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Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers Dead at 74

Patti Everly Phil Everly
Rick Diamond, Getty Images

Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers has passed away. The rock and country music legend died in Burbank, Calif. on Friday (Jan. 3) at the age of 74.

The singer died from complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, his wife, Patti, confirms to the Los Angeles Times, adding that he contracted the illness through a lifelong smoking habit.

“We are absolutely heartbroken,” she states. “He fought long and hard.”

Everly shot to fame in the late ’50s as one-half of the Everly Brothers with his older brother Don. Their pristine harmonies helped set them at the forefront of rock and roll, but their music — like much of early rock — derived in large part from a souped-up rhythm track set to older country influences.

That sound powered them through a string of timeless hits that included ‘Bye Bye Love,’ ‘Wake Up Little Susie,’ ‘All I Have to Do Is Dream,’ ‘Bird Dog’ and ‘Cathy’s Clown.’

The brothers began to lose their commercial prominence by the mid-’60s, though they issued several well-respected albums, including ‘Roots’ in 1968, which helped point the way for the country-rock movement that would later spawn the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Linda Ronstadt and the Eagles.

After a series of business and personal troubles, the pair broke up acrimoniously in the early ’70s, pursuing solo careers for the next decade to varying degrees of success. They reunited in 1983 for a concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall, and would spend the subsequent decades in a series of on-again, off-again reunions and one-off appearances that included singing on Paul Simon‘s landmark ‘Graceland’ album, as well as touring with Simon & Garfunkel, who freely admitted they had borrowed much of their own vocal sound from their boyhood heroes.

“When you talk about harmony singing in the popular music of the postwar period, the first place you start is the Everly Brothers,” Robert Santelli, executive director of the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, said Friday (quote via the Los Angeles Times). “You could say they were the vocal link between all the 1950s great doo wop groups and what would come in the 1960s with the Beach Boys and the Beatles. They showed the Beach Boys and the Beatles how to sing harmony and incorporate that into a pop music form that was irresistible.”

Phil Everly is survived by his wife, Patti,  his brother, Don, their mother, Margaret, sons Jason and Chris, and two granddaughters. Funeral services will be private.

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