Known as Dr. John to millions of fans, the musical artist, pianist, guitarist, and New Orleans legend Malcolm John Rebennack passed away on Thursday of a heart attack at the age of 77.
It is unknown at this time whether he was at home or a hospital at the time of his passing.
Dr. John started his music career in 1950 in New Orleans after discovering a love of music and performance while accompanying his father to nightclubs and music venues. His father repaired the PA systems at such venues while Rebennack watched performers practice.
During his long and successful musical career, Dr. John only had one top ten hit, “Right Place, Wrong Time” which peaked at number 9 on the US Billboard Hot 100 in the summer of 1973, and was ranked at the 24th biggest hit of the year. Dr. John released more than 20 studio albums, won 6 Grammy awards, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.
His style is described as New Orleans R&B, psychedelic rock and Creole chants mixed with mystical lyrics. His signature stage name was borrowed from a Voodoo priest, and his style was similar. Even later in life, he could be seen wearing heavy coats, big hats and a walking stick adorned with beads, feathers, and voodoo charms.
Dr. John was not without his struggles in his lifetime. He fought addiction to heroin for over 30 years before finally quitting for good in 1989.
He was arrested in the ‘60’s for the drug, and after his release, he moved to Los Angeles to continue his music career, instead of sticking around New Orleans which had recently seen a musical collapse due to the district attorney shutting down many nightclubs.
During this time of his life, Dr. John says that he had tried “many hustles”, implying illegal activity, but he wasn’t very good at any of them so he stuck to music.
Ultimately, he made the most money, he said, through jingles. He was responsible for creating catchy songs for famous companies like Scott issue, Popeyes, and Oreos. He also created the theme songs for “Blossom” and “Curious George”.
After hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, he became involved in politics as an outspoken ally of his famous city. He released an EP just two months after the destruction to benefit the New Orleans Musicians Clinic, which was nominated for a Grammy award. Dr. John was one of the last defining musicians that sculpted the New Orleans style.