Box Tops, Big Star Legend Alex Chilton Dies

Alex Chilton, who had his first hit with the Box Tops at age 16 and went on to attain legendary status with Big Star in the ’70s, died of an apparent heart attack in a New Orleans hospital March 16, according to the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. He was 59.

Chilton had complained of health issues earlier in the day and was taken to a New Orleans hospital where he was pronounced dead a few hours later.

“I’m crushed. We’re all just crushed,” said John Fry, owner of Memphis’ Ardent Studios and a longtime friend of Chilton’s, told the paper. “This sudden death experience is never something that you’re prepared for. And yet it occurs.”

Chilton was scheduled to perform Saturday at South by Southwest in Austin as part of a tribute to Big Star. His work was influential to a generation of alternative rock bands including R.E.M. and The Replacements.

The Memphis-born Chilton rose to prominence at age 16 when his gruff vocals powered the massive Box Tops hit “The Letter,” as well as “Cry Like a Baby” and “Neon Rainbow.”  He co-founded critically acclaimed Big Star in the 1970s, best known for “September Gurls,” “Thirteen” and “In The Streets.” He moved to New Orleans in 1980, where he was among the missing after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005 but was located several days later.