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Rock 'n' roll legend Chuck Berry dies at 90

March 18, 2017

Known for his distinctive guitar skills and as a pioneer of rock 'n' roll, Chuck Berry has died at the age of 90. He is regarded by many as the individual who most shaped a form of music that would change the world.

Schweiz Chuck Berry  Out in the Green Openair
Image: picture-alliance/Keystone

Chuck Berry dies at 90

The St. Charles County Police Department in Missouri said rock 'n' roll icon Chuck Berry was found dead on Saturday.

The singer, songwriter and guitarist, known for such hit singles as "Johnny B. Goode," "Roll Over Beethoven" and "Sweet Little Sixteen," was 90 years old. He was regarded as having defined rock 'n' roll by melding blues, country and jazz elements into some of the most iconic songs of the 20th century.

"Chuck Berry always was the epitome of rhythm and blues playing, rock 'n' roll playing. It was beautiful and effortless, and his timing was perfection. He is rhythm supreme," Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones once said of Berry. Bob Dylan dubbed Berry "the Shakespeare of rock 'n' roll."

Many famous pop and rock 'n' roll artists - including the Beatles and the Rolling Stones - covered Berry's music. The Beach Boys classic "Surfin' USA" is based on the melody of Berry's "Sweet Sixteen." 

One of the first popular acts to write as well as perform his own songs, Berry was not just known for his music, but also his showmanship. His signature move was the so-called "duck walk" - walking across the stage with his guitar, knees bent, head bobbing. At a time when many music clubs were still segregated, Berry's performances attracted white and African-American audiences alike.

In 1986, Berry was one of the first inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and "Rolling Stone" magazine rated him sixth on its list of "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time." When a record of "Earth Sounds and Music" was sent into space on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977, "Johnny B. Goode" was one of the songs featured on the album. 

Chuck Berry dies at 90

Born on October 18, 1926, as Charles Edward Anderson Berry, the musician grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and was the fourth of six children. He married Themetta Suggs in 1948 and had four children.

Throughout his life, Berry had several run-ins with the law.  

Before his breakthrough in the mid-1950s, Berry served three years in jail for armed robbery from age 18 to 21. He also spent a year and a half behind bars in the early 1960s after he brought a 14-year-old girl with whom he allegedly had an affair across state lines. In 1990, several women sued Berry, claiming that he had filmed them using the ladies' bathroom in a restaurant he owned. Berry settled the case out of court but maintained that he was innocent, saying that an employee had installed the camera.

Berry announced that he was recording his first studio record in over three decades on his 90th birthday in October 2016. The record - simply called "Chuck" - is scheduled to be released sometime this year.

mb/sms (AP, Reuters)