Ric Ocasek, Lead Singer for the Cars, Dies at NYC Home

The Cars' Ric Ocasek merged punk, pop and avant garde music to help launch new wave.

Ric Ocasek, co-founder and main singer of the band the Cars, was found dead in his Gramercy Park home in New York City, police confirmed, according to Variety. The songwriter and painter was discovered unconscious and unresponsive by his estranged wife, Paulina Porizkova. Few details have been released, including a cause of death. The NYPD announced Ocasek’s age as 75, but NPR says he was 70, according to public records.

Rhythm guitarist Ocasek formed the Cars in Boston in 1976 with bassist and singer Benjamin Orr, who died from pancreatic cancer in 2000. The pair met in Cleveland in 1965 after Ocasek caught a performance of Orr’s band the Grasshoppers on a local musical variety program called The Big 5 Show. In 1968, the pair formed a band called ID Nirvana, playing regularly at Ohio State University and area clubs. They also played in the bands Milkwood, Richard and the Rabbits, and Cap’n Swing.

The Cars, which also included lead guitarist Elliot Easton, keyboardist Greg Hawkes, and drummer David Robinson, released seven studio albums between the years 1978 to 2011. Their first album, The Cars, was a milestone in the new wave scene, bridging the gap between punk and pop. It spawned the hit singles “Just What I Needed,” “My Best Friend’s Girl” and “Good Times Roll.” Their second album, Candy-O, released in 1979 on Elektra Records, produced the hits “Let’s Go” and “It’s All I Can Do.” Heartbeat City, the band’s fifth studio album which came out in March 1984 contained the hits “Drive” and “You Might Think.”

The music video for “You Might Think” won the first-ever MTV Video Music Award for video of the year in 1984, beating out Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” The band broke up in the late-1980s. Ocasek gave his blessing for the group to tour as The New Cars, with Todd Rundgren on vocals, in the mid-2000s. Ocasek and the other surviving original members reunited in 2010 to release, Move Like This, the band’s seventh album. The Cars were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018.

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Ric Ocasek was born Richard Theodore Otcasek on March 23, 1944. He grew up in Baltimore, but his family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, when he was 16 years old. He graduated from Maple Heights High School in 1963 and attended Antioch College and Bowling Green State University before dropping out to become a musician.

Ocasek released seven solo albums, two during the run of the Cars, including Beatitude (1982), This Side of Paradise (1986), Fireball Zone (1990), Troublizing (1997) and Nexterday (2005). The single “Emotion in Motion,” released in 1986, was his only solo song to break into the Top 40. He produced Weezer’s first album, as well as records by Bad Brains, Guided by Voices, Motion City Soundtrack, Bad Religion, Nada Surf and Suicide.

In 1992, Ocasek released a book of poetry titled Negative Theatre. In 2012 he published Lyrics and Prose, a collection of his lyrics. Ocasek was also visual artist who had public exhibitions of his drawings, photo collages, and mixed-media art works. Ocasek played a beatnik painter in the John Waters film Hairspray. He also had a small part as a mechanic in the 1987 movie Made in Heaven. Ocasek put in several appearances on Comedy Central‘s The Colbert Report between 2006 and August 9, 2011 when he appeared with the Cars to perform songs from Move Like This.

Ocasek was married three times. He met his wife, model and actress Paulina Porizkova, while filming the music video for Orr’s song “Drive.” Porizkova announced the pair separated after 28 years of marriage in a social media post in May of 2018. He is survived by six sons.

Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFKRead more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.