Revolutionary blues singer Chuck Berry, often referred to as the "poet laureate" and "father" of rock 'n' roll, died Saturday, police in Missouri said. He was 90.
Officers responded to Berry's home outside St. Louis on Saturday afternoon and found him unconscious, the St. Charles County police said on Facebook. First responders were unsuccessful in reviving him and pronounced him dead at 1:26 p.m. local time.
Known for chart-toppers such as "Johnny B Goode," "Roll Over Beethoven” and "Brown Eyed Handsome Man," Berry’s career rocketed in the 1950s after signing a record deal with Chess Records at the behest of musician Muddy Waters, according to Rolling Stone.
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His first hit, "Maybellene," spent nine weeks in the No. 1 spot on the Billboard R&B chart and also rose to No. 5 on the pop charts. Berry reshaped the 1950s with a unique sound that appealed to both sides of a racially divided country.
"I made records for people who would buy them. No color, no ethnic, no political — I don't want that, never did," Berry told the New York Times in 2003.
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame said in a statement Saturday that Berry "created the rock sound."
"Chuck Berry is rock and roll. The undisputed original poet laureate, he influenced every rock and roll artist after him and every guitarist that ever plugged in," hall of fame President and CEO Greg Harris said in a statement.
"Today, we celebrate his poetry, his artistry and his massive contributions to 20th century culture," Harris said. It's fitting that he was the first person inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Rock and roll as we know it would not exist without him. Hail Hail, Rock and Roll. Hail Hail, Chuck Berry."
Many of the biggest names in rock ‘n’ roll have cited Berry as an inspiration thanks to his earworm tunes.
John Lennon once said: "If you had tried to try and give rock ‘n’ roll another name, you might call it 'Chuck 'Berry.'"
The Twitter account run by Lennon's estate was among those paying tribute to the legendary musician Saturday. Beatles drummer Ringo Starr also expressed his condolences: "R I P. And peace and love Chuck Berry Mr. rock 'n' roll music."
Leonard Cohen believed, "all of us are footnotes to the words of Chuck Berry," while Bob Dylan dubbed him the "Shakespeare of rock 'n' roll," Peter Guralnick recalled in Rolling Stone in October 2016.
Berry's signature duck walk was adopted by the likes of admiring bands such as The Who and AC/DC.
Despite mesmerizing the country with his infectious hooks and rhythm, he was temporarily pulled from the spotlight in 1959 when he was arrested for violating the Mann Act by driving an underage girl across state lines from Texas to his native Missouri, according to Biography.com. He spent two years in federal prison.
As a teenager, Berry — born Charles Anderson Edward Berry to Martha and Henry Berry in St. Louis — was convicted of an armed robbery and spent 1944 to 1947 in reform school.
After his release, Berry worked an assembly line and studied cosmetology, before finding his place in American history with a guitar in his hands and a captain’s hat on his head.
Later in life, Berry would serve another prison stint after running into trouble with the Internal Revenue Service, Rolling Stone reported.
But he would always return to the stage, even as he aged, playing shows into his mid-80s.
On his 90th birthday, Berry announced he was releasing his first LP in 38 years, slated to hit stores this year. He dedicated the album to his wife of 68 years, Themetta “Toddy” Berry, whom he is survived by.
Kalhan Rosenblatt is a reporter for NBC News, based in New York.