Lou Reed, the punk poet of rock ' n' roll who profoundly influenced generations of musicians as leader of the Velvet Underground and remained a vital solo performer for decades after, died on Sunday at the age of 71.
Lou died in Southampton, New York, of an ailment related to his recent liver transplant, according to his literary agent, Andrew Wylie, who added that the star had been in frail health for months.
Lou shared a home in Southampton with his wife and fellow musician Laurie Anderson, whom he married in 2008.
Lou never approached the commercial success of such superstars as the Beatles and Bob Dylan, but no songwriter to emerge after Dylan so radically expanded the territory of rock lyrics.
No band did more than the Velvet Underground to open rock music to the avant-garde - to experimental theatre, art, literature and film, to William Burroughs and Kurt Weill, to John Cage and Andy Warhol, Lou's early patron.
Indie rock essentially began in the 1960s with Lou and the Velvets; the punk, New Wave and alternative rock movements of the 1970s, '80s and '90s were all indebted to Lou, whose songs were covered by R.E.M., Nirvana, Patti Smith and countless others.
"The first Velvet Underground record sold 30,000 copies in the first five years," Brian Eno, who produced albums by Roxy Music and Talking Heads among others, once said. "I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band!"
Lou's trademarks were a monotone of surprising emotional range and power; slashing, grinding guitar; and lyrics that were complex, yet conversational, designed to make you feel as if Lou were seated next to you.
Known for his cold stare and gaunt features, he was a cynic and a seeker who seemed to embody downtown Manhattan culture of the 1960s and 70s and was as essential a New York artist as Martin Scorsese or Woody Allen.
Lou's New York was a jaded city of drag queens, drug addicts and violence, but it was also as wondrous as any Allen comedy, with so many of Lou's songs explorations of right and wrong and quests for transcendence.
He had one top 20 hit, Walk On the Wild Side, and many other songs that became standards among his admirers, from Heroin and Sweet Jane to Pale Blue Eyes and All Tomorrow's Parties.
An outlaw in his early years, Lou would eventually perform at the White House, have his writing published in The New Yorker, be featured by the Public Broadcasting Service in an American Masters documentary and win a Grammy in 1999 for Best Long Form Music Video.
The Velvet Underground was inducted into the Rock and Roll of Fame in 1996 and their landmark debut album, The Velvet Underground & Nico, was added to the Library of Congress' registry in 2006.