Ric Ocasek, lead vocalist, rhythm guitarist, and frontman for the rock group The Cars, was found dead today in his Manhattan townhouse, per the NY Post, who confirmed the news with an NYPD spokesperson. The musician reportedly was found unresponsive in his bed by his estranged wife, the model/actress Paulina Porizkova, and appeared to have died of natural causes. He was 75.
Born Richard Theodore Otcasek on March 23, 1944, the singer, guitarist, and songwriter grew up in Baltimore, Maryland before moving with his family at 16 to Cleveland, Ohio, where he went on to meet future Cars bassist/singer Benjamin Orr. After several musical projects together after relocating to Boston, the duo formed The Cars in late 1976 along with lead guitarist Elliot Easton, keyboardist Greg Hawkes, and drummer David Robinson.
Best recognized in appearance for his jet black poofed-up hair, dark sunglasses, and cool stance, the tall and lanky Ocasek was like a more-aware Joey Ramone, with a pouty, low-range vocal style he brought to The Cars on hits he wrote and sang on like “Good Times Roll” and “My Best Friend’s Girl” from the band’s 1978 eponymous debut album. Also featuring the hit “Just What I Needed” and radio favorite “Bye Bye Love,” both of which were written by Ocasek but sung by Orr, the album became a success (it’s practically a “best of” album on its own), propelling the guitar-rock/synth-pop band into stardom and into the forefront of the burgeoning new wave scene.
The band followed up their successful debut the following year with 1979’s Candy-O, which boasted a cover from famed pin-up artist Alberto Vargas. This sophomore effort not only avoided the classic slump, but it actually charted better than its predecessor — snagging the No. 3 spot on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart and included the Top 20 hit “Let’s Go” (another gem penned by Ocasek, but sung by Orr), as well as the minor hit “It’s All I Can Do.”
The Cars went on to increase in popularity with subsequent albums, 1980’s Panorama and 1981’s Shake It Up. But in 1984, the Ocasek-driven Heartbeat City, which was produced by the band and mega-producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange, put The Cars on the map forever with their innovative video for the hit song “You Might Think.” The video, which received massive airtime on MTV, was famous for its then-new computer graphics, which featured Ocasek and model Susan Gallagher having several silly interactions. Most memorably, there was the scene in which Osacek is morphed into a fly that lands right on Gallagher’s nose. The “You Might Think” video was nominated for several MTV Video Music Awards and went on to win the network’s very first “Video of the Year” award, along with other awards.
In 1995, The Cars released their highly successful Greatest Hits album and then put out their last studio effort, 1987’s Door to Door, before disbanding to pursue solo projects. It would be the final studio album to feature Orr, who passed away of pancreatic cancer on October 4, 2000 at age 53.
Ocasek did enjoy a lengthy solo career after that, but it never quite recaptured the magic of his time with The Cars. He was, however, a successful producer, working with bands like Weezer, No Doubt, Black 47, Bad Religion, and even the hardcore punk outfit Bad Brains — he produced their second album, 1983’s Rock for Light.
He also gave his blessing for his former bandmates Elliot Easton and Greg Hawkes to continue on in 2005 as The New Cars, with vocalist/guitarist Todd Rundgren. In 2010, the surviving original members of the Cars did reunite for 2011’s Move Like This, which reached No. 7 on Billboard’s album charts. After a brief tour and promotion, the band became inactive once again, until their 2018 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where they reunited to perform 4 songs — “You Might Think,” “My Best Friend’s Girl,” “Moving in Stereo,” and “Just What I Needed.”
During The Cars’ most successful time, in 1984, Ocasek met then-18-year-old model Paulina Porizkova on the music video shoot for the band’s song “Drive.” The couple married in 1989 and in mid 2018 announced that they had amicably separated the previous year, with the former supermodel noting: “I feel like I’ve had my soulmate.” She has also said that their continued family photos showing her with her ex and their children were, in fact, actually “happy family photos.” After their split, the former supermodel was still by Ocasek’s side during his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The $15 million NYC townhouse where Porizkova reportedly found Ocasek “unconscious and unresponsive” had been put up for sale last year after the announcement of their separation.
Ocasek is survived by Porizkova, his third wife, and their two sons, Jonathan Otcasek and Oliver Otcasek, as well as by four sons from two previous marriages, Christopher Otcasek, Adam Otcasek, Eron Otcasek, and Derek Otcasek. All of the children use the musician’s original spelling of his surname.
Ric Ocasek’s major contribution to rock and new wave is unmistakeable. He managed to write songs with incredible hooks that appealed across rock, pop, punk, and new wave audiences, while never coming across as a sell-out. It was clear that the musician’s style was one of pure energy and heart, and that came out even more so in the band’s live performances, which were definitely more punk than pop. (Just watch the video embedded here below of their 1979 concert.) Even the heaviest of metal fans can listen to the singer’s lamenting on “My Best Friend’s Girl” and relate, or bop their head to the catchy “Shake It Up,” or laugh along to the bizarre occurrences in the Ocasek-starring “You Might Think” music video. Rock and roll has lost another legend.
Let them leave you up in the air
Let them brush your rock and roll hair
Let the good times roll
March 23, 1944 – September 15, 2019
UPDATED 9/16/2019 at 6:20pm EST
Yahoo! reports that an autopsy from the New York Medical Examiners office revealed that Ocasek died of cardiovascular disease.
Here’s the full details:
The specific cause of death was listed as hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, or atherosclerosis, a build-up of plaque in the arteries that can cause hardening and/or narrowing in the heart muscle. Pulmonary emphysema was also a contributing factor.
UPDATED 9/16/2019 at 3:30pm EST
The Cars official Twitter account thecarsband posted official response’s to Ocasek’s death: one from his wife Paulina Porizkova on behalf of the Ocasek family; the other from their two sons, which included a photo of a doodle they found by their father’s armchair.
From Ric’s sons: Our dad was a prolific doodler. His passing was sudden, unexpected, and beyond heartbreaking. Yesterday, we found this last doodle on his armchair. He couldn’t have known what it would end up meaning to us. We love him so much. pic.twitter.com/bJNpXSQgDO