Joe Cocker — the British singer possessing one of the most distinctive voices in rock history — has died at age 70. His agent said Cocker died of an undisclosed illness, although he’d reportedly been battling lung cancer for some time.
From his career-making set at Woodstock and a surprise appearance on Saturday Night Live during its early days to providing the soundtrack to a Kim Basinger striptease, Cocker led a storied life. Plus, he may go down in history as the only person to cover a Beatles song and actually improve upon it.
Here are seven essential moments from the British rocker’s life:
Early in his career, Joe Cocker recorded a cover of the Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends,” turning the lightweight ditty into a bluesy, cataclysmic rocker. When he brought it to Woodstock in 1969, his soul-baring version of the song was arguably the highlight of the generation-defining festival, rivaled only by Jimi Hendrix‘s electric version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Cocker’s version of the Beatles tune later became the theme song for The Wonder Years — and in the process became ingrained into yet another generation’s DNA.
Mad Dogs & Englishmen Tour
After Woodstock, Cocker kicked off one of the defining rock tours of the era: His Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour. A group of more than 30 musicians (including Leon Russell) brought Cocker’s blend of blues rock to a rabid American audience. The 1970 live album of the same name, a double-LP featuring covers of the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, the Beatles and Leonard Cohen, is commonly cited as one of the best live albums in rock history. His cover of the Box Tops‘ “The Letter” — another fairly significant reimagining of an existing hit — was his first Billboard top 10 in the U.S. Watch it below.
Saturday Night Live
Cocker was one of the first celebrities to pull off a stunt that is now a Saturday Night Live staple — crashing a cast member’s impersonation of them on live TV. In 1976, John Belushi sang Cocker’s “Feelin’ Alright,” imitating the singer’s distinctive stage movements. After Belushi had begun, Cocker sneaked out onstage and began singing with the Blues Brother in a matching outfit. They basically looked like twins.
An Officer and a Gentleman
Joe Cocker’s gentle duet on “Up Where We Belong” with Jennifer Warnes for the 1982 film An Officer and a Gentleman became the biggest hit of his career — and won more than its fair share of accolades. Aside from reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, it won a Golden Globe and an Oscar (the two even performed it at the 1983 Academy Awards). Additional, the song won Cocker a Grammy for Best Pop Performance By a Duo or Group With Vocal.
Kim Basinger Striptease
Cocker’s cover of Randy Newman’s slyly erotic “You Can Leave Your Hat On” achieved immortality when Kim Basinger did a NSFW striptease to the tune in the 1986 film 9 1/2 Weeks. Nearly 30 years later, it’s still one of the most iconic stripper anthems of all time.
“You Are So Beautiful”
During a 1983 celebration of Ray Charles‘ career, Joe Cocker reprised his hit cover of Billy Preston‘s “You Are So Beautiful” (released in 1974) with Charles on piano for the TV special A Man and His Soul.
Across the Universe
Given that his cover of a Beatles song broke him to a mainstream audience in the late ’60s, it was only fitting that Cocker would return to the Fab Four in the later years of his life. The 2007 film Across the Universe — a musical made up entirely of Beatles tunes — found Cocker lending his raspy vocals to “Come Together” for one of the movie’s most memorable sequences.