Grammy-winning soul singer and songwriter Luther Vandross, who suffered a serious stroke two years ago as he was about to relaunch his career, died on Friday (July 1) in a New Jersey hospital, officia

Grammy-winning soul singer and songwriter Luther Vandross, who suffered a serious stroke two years ago as he was about to relaunch his career, died on Friday (July 1) in a New Jersey hospital, officials said. He was 54.

"Luther Vandross had a peaceful passing under the watchful eye of friends, family and the medical support team," said Rob Cavanaugh, a spokesman at JFK Medical Center in Edison, New Jersey.

Details on the exact cause of death were not immediately available, although Cavanaugh said the singer never fully recovered from his stroke. Vandross also had long battled diabetes and fluctuations in his weight.

Vandross was considered the premier soul balladeer of his generation, with a silky voice that seduced millions of fans and won over collaborators such as David Bowie and Aretha Franklin.

Vandross' final album, "Dance With My Father," released shortly after his April 2003 stroke, debuted at No. 1 on the U.S. pop album charts. It yielded four Grammys, including song of the year for the title track, which Vandross described as "my 'Piano Man,' my signature song." But Vandross' Grammy success was a bittersweet affair because of the stroke.

His larger-than-life persona translated into a hugely successful, multifaceted career. He sold more than 20 million albums worldwide and influenced romantic crooners such as Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds.

Unlike other male singers, Vandross eschewed a macho posture, but did not come across as too wimpish, either. He was unafraid to express his insecurities, and his legions of female fans adored him for his honesty. But he also was sensitive about being perceived as someone who sang only about love.

Vandross, born in a housing project in New York City, started out singing jingles and working as a backup singer for Bowie, Bette Midler and Carly Simon.

He was hanging out at the Philadelphia studio where Bowie was recording tracks for what would become his 1975 "Young Americans" album. The British rocker overheard Vandross improvising the line, "I heard the news today, oh boy" in the chorus of the title track, and pulled him into the vocal booth to join the backup singers.

He recorded two solo albums as Luther for the Cotillion label before signing with Epic -- only after insisting that he produce his own material. His first for the label, 1981's "Never Too Much," became the first of a chain of million-sellers.

With its blend of swing and soul, "Never Too Much" put Vandross at the front of the "retronuevo" movement, deftly weaving modern studio production with classic vocal intimacy.

He became a fixture on the urban music charts, and wrote for artists like Franklin, Diana Ross and Dionne Warwick, but mainstream success eluded him until 1989, when he had his first Top 10 pop hit with "Here and Now," a track tacked onto a compilation album. That song has since become something of a classic wedding ballad.

His own life was less happy. He dealt with his loneliness by eating, and his weight fluctuated between 340 pounds (154 kg) and 190 pounds (86 kg) during his adult life.

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