Chuck Berry, the singer, songwriter, and guitarist whose pioneering rock ’n’ roll records of the 1950s helped define the genre, has died at the age of 90, the New York Times reports. The St. Charles County police department confirmed on its Facebook page that Berry was found unresponsive by first responders to a medical emergency call on Saturday, and attempts to revive him failed.
While other musicians may have done more to create the sound of rock ‘n’ roll, Berry set the subject matter: a teenage fantasia of cars, girls, and music itself. His run at Chess Records in the late 1950s is full of foundational records, including “Maybellene,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Rock and Roll Music,” “Carol,” and of course, “Johnny B. Goode.” And that’s just the music: showboating lead guitarists the world over would be nowhere without Berry’s duck walk.
Berry’s long-lasting influence is all the more remarkable considering the many times he derailed his own career. In 1959, at the height of his fame, Berry was charged with violating the Mann Act over his state line–crossing relationship with a 14-year-old, for which he ultimately spent a year and a half in prison. After a decade of semi-shady live shows in the 1970s—Berry required cash in advance and traveled alone, hiring local bands of varying talent to back him—he pled guilty to tax evasion and was off to prison again. The biggest blow to his image, however, was a 1990 class action lawsuit alleging Berry had installed a video camera in the women’s restroom of a restaurant he owned. Though he avoided jail time, pleading guilty to misdemeanor marijuana possession in exchange for felony child-abuse charges being dropped, salacious allegations flew.
But whatever self-inflicted wounds he suffered, Chuck Berry’s musical power was undeniable. Here he is in his prime performing “Roll Over Beethoven,” complete with duck walk: