Chuck Berry, who duck-walked his way into the pantheon of rock 'n' roll pioneers as one of its most influential guitarists and lyricists, creating raucous anthems that defined the genre's sound and heartbeat, died on Saturday at his Missouri home. He was 90.
Police in St. Charles County, outside St. Louis, said they were called to Berry's home by a caretaker and found him unresponsive. Efforts to revive him failed and he was pronounced dead at 1:26 p.m. local time.
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Considered one of the founding fathers of rock 'n' roll, Charles Edward Anderson Berry was present at its infancy in the 1950s and emerged as its first star guitarist and songwriter - a nearly 30-year-old black performer whose style electrified young white audiences and was emulated by white performers who came to dominate American popular music.
Although Elvis Presley was called the king of rock 'n' roll, that crown would have fit just as well on Berry's own carefully sculpted pompadour.
Berry hits such as Johnny B. Goode, Roll Over Beethoven, Sweet Little Sixteen, Maybellene and Memphis melded elements of blues, rockabilly and jazz into some of the most timeless pop songs of the 20th century.
He was a monumental influence on just about any kid who picked up a guitar with rock star aspirations - Keith Richards, Paul McCartney, John Lennon and Bruce Springsteen among them.
Both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, as well as the Beach Boys and scores of other acts - even Elvis - covered Berry's songs.
"If you tried to give rock 'n' roll another name," Lennon once said, "you might call it 'Chuck Berry'."
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When Richards inducted Berry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, he said: "It's very difficult for me to talk about Chuck Berry because I've lifted every lick he ever played. This is the gentleman who started it all."
Berry was born Oct. 18, 1926, the third of six children whose father was a contractor and church deacon and whose mother was a schoolteacher. They lived in a relatively prosperous black section of St. Louis known as the Ville.
As he became a star, Berry irked some in St. Louis by acquiring property in a previously white area and opening his own nightclub, where another legal scrape nearly ended his career.
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While the hits did not keep coming for Berry, the tributes never stopped, and he continued playing a monthly show at a St. Louis nightclub into his late 80s. He received a Grammy award for lifetime achievement in 1984 and his 1986 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame made him part of the inaugural class.
Illustrating his influence, a recording of Johnny B. Goode was included in a collection of music sent into space aboard the unmanned 1977 Voyager I probe to provide aliens a taste of Earth culture.
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