Teddy Pendergrass Dies at 59

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Singer Teddy Pendergrass performs at the opening NFL game at the Lincoln Financial Center in Philadelphia September 8, 2003.

    Legendary R&B singer Teddy Pendergrass died Wednesday after being hospitalized for months. He'd undergone surgery for colon cancer eight months ago and had a "difficult recovery," according to his son, Teddy Pendergrass II.

    He was only 59.

    "To all his fans who loved his music, thank you," his son said. "He will live on through his music.''

    Pendergrass was international superstar and sex symbol -- one of the most electric and successful figures in music before a car crash completely altered his destiny in 1982.

    He'd established a new era of R&B with an explosive, raw voice that symbolized masculinity, passion and the joys and sorrow of romance in songs such as "Close the Door,'' "It Don't Hurt Now," "Love T.K.O.," "If You Don't Know Me By Now," and other hits that have since become classics.

    "He had a tremendous career ahead of him, and the accident sort of got in the way of many of those plans,'' said longtime friend and collaborator Kenny Gamble.

    When Pendergrass crashed his Rolls Royce into a tree, the accident left him paralyzed from the waist down and he spent his last 28 years in a wheelchair.

    He was still able to sing, but without his signature power. The image of the strong, virile lover was replaced with one that drew sympathy. But instead of becoming bitter or depressed, Pendergrass created a new identity as a role model, Gamble said.

    "He never showed me that he was angry at all about his accident," Gamble said. "In fact, he was very courageous.''
          
    Pendergrass, who was born in Philadelphia in 1950, left a remarkable imprint on the music world as he ushered in a new era in R&B with his fiery, sensual and forceful brand of soul and his ladies' man image, burnished by his strikingly handsome looks.

    "The females," Gamble said, "loved Teddy Pendergrass. The females were very attracted to him and his music.''
          
    Unlike the songs of many of today's male R&B crooners, Pendergrass' music bordered on eroticism without explicit lyrics or
    coarse language, just through the raw emotion in his voice. "Turn Off the Lights'' was a tune that perhaps best represented the many
    moods of Pendergrass -- tender and coaxing yet strong as the song reaches its climax.
          
    After the accident, it was 19 years before Pendergrass resumed performing at his own concerts. He made his return on Memorial Day weekend in 2001, with two sold-out shows in Atlantic City, N.J.
          
    Gamble noted Pendergrass' charitable work for people with spinal cord injuries, his performances despite pain and his focus on the positive in the face of great challenges.

    "He used to say something in his act in the wheelchair, 'Don't let the wheelchair fool you,' because he still proclaimed he was a lover,'' Gamble said.

    Pendergrass dedicated much of his life to helping others with spinal cord injuries and founded the Teddy Pendergrass Alliance to do just that. Gamble said he wanted to help others.
     
    "In his quiet moments, he probably did a lot of reflection. But I never saw him pity himself. He stayed busy," Gamble said. "(But) I feel that he's in a better place now. ... He doesn't have to go through that pain or whatever he was going through anymore."