|Three-time Grammy winner Lou Rawls passed away Friday in his hospital room at Los Angeles' Cedar-Sinai Medical Center after a year long battle with cancer. He was 72. His wife, Nina, was by his bedside.
Known for classic songs such as "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine" and "Love Is a Hurtin' Thing," as well as his annual telethon, the former club singer had a four-decade-long career that spanned music and acting for television, film and voiceover.
Rawls was the voice for the animated Garfield the Cat and voiced Harvey the Mailman on the Nickelodeon cartoon series "Hey Arnold!" His feature film roles included parts in "Leaving Las Vegas" and "Blues Brothers 2000." In 1999, he appeared on Broadway in the popular musical revue "Smokey Joe's Cafe."
According to BET.com, Rawls' publicist, Paul Shefrin, said Rawls "was a fighter to the end," performing as recently as November 2005, long after being diagnosed with brain cancer in May 2005, and struggling against lung cancer for a year.
He had quit smoking 35 years ago and was pursuing both traditional and alternative cancer treatments.
The Lou Rawls Parade of Stars telethons and drives raised over $200 million over 25 years for The United Negro College Fund (UNCF).
"What Lou Rawls did for the UNCF says it all about his character. He raised nearly a quarter of a billion dollars and put tens of thousands of kids through school who wouldn't have otherwise gone if he hadn't have started the [UNCF] Parade of Stars," Shefrin said.
Born and raised in Chicago, Rawls was a part of the local gospel scene, when he met a teenaged Sam Cooke, who became his mentor and role model. Rawls went on to sing with Chicago groups such as the West Singers and the Holy Wonders. In the mid-1950s he relocated to Los Angeles and recorded with the Chosen Gospel Singers and the Pilgrim Travelers who had toured the South with Cooke before achieving pop success.
In 1958, Rawls was involved in a car accident which left him in a come for several days and suffering from memory loss. After working LA clubs for a while, Rawls eventually signed to Capitol Records. In 1962, he guested on Cooke's hit "Bring It On Home to Me" and made his solo debut with the album I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water. He went on to record twenty albums for Capitol during the 1960s, including 1966's ballad "Love is a Hurtin' Thing," and earned his first Grammy for the 1967 song "Dead End Street."
Rawls reached the height of music popularity in the '70s at first with MGM Records where he earned another Grammy for "A Natural Man," then with producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff at their Philadelphia International outfit, where he collected a third Grammy for the 1977 album Unmistakably Lou.
In the 80s, Rawls mounted the telethon, and into the new millennium continued to record and explore R&B, pop and jazz styles.
In a strange stroke of timing, the annual UNCF fundraiser "An Evening of Stars: Tribute to Stevie Wonder" starts airing tonight and will also air over this weekend on Jan. 7 and Jan. 8. (BET will air the telethon Jan. 8 at 7 p.m. (ET).)
"The prayers of the entire United Negro College Fund community are with our long-standing friend, " said UNCF in a statement. "Lou was the 'tribute honoree' during the 25th airing of 'An Evening of Stars,' where he was recognized for his role in creating one of the longest running and most successful televised events in U.S. history. "
The show, taped in September, will feature Rawls singing and doing voice overs to the UNCF student stories.
Rawls is survived by Nina, an infant son, Aiden Rawls, and three adult children, Louanna Rawls, Lou Rawls Jr., and Kendra Smith.