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Luther Vandross dead at 54

Luther Vandross died Friday, two years after a debilitating stroke.


Obituaries (Entertainment)
Luther Vandross

(CNN) -- Legendary R&B artist Luther Vandross, whose smooth, silky voice gave soul to songs about life, love and relationships, died Friday. He was 54 years old.

The popular crooner suffered a debilitating stroke in April 2003. Even so, his album "Dance With My Father," co-written with Richard Marx, sold nearly a million copies in its first month of release that June. The following year, that album won three Grammy Awards, including song of the year.

His eighth and final Grammy came for best R&B performance by a duo -- the remake of "The Closer I Get to You," sung with Beyonce Knowles.

Vandross died at JFK Medical Center in Edison, New Jersey at 1:47 p.m. ET, surrounded by family, friends and a medical support team, a statement from the hospital said.

Alluding to the stroke, "which he never fully recovered from," hospital spokesman Rob Cavanaugh said, "Throughout his illness, Luther received excellent medical care and attention from his medical team. Luther was deeply touched by all the thoughts and wishes from his fans."

Vandross' songs and emotionally charged ballads carry a signature sound. During his four-decade career, Vandross sold more than 25 million copies, each one of his 14 albums achieving either platinum or multi-platinum status.

Luther Ronzoni Vandross was born into a New York City family steeped in the traditions of gospel and soul. He began his career writing and performing jingles for television commercials. He even appeared on "Sesame Street" in October 1969.

It was after a chance meeting with David Bowie at a recording studio in 1975 that Vandross was asked to sing backup on Bowie's hit album, "Young Americans."

Later, Vandross served as Bowie's opening act. Vandross also sang backup for Bette Midler and Barbra Streisand.

When record companies rejected him, Vandross used his own money to produce his 1981 debut album, "Never Too Much."

It went on to top the R&B charts and sold 2 million copies.

By the end of the 1980s Vandross had nearly two dozen smash singles, including "Give Me the Reason," "Stop to Love" and "There's Nothing Better Than Love," made with Gregory Hines. Arguably his most memorable hit was the 1989 classic, "Here and Now," which has become a wedding staple.

The momentum carried into the 1990s, with Vandross recording "The Best Things In Life Are Free," a pop duet with Janet Jackson that hit the Top 10 and No. 1 on the R&B charts.

He followed that in 1994 with "Endless Love," a duet with Mariah Carey that reached No. 2 on the pop charts.

"I was Luther from day one, from the day I began, and I think that's a very important thing," he once said. "I think that's what sustained my career for so long is that when I start, you know it's me."

Vandross struggled with health and image problems, claiming that he lost 100 pounds -- 13 times. He suffered from hypertension and diabetes, which killed two siblings and his father, but refused to slow down until his stroke two years ago.

Of "Dance With My Father," he once said that title song "was very emotional for me and, yes, it is based on my own experience.

"It's not just about losing one's father, but about missing someone who is gone -- for whatever reason -- and the longing you feel for that moment in the past when you were together," he said.

CNN's Brooke Anderson and Todd Leopold contributed to the report.

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