NEW YORK (AP) – R&B singer Teddy Pendergrass, who was one of the most electric and successful figures in music until a car crash 28 years ago left him in a wheelchair, has died of colon cancer. He was 59.
Pendergrass died Wednesday in suburban Philadelphia, where he had been hospitalized for months. The singer's son, Teddy Pendergrass II, said his father underwent colon cancer surgery eight months ago and had "a difficult recovery."
Before the crash, Pendergrass 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." and other hits that have since become classics. He was an international superstar and sex symbol. His career was at its apex — and still climbing.
Friend and longtime collaborator Kenny Gamble, of the renowned production duo Gamble & Huff, teamed with Pendergrass on his biggest hits and recalled how the singer was even working on a movie. "He had about 10 platinum albums in a row, so he was a very, very successful recording artist and as a performing artist," Gamble said Thursday. "He had a tremendous career ahead of him, and the accident sort of got in the way of many of those plans."
Pendergrass, who was born in Philadelphia in 1950, suffered a spinal cord injury in a 1982 car accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down — 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 — that as a role model, Gamble said. "He never showed me that he was angry at all about his accident," Gamble said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "In fact, he was very courageous."