Rock legend Lou Reed dead at 71

Reed and the Velvet Underground, the band he co-founded, were major influences on punk and art rock

Lou Reed, one of the most influential musicians in the history of rock music, died Sunday at the age of 71, his literary agent said.

Born in Brooklyn in 1942, Reed was a founding member of the Velvet Underground, a pioneering rock group that fused music and art in collaboration with the artist Andy Warhol.

Reed died in Southampton, N.Y., of an ailment related to his recent liver transplant, his literary agent Andrew Wylie said.

Tributes to Reed poured in on social media. Award-winning writer Salman Rushdie wrote on his Twitter account: "My friend Lou Reed came to the end of his song. So very sad. But hey, Lou, you'll always take a walk on the wild side. Always a perfect day." Rushdie's message referred to some of Reed's best-known song titles.

Punk legend Iggy Pop tweeted: "devastating news."

Lloyd Cole, a 1980s musician from the United Kingdom, tweeted: "Without Lou there is no (David) Bowie as we know him. Me? I'd probably be a maths teacher."

The Velvet Underground never achieved much commercial success, but revolutionized rock in the 1960s and '70s with a mixture of thrashing guitar licks and smooth melodies sung by Reed, or the German model Nico, who briefly collaborated with the band. Reed's lyrics were simple and understated, but often dealt with complex relationships and dark topics including addiction and the loss of loved ones.

The band has long been recognized as a major musical influence on punk and art rock, as reflected in a quote often attributed to musician Brian Eno: "The first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band."

An admitted hard drinker and drug user for many years, Reed underwent a liver transplant earlier this year at the Cleveland Clinic, his wife Laurie Anderson told The Times of London, after Reed had canceled five California concert dates scheduled in April.

"I am a triumph of modern medicine," Reed posted on his website on June 1, 2013, without directly acknowledging the transplant. "I look forward to being on stage performing, and writing more songs to connect with your hearts and spirits and the universe well into the future."

Ohio musician Nelson Slater, whose album Wild Angel was produced by Reed in 1976, said he was relieved that the rock legend's pain was over. 

"I feel a lot of emotion and a lot of relief because I know he was in pain," Slater told Al Jazeera. 

Slater, who was friends and bandmates with Reed when they both attended Syracuse University, saw him earlier in October in New York City at a book signing with album designer Mick Rock. Despite his illness, Reed still attended the event.

"He just showed tremendous courage," Slater said. "He always told me if there was any secret to his success it was that he never let anything stop him from showing up."

Slater said that Reed's determination to attend was in keeping with his character, since he never used to let his hard-living lifestyle keep him from making his appointments. 

"That was by agreement with himself," Slater said. 

Slater remembers Reed as being "funny in the way the great comics are, if you know him in person." 

Wilson Dizard contributed to this report with wire services

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