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Springsteen sidekick, sax man Clarence Clemons dies

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Bruce Springsteen: "His loss is immeasurable"
  • Clemons died at age 69 at a Florida hospital, a week after suffering a stroke
  • The saxophonist's influence can be heard on Springsteen's "Born to Run"
  • Clemons last public performance was in May when he took the stage with Lady Gaga

(CNN) -- Saxophonist Clarence Clemons, a defining musical influence behind the sound of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, died Saturday of complications from a stroke. He was 69.

Clemons died at a hospital in Palm Beach, Florida, where he was undergoing treatment after suffering a stroke last Sunday, said a spokesperson for Springsteen and the E Street Band. His fifth wife, Victoria, and other family members were at his side when he died, according to the spokesperson.

"His loss is immeasurable and we are honored and thankful to have known him and had the opportunity to stand beside him for nearly 40 years," Springsteen said in a statement posted on the band's website. "He was my great friend, my partner, and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music. His life, his memory, and his love will live on in that story and in our band."

The saxophonist's influence can be heard throughout Springsteen's musical evolution, including such early hits as "Born to Run" and "Thunder Road."

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His influence could also be seen in Springsteen's live shows, where the two men routinely bantered about their beginnings, their life on the road and their music.

The story of their first meeting is musical lore.

Depending on who was telling the story and when it was being told, the two men first met at the Stone Pony music venue in Asbury Park, New Jersey, where Springsteen was performing.

As the story goes, Springsteen was performing when howling winds blew the door off. Springsteen was startled by the 6-foot, 4-inch towering figure of Clemons, who invited himself onstage to play.

"From the first time we saw each other, we stayed together for two weeks," Clemons told CNN in 2009 while promoting his pseudo-memoir "Big Man: Real Life & Tall Tales."

"We were inseparable," he said.

Clemons was born in 1942 in Virginia and began playing the saxophone by age 9. He moved to New Jersey, where he worked as a youth counselor, before joining Springsteen's E Street Band.

Clemons, whose fusing of blues, jazz and funk with rock on the saxophone put him in demand, recorded with a number of artists over the years, including Aretha Franklin and the Grateful Dead.

In 1985, Clemons and Jackson Browne scored a duet Billboard hit with "You're a Friend of Mine."

Clemons, who was dubbed "Big Man" by friends because of his height, made his last musical appearance in May when he took the stage with Lady Gaga on Fox's "American Idol" to perform "The Edge of Glory."

Clemons also worked as an actor, appearing in TV shows such as "The Wire" and "The Simpsons." He also appeared in films, including "New York, New York."

As word of his death spread Saturday night, fans, musical contemporaries and even politicians took to Twitter and Facebook to remember Clemons.

"A very sad night for Springsteen fans & all of NJ--thx Clarence Clemons for 40 years of magical & soulful music. He will be missed forever," tweeted New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

The Stone Pony, which marked the musician's passing on its web site with a standalone photo of Clemons, announced it would open early Sunday to serve as a gathering spot for fans to remember the saxophonist.

Springsteen's Facebook page was inundated with an outpouring of emotion from fans.

"RIP CC, you were the heart and soul of the E Street Band. Thank you for all the music, you got me through some dark days. Blessings on your journey," one post read.

"I just can't imagine that space on stage not being occupied by the big man. We are all better people having been moved by your huge music. Now go play with Louis, Miles and the rest and have a blast," read another.

CNN's Denise Quan and Chelsea J. Carter contributed to this report.