NEW YORK – Glenn Frey, a rock ‘n’ roll rebel from Detroit who journeyed West, co-founded the Eagles and with Don Henley formed one of history’s most successful songwriting teams with such hits as “Hotel California” and “Life in the Fast Lane,” has died.
Frey, 67, died of complications from rheumatoid arthritis, acute ulcerative colitis and pneumonia, the band said on its website. He died Monday in New York. He had fought the ailments for the past several weeks, the band said.
“Words can neither describe our sorrow, nor our love and respect for all that he has given to us, his family, the music community & millions of fans worldwide,” a statement on the band’s website said.
Frey’s health problems, including diverticulitis, dated to the 1980s. He would blame in part his years of “burgers and beer and blow and broads” and later became a fitness advocate.
Guitarist Frey and drummer Henley formed the Eagles in Los Angeles in the early 1970s, along with guitarist Bernie Leadon and bassist Randy Meisner. They embodied for many listeners the melodic Los Angeles sound despite having no native Californians in the group. Critics often dismissed them as slick and unadventurous, but their blend of mellow ballads and macho rockers, and of pop, folk and country, gave them broad appeal.
An Eagles greatest-hits collection and “Hotel California,” both released in the 1970s, have sold more than 20 million copies each and are among the best-selling albums of modern times. The band’s total album sales top 100 million copies.
The Eagles’ many hit singles include “The Best of My Love,” “Desperado,” “One of These Nights” and “The Long Run.” The impulsive Frey and the more cerebral Henley shared songwriting and singing duties, with Frey’s drawling tenor featured on “Heartache Tonight,” “Already Gone” and the group’s breakthrough hit, “Take it Easy.”
Henley said crossing paths with Frey in 1970 “changed my life forever, and it eventually had an impact on the lives of millions of other people all over the planet.”
Their popularity well outlasted their breakup in 1980 and the 14-year hiatus that followed. Their records remained consistent sellers, and they were a top touring act over the last 20 years even though Frey and Henley were the only remaining original members. They were joined on stage by guitarist Joe Walsh, who replaced Leadon in the mid-1970s, and bassist Timothy B. Schmit, who stepped in after Meisner quit in 1977. Guitarist Don Felder was added in 1974 but was fired in 2001 amid disputes over money.
The band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 and was supposed to have been honored at the Kennedy Center last month, but the appearance was postponed because of Frey’s health. Its six Grammys include Record of the Year for “Hotel California” and best country performance by a vocal duo or group for “How Long,” from the 2007 album “Long Road Out of Eden,” another No. 1 seller.
Frey had success as a solo artist, with songs including “The One You Love” and “You Belong to the City,” and careers in movies and television. He appeared on episodes of “Miami Vice” and “Nash Bridges,” both featuring his friend Don Johnson, and appeared in the film “Jerry McGuire,” directed by Cameron Crowe, who had befriended him after he interviewed the Eagles for Rolling Stone in the 1970s. Frey’s “The Heat Is On” was a hit from the “Beverly Hills Cop” soundtrack, and his “Smuggler’s Blues” inspired a “Miami Vice” episode.
Frey, known for his oversized jaw, big grin and wavy dark hair, loved music, girls and the rock ‘n’ roll life. He was playing in bands as a teenager, with fellow Detroit musician Bob Seger among his early friends, and would meet up with Henley, Meisner and Leadon while all were trying to catch on in the Los Angeles music scene. For a time the four backed Linda Ronstadt.
Anyone around them at the time knew they were determined to make it and make it big. The Eagles’ personnel, sound and direction would change often in the ‘70s as they adapted to the changes of the decade itself. “Take it Easy,” released in 1972, defined their early image as mellow, country-influenced musicians, but they soon desired a harder, more straightforward rock sound. They added Felder, whose work was featured on “Already Gone” and other uptempo songs. When a frustrated Leadon, a bluegrass picker, quit in 1975, they brought in Walsh, one of music’s wildest and loudest performers.
“Hotel California” was their creative peak, the title song a long and intricate rocker that captured the decadence of mid-’70s Los Angeles as unforgettably as “Take it Easy” stood for a more laid-back time. It was the ultimate collaboration between Henley and Frey, with Henley singing lead and sketching the story of the hotel where “you can check out anytime, but you can never leave” and Frey filling such conversational touches as “livin’ it up at the Hotel California.” Frey sang lead on “New Kid in Town” and picked up on an expression, uttered by his drug dealer, that became an Eagles song and popular catchphrase, “Life in the Fast Lane.”
The bandmates harmonized memorably on stage and on record but fought often otherwise. Felder would remember first playing with them and wondering even then if they would break up. Leadon and Meisner departed after run-ins with Frey. The band’s initial breakup in 1980 happened after Felder and Frey nearly came to blows after a concert in Long Beach, California. They would ruefully call the show “Long Night at Wrong Beach.”
Frey and Henley also became estranged for years, their breach a key reason the band stayed apart in the 1980s. Henley had vowed the Eagles would reunite only when “hell freezes over,” which became the name of the 1994 album they had never imagined making.
“The bond we forged 45 years ago was never broken, even during the 14 years that the Eagles were dissolved,” Henley said Monday. “Glenn was the one who started it all. He was the spark plug, the man with the plan. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of popular music and a work ethic that wouldn’t quit. He was funny, bullheaded, mercurial, generous, deeply talented and driven.”