Bill Withers, ‘Lean On Me’ and ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ Singer, Dies at 81

’70s star died Monday in Los Angeles of heart complications

Last Updated: April 3, 2020 @ 7:56 AM

Bill Withers, the 1970s singer of classics like “Lean On Me” and “Ain’t No Sunshine,” has died, his family said in a statement to the Associated Press. Withers died Monday in Los Angeles due to heart complications. He was 81.

Withers’ influential and often stirring and heartwarming folk and soul music netted him three Grammy awards in his career and inspired artists like Lauryn Hill, Wycleaf Jean, John Legend and D’Angelo, among many others. He retired from making music in the mid-1980s.

“We are devastated by the loss of our beloved, devoted husband and father. A solitary man with a heart-driven to connect to the world at large, with his poetry and music, he spoke honestly to people and connected them to each other,” the family said in a statement obtained by the AP. “As private a life as he lived close to intimate family and friends, his music forever belongs to the world. In this difficult time, we pray his music offers comfort and entertainment as fans hold tight to loved ones.”

Withers’ debut album in 1971 “Just As I Am” produced his first gold single, “Ain’t No Sunshine,” even though it was the B-side to the track “Harlem.” It also featured tracks like “Grandma’s Hands,” “Moanin’ and Groanin'” and a cover of The Beatles’ “Let It Be” that he made his own.

His next gold single “Lean on Me” stayed at No. 1 on the R&B and pop charts for three weeks in the summer of 1972. He wrote the track about his time growing up in a West Virginia coal-mining town as the youngest of six children. He was raised by his mother and grandmother after his father died when he was a child. And he’d later serve nine years in the Navy as an aircraft mechanic installing toilets. Despite his humble beginnings and even a struggle with a stutter throughout his life, he moved to Los Angeles in the 1970s to become a musician only to grow tired of fame in the ’80s.

Some of his other iconic hits in the mid-80s included “Lovely Day,” “Just the Two of Us” and “In the Name of Love” along with Ralph MacDonald, and his song “Lean on Me” would also serve as the title song to a 1989 film starring Morgan Freeman.

Withers was inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame in 2015 by Stevie Wonder.

He is survived by his wife, Marcia, and children, Todd and Kori.