By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
None of whom were in his league, because Charles was a titan. His intelligence, vitality, and will were heroic, his phenomenal musicality was intensified by his enforced intimacy with the world of sound, and his spiritual resources defied comprehension. His father a no-show, his young mother so frail she died when he was 15, he witnessed the playtime death of his beloved younger brother at five, just in time to be blinded by undiagnosed glaucoma.
Charles knew too much about suffering, and once he matured subsumed what he'd learned in vocal performances he crafted with painstaking subtlety. Sometimes joyous, sometimes blue, they made people happy even when they made people sad and epitomized an ideal of naturalness that became the orthodoxy toward which pop singing now strives. He also played a mean piano and some pretty fair alto sax.
Charles gave as an artist and held back as a human being. One of the few pop stars to truly control his own business affairs, he was a notorious cheapskate, paying his band peanuts and, in a signal instance reported by biographer Michael Lydon, extracting a cameo payment "well into six figures" from Billy Joel. He was a serial polygamist who left a lot of bemused or bitter women behind. He kicked heroin only to avoid prison, loved nicotine and cannabis, and drank enough gin to destroy any normal person's liver long before it did his. All during the decline that finally killed him June 10, he went into the studio he owned in L.A., perfecting more music.