NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 02:  Natalie Cole performs on stage at SeriousFun Children's Network's New York City Gala at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center on March 2, 2015 in New York City.  (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)
'Unforgettable' Natalie Cole dead at 65
02:40 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Gene Seymour is a film critic who has written about music, movies and culture for The New York Times, Newsday, Entertainment Weekly and The Washington Post. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

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Gene Seymour: Natalie Cole stood up to many difficulties, overcoming addiction, loss, in a successful career as beloved singer

He says with her "Unforgettable" album, she kicked off "duets" sub-genre, made crossover from pop to jazz even as she struggled with health

CNN  — 

Whatever life threw at Natalie Cole, she kept coming back. And hers was not an easy life: There was the loss of a parent during adolescence, the drug dependency and then a series of illnesses serious enough to have put one of the most lucrative and widely beloved music careers in jeopardy.

Yet Cole overcame these tribulations with such glorious consistency that it was a shock to begin the New Year hearing news of her passing the night of December 31 at age 65 from congestive heart disease. There were reports that she’d been hospitalized last month, but somehow we’d thought she’d find a way to pull through again.

Natalie Cole releases Spanish album
02:34 - Source: CNN

And when she did pull through, as she did after a 1983 stint in rehab from drug addiction (the perils of which were detailed in her 2000 autobiography, “Angel on My Shoulder”), she came back stronger than ever with a string of late-1980s hits (“I Live for Your Love,” “Pink Cadillac,” “Miss You Like Crazy”) whose success came close to rivaling her phenomenal rise in the mid-1970s with “This Will Be,” “I Can’t Say No,” “Be Thankful,” “Our Love” and the title track from her 1975 star-making LP, “Inseparable.”

But it was 1991’s “Unforgettable…With Love” that elevated Natalie Cole’s name to something close to epochal stature. She had for the first two decades of her pop-singing career resisted performing and recording songs closely associated with her legendary father, Nat King Cole, who died of lung cancer in 1965 when he was 45 years old, and she was 15.

On this album, she fully embraced her father’s legacy by performing updated jazz-pop versions of his signature hits, including “Paper Moon,” “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” “L-O-V-E,” “Route 66” and “Mona Lisa” that evoked vivid memories of her father even as they allowed her to reassert her own distinctive style and broad resources as a vocalist.