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Rock Hall Anniversary: Death of Jackie Wilson

Thirty years ago in January 1984, Jackie Wilson died at the age of 49 from complications of pneumonia, nine years after suffering a heart attack during a New Jersey performance, that first left him in a coma. Also by this time, Wilson was said to be broke and was buried in an unmarked grave for three years, until a fundraiser from friends and the music industry raised enough money for a headstone.

Nicknamed Mr. Excitement for his masterful and athletic showmanship (as well as keeping women in a frenzy), Wilson was one of the important keys in rhythm and blues’ transition into soul. After being a member of the Dominoes, he went solo and was soon generating hits that included five number one R&B hits and six top ten pop hits. Those songs included “Lonely Teardrops”, “Baby Workout”, and “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher”. Artists including James Brown, Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, and Smokey Robinson were influenced by him, and he has also been numerously referenced and/or covered from other artists including Van Morrison, Tupac Shakur, and most famously by the Commodores (whose 1985 hit “Nightshift” was a tribute to him and Marvin Gaye, who would die soon after).

Jackie Wilson had received numerous honors following his death, including an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.