Before he joined the E Street Band, Clemons was a gospel fan and gifted athlete whose chance at a professional football career was ended by a car accident. Outside of the band, he duetted with Jackson Browne on 1985's "You're a Friend of Mine" and played sax on Aretha Franklin's "Freeway of Love." The gregarious rocker dabbled in acting, too, guesting on Diff'rent Strokes and in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, as well as taking on more serious roles in The Wire.
But he was best known as one of Springsteen's most trusted sidemen, a literally towering presence onstage and off who played alongside Bruce everywhere from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 25th anniversary concert to the Super Bowl halftime show. His solos gave tracks like "Born to Run" and "Jungleland" a uniquely bluesy groove.
Earlier this week, Bruce asked fans to "share in a hopeful spirit that can ultimately inspire Clarence to greater heights." Tonight he issued a statement on his friend's death that reads, "Clarence lived a wonderful life. He carried within him a love of people that made them love him. He created a wondrous and extended family. He loved the saxophone, loved our fans and gave everything he had every night he stepped on stage. His loss is immeasurable and we are honored and thankful to have known him and had the opportunity to stand beside him for nearly 40 years. He was my great friend, my partner, and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music. His life, his memory, and his love will live on in that story and in our band."
Lady Gaga, who asked Clemons to play on her latest album, Born This Way, released a video this week that will likely be considered the Big Man's last piece of work. In the pared-down clip for "The Edge of Glory," Clarence simply sits on a tenement stoop and blows his horn the best way he knew how -- with stylish, glorious soul.
- Bruce Springsteen