left after Radio City.)

While still in his teens, Chilton — who relocated to New Orleans in the 1980s after a lifetime in Memphis — became a hitmaker as lead singer of The Box Tops. He later helped form Big Star, whose power-pop sound made it a major influence on countless bands in the '70s and beyond; The Replacements immortalized Chilton's name in the 1987 single "Alex Chilton," while Big Star's albums #1 Record (1972), Radio City (1974), and Third/Sister Lovers (recorded in 1974 and released in 1978) are common entries on critics' lists of the greatest albums in rock 'n' roll history. Last year, Rhino released a box set, Keep an Eye on the Sky, for which Big Star received a fresh round of critical adulation.

Though he was best known for his work with Big Star, he was most proud of his solo work and for being the producer for The Cramps. According to Laura Chilton, Alex liked certain Big Star songs, but "he could care less about the whole Big Star thing." Laura Chilton also said that he loved playing with The Box Tops.

Later in life, he turned his attention to classical guitar, and specifically Baroque music. His widow, a flutist with whom he frequently duetted, said it comprised most of his recent listening.

We'll have more tributes to Chilton in the days to come.

Tom Cole contributed to this report.