Natalie Cole dies at 65 after battling health woes

Cole's family said she fought a "fierce, courageous battle". She died in a Los Angeles hospital on New Year's Eve.
Cole's family said she fought a "fierce, courageous battle". She died in a Los Angeles hospital on New Year's Eve.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Singer had suffered complications from 2009 kidney transplant; tributes pour in from stars

NEW YORK • Fifty years ago when she was just a teenager, Natalie Cole lost her father, jazz legend Nat King Cole, to lung cancer, which led to her downward spiral into drug abuse.

She survived the dark period to find stardom in her own right, but battled longstanding health issues, including complications from a kidney transplant in 2009.

On New Year's Eve, the nine-time Grammy-winning singer died in a Los Angeles hospital, her family said on Friday.

  • Her life and career

  • • Born 1950. She begins singing at age 6 with her father, Nat King Cole.

    • Father dies in 1965.

    • Majors in child psychology and graduates from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1972.

    • In 1975, releases her debut album Inseparable. She is named Best New Artist at the 1976 Grammy Awards, where This Will Be also wins Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female.

    • Her third album, Unpredictable in 1977, is also a Top 10 pop album.

    • Struggles with heroin, alcohol and crack cocaine addiction in the early 1980s before entering rehab.

    • Revives career in 1987 with Everlasting, which includes three Top 10 pop singles: Jump Start, the ballad I Live for Your Love and her version of Bruce Springsteen's Pink Cadillac.

    • Earns major acclaim for her 1991 technology-assisted duet with her late father, based on his 1951 recording of Unforgettable.

    The song and the album Unforgettable... With Love, on which Cole sang her father's hits, earns her three Grammy Awards.

    • Cole portrays herself in Livin' for Love: The Natalie Cole Story, a 2000 television movie that depicts her drug addiction.

    • Her 2008 album of pop standards, Still Unforgettable, includes another duet with her father, Walkin' My Baby Back Home. She is diagnosed with hepatitis C, likely from past drug use. In 2009, she undergoes a kidney transplant.

    • In 2013, she records Natalie Cole en Espanol, a collection of Latin pop favourites that is nominated for Latin Grammy Awards.

    • During her career, she sold millions of records and won nine Grammys.

    REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES

She was 65.

"Natalie fought a fierce, courageous battle, dying how she lived - with dignity, strength and honour," her family said in a statement. Quoting her most famous song, the family added: "Our beloved mother and sister will be greatly missed and remain 'unforgettable' in our hearts forever."

Cole had a light, supple, perpetually optimistic voice, drawing on both the nuances of jazz singing and the dynamics of gospel.

She sold millions of albums between the 1970s and 1990s, as she moved from the sound of her generation to that of her parents.

Tributes quickly poured in, with singer Tony Bennett saying on Instagram he was "deeply saddened". Singer Patti LaBelle tweeted: "She will be truly missed but her light will shine forever!"

Cole was born on Feb 6, 1950, in Los Angeles, and grew up in the city's old-money neighbourhood of Hancock Park.

Her father was highly popular and her mother, Maria Cole, sang with the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

At six, Cole recorded a duet with her father, I'm Good Will, You're Christmas Spirit.

By 11, she was performing alongside him on his television show, USA Today reported.

When Cole was 15 and attending boarding school across the country, her father died of lung cancer.

It was a devastating blow and it affected her for the rest of her life.

Cole first made a name for herself in 1975 with the debut song This Will Be (An Everlasting Love) and the album and song Inseparable. The hits helped Cole win the prestigious Grammy for Best New Artist.

But she achieved her greatest success in 1991 by returning to some of the classics sung by her father.

CHERISHED

Our beloved mother and sister will be greatly missed and remain 'unforgettable' in our hearts forever.

FAMILY OF SINGER NATALIE COLE, in a statement

Her album, Unforgettable... With Love, won the Grammy for Album of the Year and has sold more than seven million copies in the United States. In a technical feat considered novel in the day, Cole sang the title track - with its elegant, string- backed opening line "Unforgettable, that's what you are" - in a duet with her father.

The success capped her comeback after a dark period of heroin, crack cocaine and alcohol abuse.

In Angel On My Shoulder, her 2000 memoir, Cole said she turned to drugs because of unresolved issues, including being molested as a child and her father's death.

She spent six months in a rehabilitation programme and told CBS in 2006 that "those people gave me my life back one day at a time".

In 2009, as a result of hepatitis C that she believed she had contracted through past intravenous drug use, she underwent chemotherapy and a kidney transplant.

Her 2010 book, Love Brought Me Back, chronicled the search for a donor. She continued to perform well into last year.

A statement from the Recording Academy, which administers the Grammys, said: "We've lost a wonderful, highly cherished artist and our heartfelt condolences go out to Natalie's family, friends, her many collaborators, as well as to all who have been entertained by her exceptional talent."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 03, 2016, with the headline 'Natalie Cole dies at 65 after battling health woes'. Print Edition | Subscribe