Ray Charles Dead At 73

Gospel and soul legend died in Beverly Hills.

Gospel and soul legend Ray Charles died today (June 10) at his Beverly Hills home of complications related to liver disease. He was 73.

Charles, who grew up poor in Greenville, Fla., was stricken with glaucoma at the age of 6 and lost his sight at 7. He was educated at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine, where he learned to read music in Braille and studied clarinet, alto sax, trumpet and piano.

He honed his skills with journeyman work in the late '40s in Seattle. He also began using heroin; his drug addiction would dog him until the mid-'60s.

In 1949, Charles made his recording debut on Down Beat/Swing Time Records. While Charles' work there yielded three R&B chart hits, he didn't find his stride until after New York indie Atlantic Records purchased his contract in 1952.

In 1954, Charles reached the R&B top five with "It Should Have Been Me," a comic stop-time number. The following year, on the road in Indiana, he heard a gospel song on the car radio and asked trumpeter Renald Richard to help him convert it into a secular number. The result, "I've Got a Woman," reached No. 1 on the R&B chart, where it spent 20 weeks.

Charles followed that with a run of top-five Atlantic R&B hits, including "A Fool for You," "This Little Girl of Mine" and "(Night Time is) the Right Time."

In 1960, he deserted Atlantic for a lucrative deal with ABC-Paramount Records. He made his mark there with a diverse raft of singles: the Grammy-winning ballad "Georgia on My Mind," the jazz organ arrangement of "One Mint Julep," the Betty Carter duet "Baby It's Cold Outside" and, most notably, "I Can't Stop Loving You."

By 1964, Charles' personal life was coming apart. He was busted in the Boston airport after customs officers found marijuana, heroin and a syringe in his overcoat. Taking a year off from touring, he checked into an L.A. hospital and kicked his junk habit. Sentenced to probation, Charles celebrated with the 1965 release "Crying Time," his No. 6 pop cover of Buck Owens' country hit. It proved to be his last top-10 pop chart entry, but Charles had already moved into eminent territory.

Charles' most recent album was 2002's "Thanks For Bringing Love Around Again," on his Crossover imprint. Concord Records has scheduled an album of duets the likes of Willie Nelson, Norah Jones, Elton John, Bonnie Raitt and James Taylor for release on Aug. 31.