Ric Ocasek, frontman of pioneering new wave rock band The Cars, died on Sunday (Sept. 15) after being found unresponsive in his Manhattan townhouse, New York City police confirmed to Billboard. The Cars’ singer, rhythm guitarist and primary songwriter was 75. The cause of death is not yet known.
Ocasek met bassist Benjamin Orr (who died in 2000) in the ‘60s, and the two performed together in various bands (including a folk-oriented outfit called Milkwood) over the next decade, eventually forming The Cars in 1976 with Elliot Easton, Greg Hawkes and David Robinson. Their self-titled 1978 debut was a milestone in the burgeoning new wave scene, melding the sonically stripped down, rockabilly-inflected approach to rock of the punk explosion with the quirky synthesizers of art rock acts such as Roxy Music; but unlike a punk or an art rock band, the Cars were radio catnip thanks to Ocasek’s sturdy, lean songcraft, an abundance of irresistible guitar riffs and producer Roy Thomas Baker’s immaculate production. The Cars went top 20 on the Billboard 200 and produced two top 40 singles on the Billboard Hot 100, “Just What I Needed” and “My Best Friend’s Girl.” The album’s sound would prove massively influential on the next decade of radio rock and synth-pop, and continues to be celebrated by arena-filling and avant-leaning musicians alike.