Ben E. King, the legendary R&B singer known best for the song “Stand By Me,” died Thursday in New Jersey. He was 76.
According to King’s booking agent, the singer had suffered from “coronary problems.”
King, born Benjamin Earl Nelson on Sept. 28, 1938 in Henderson, North Carolina, began his career in earnest with The Drifters, who were comprised of the members of King’s doo wop group The Five Crowns after manager George Treadwell fired the original lineup. With King the group recorded hit songs “There Goes My Baby,” “Save the Last Dance for Me” and “This Magic Moment.”
But it was the song “Stand By Me” that solidified Ben E. King’s place in music immortality. The tune, which served as the theme to, and inspiration for the title of, the coming-of-age movie by the same name, reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topped Billboard’s R&B chart during its initial release. It resurfaced to reach No. 9 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1986, the year of the movie’s release.
Several stars of the ensemble cast of “Stand By Me” took to twitter to express their condolences. Wil Wheaton called King a “kind and gentle man,” while Jerry O’Connell called him “a wonderful and immensely talented man.”
I only met Ben E. King once, when we did the music video for Stand By Me. He was a kind and gentle man. May he rest in peace.
You know you are good when John Lennon covers your song. Ben E. King was a wonderful and immensely talented man.
In later years, King was active in charitable activities, including through his Stand By Me Foundation, which provides education to youths. He was also a founding Champion of the Global Village Champions Foundation, an organization devoted to providing food to the needy.
Musician Gary U.S. Bonds, a longtime friend of King’s and also a member of the Global Village Champions Foundation, paid tribute to the singer in a Facebook pot, calling him “one of the sweetest, gentlest and gifted souls that I have had the privilege of knowing … I can tell you that Ben E. will be missed more than words can say.”
“With an extremely heavy heart, I must say goodbye to one of the sweetest, gentlest and gifted souls that I have had the privilege of knowing and calling my friend for more than 50 years – Mr. Ben E. King,” Bonds wrote. “Speaking for myself, my family & my Roadhouse Rockers family, I can tell you that Ben E. will be missed more than words can say. Our sincere condolences go out to Betty and the entire family. Thank you Ben E. for your friendship and the wonderful legacy you leave behind.”
King is survived by his wife Betty.