Gary Wright, lead singer of pop hits Dream Weaver and Love is Alive, has died aged 80.
His son Dorian confirmed the news to the Guardian. His other son, Justin, told TMZ his father died Monday at his home in California and was diagnosed with both Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia.
The singer-songwriter’s symptoms have worsened over the past year and it has become difficult for him to speak or move, Justin said.
Best known for the hits Dream Weaver and Love is Alive, both of which reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, Wright was also a songwriter and producer and frequently collaborated with Beatles musician George Harrison.
Born in New Jersey in 1943, Wright enjoyed a career as a child actor in television and radio commercials and performed on Broadway in the musical Fanny in 1954. He also appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show.
After playing in high school bands, Wright decided that music was “too unstable” to practice professionally and instead trained as a doctor in the United States and West Germany. In Europe, he abandoned medicine for music and in 1967 became the lead singer of the British blues group Spooky Tooth before embarking on a solo career in 1970.
That same year, Wright played keyboards on Harrison’s 1970 album All Things Must Pass. During the sessions, the two men struck up a friendship based on their shared love of music and interest in Indian spirituality. Wright later described Harrison as “my spiritual mentor”. He would play on all of Harrison’s solo albums in the 1970s, as well as other albums produced by the ex-Beatle for Apple Records, including two Ringo Starr singles and a Ronnie Spector track. Wright later recalled being invited to play on John Lennon’s 1971 album Imagine, but was unable to attend the sessions.
Wright reformed Spooky Tooth between 1972 and 1974, but it was his 1975 solo album The Dream Weaver – the hit track inspired by a trip to India with Harrison – that made him famous. The album is now considered one of the first rock records made almost entirely with synthesizers. Wright was known for performing live on portable keyboards – then unusual – and on the keytar.
Wright’s solo career slowed in the 1980s and 1990s as he resumed touring to spend time with his family. But his influence has remained consistent over the decades, with musicians like Jay-Z, Tone-Loc and Eminem using samples and interpolations of his music in their tracks. A 1984 cover of his song Love is Alive by Chaka Khan was a hit. Judas Priest’s cover of a Wright-written Spooky Tooth song, Better By You, Better Than Me, was the subject of a famous lawsuit in 1990 over subliminal messages in song lyrics, after two teenagers made a suicide pact. The case was then dismissed without further action.
Wright re-recorded Dream Weaver for a new version immortalized in the 1992 film Wayne’s World. In 2008, he joined Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band on tour, and did it again in 2010 and 2011.
Among those paying tribute on Monday was musician Stephen Bishop, who called Wright a “dear friend.” in a statement shared on social mediaas well as photos of their performances together.
“Gary’s dynamic personality and exceptional talent made every moment together truly enjoyable,” Bishop wrote. “His legacy will live on for many years. I will always treasure the warmth and kindness that Gary and his wife Rose showed me, and I will always hold dear the stories he shared with me of days past.
The singer-songwriter Al Stewart also shared a statement“Al and Gary had been friends for a long time, and it was Gary who introduced Al to his touring band, The Empty Pockets. Al and Jill Stewart wish to offer their condolences to Gary’s wife, Rose, and her family.
Wright is survived by his second wife Rose, his first wife Tina and their sons.