Sept 15, 2019: Ric Ocasek, Cars Co-Founder, Found Dead

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Inductee Ric Ocasek of The Cars performs at the 33rd Annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at Public Auditorium on April 14, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; used with permission)

The co-founder and most recognizable member of the popular new wave band, The Cars, Ric Ocasek, was found dead Sept. 15, 2019, in his New York apartment.

Ocasek was 75. [Some reports had his date of birth as March 23, 1949, which would have him at 70 when he died. Research by the New York Times confirmed that he was born in 1944.]

According to police reports, a call was received that afternoon regarding an unresponsive adult male; they later confirmed that the deceased was Ocasek. The caller was his wife, the supermodel Paulina Porizkova. The couple were separated, though still living together, and had filed for divorce at the time of his death.

The musician died from heart disease, according to the New York City medical examiner’s office. Specifically, the cause of death was hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease with pulmonary emphysema as a contributing factor.

Ocasek had been home recuperating after recent surgery. A day after his passing, Porizkova wrote, “Our two sons, Jonathan and Oliver, and I were making sure he was comfortable, ordering food and watching TV together. I found him still asleep when bringing him his Sunday morning coffee.

“I touched his cheek to rouse him. It was then I realized that during the night he had peacefully passed on.

“We, his family and friends, are completely and utterly devastated by his untimely and unexpected death and would appreciate the privacy to mourn in private.”

In an interview that aired on CBS Sunday Morning on March 1, 2020, Porizkova said she felt “incredibly hurt” and “betrayed” when she discovered that she had been cut out of Ocasek’s will. “It made the grieving process really, really tricky,” she said. The pair wed in 1989.

The Cars, whose ’70s and ’80s hits included “Just What I Needed,” “My Best Friend’s Girl,” “Good Times Roll,” “Let’s Go,” “You Might Think,” “Shake it Up,” “Magic,” “Drive” and “Tonight She Comes,” were formed in Boston in 1976 by rhythm guitarist/vocalist Ocasek, bassist/vocalist Ben Orr (who passed away in 2000), lead guitarist Elliot Easton, keyboardist Greg Hawkes and drummer David Robinson.

The Cars 1978 debut album

In 1977 the quintet recorded a handful of demos that led to their signing with Elektra Records. Paired with producer Roy Thomas Baker, the group recorded their self-titled debut album in London in early 1978, with “Just What I Needed,” written by Ocasek and sung by Orr, chosen as the first single, reaching #27. Two other songs from that self-titled debut album followed, “My Best Friend’s Girl” (#35) and “Good Times Roll” (#41), both sung by Ocasek. While the album peaked at only #18 on the U.S. Album Chart, it ultimately sold six million copies.

Related: Rockers pay tribute to Ocasek

Their follow-up, Candy-O, released the next year and again produced by Baker, delivered their biggest hit to date, “Let’s Go” (#14). The song, written by Ocasek, was sung by Orr. Candy-O reached #3 and has sold four million copies.

Between 1979-85, the Cars released four straight top 10 albums and four top 10 singles, the biggest being the ballad “Drive,” in ’84. The group was a fixture on early MTV but broke up in 1988.

Richard Theodore Otcasek was born on March 23, 1944, in Baltimore, Maryland. (See above regarding the discrepancy in his reported birth date.) He moved to Cleveland, Ohio, with his family when he was a teenager, and met his future bandmate, Orr, in 1965. The pair formed their first band together, ID Nirvana, in 1968, and ultimately moved to Boston in the early ’70s.

They subsequently formed Richard and the Rabbits, with future Cars keyboardist Hawkes, and then another band that included Easton. Other band member changes led to Massachusetts native Robinson joining the other four, and the quintet then formed the Cars in 1976.

Ocasek and Porizkova announced their separation in 2018 after 28 years of marriage.

Related: Musicians we lost in 2019

Though the Cars were eligible for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003, they weren’t selected until the Class of 2018, which represented their third nomination.

Watch the Cars perform at their induction, with Ocasek singing “My Best Friend’s Girl,” his final public performance

Related: Our coverage of the Cars’ Rock Hall Class of 2018 induction

Best Classic Bands Staff

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