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Glenn Frey (1948 - 2016)

AP Photo / Diane Bondareff

Glenn Frey (1948 - 2016)

Glenn Frey, a founding member and guitarist of the Eagles, has died at the age of 67, according to a statement from the band.

Frey had been battling intestinal issues for months and had surgery in November. His condition worsened in his last several days, and the statement attributed his death to “complications from rheumatoid arthritis, acute ulcerative colitis and pneumonia.”

Frey founded the Eagles along with Don Henley, Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon after the four musicians were assembled to play backup for a 1971 Linda Ronstadt show. It was just a year after that show when they recorded their debut album, Eagles (1972), a platinum seller that introduced the world to their California-tinged country rock. Of the debut album’s three big singles, Frey sang two: “Take It Easy” and “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” Henley sang “Witchy Woman,” which he co-wrote with Leadon.

“Take It Easy,” the lead single that gave music fans their first taste of the Eagles, was a collaboration between Frey and his friend and neighbor, Jackson Browne. As the story goes, Browne had written most of the song but was stumped after the line, “I’m standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona.” Frey suggested the unforgettable lines, “…Such a fine sight to see. It’s a girl, my lord, in a flat-bed Ford, slowing down to take a look at me.” Browne recalled the incident in a later interview, concluding, “…He finished it in spectacular fashion. And, what’s more, arranged it in a way that was far superior to what I had written.”

Frey and Henley worked together more for their critically acclaimed follow-up, the 1973 concept album Desperado. They co-wrote songs including the two hit singles “Desperado” and “Tequila Sunrise,” the latter of which was sung by Frey. The band began to settle into a configuration which had Frey and Henley sharing frontman duties, co-writing many of the songs while trading off lead vocals. It was a pattern that continued into their subsequent albums. Among their biggest hits featuring Frey on lead were “Already Gone” and “James Dean” from On the Border (1974), “Lyin’ Eyes” from One of These Nights (1975), “New Kid in Town” from Hotel California (1976) and “Heartache Tonight” from The Long Run (1979).

Here’s one music trivia question that Eagles fans love to answer: “What was the top-selling album of the 20th century in the U.S.?” Those who aren’t in the know think of Michael Jackson’s Thriller (which is, in fact, the top-selling album worldwide), Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, or Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. But the truth is that the 1976 Eagles compilation Their Greatest Hits (1971 – 1975), outsold them all and today stands as the bestseller of the century. 

Yet the Eagles were subject to plenty of criticism. Music critic Robert Christgau famously wrote in a 1972 Newsday article, “Another thing that interests me about the Eagles is that I hate them.” A Google search for “I hate the Eagles” turns up 27 million results, including a much-shared clip from the 1998 movie The Big Lebowski. The song “Hotel California,” certified platinum just on the strength of its more than a million downloads, has also been called “the worst,” “simplistic,” and “too long.” In the end, the fact that “Hotel California” is reportedly played on U.S. radio every 11 minutes is probably the truest assessment: love them or hate them, the Eagles are an indelible part of the music landscape and will be for a long time. 

Although the Eagles’ iconic status has withstood criticism, things haven’t always been rosy for the band. After a notorious 1980 feud between Frey and bandmate Don Felder, the group broke up. Within two years Frey had released his debut solo album, No Fun Aloud (1982), drawing positive reviews and moderately successful singles in “The One You Love” and “I Found Somebody.” 

Frey’s second solo album, The Allnighter (1984), sparked a partnership that would partially define his stardom. Top 20 single “Smuggler’s Blues” starred Frey in a stylish music video that played more like a mini-movie, with Frey as a smuggler who faces justice in the end. The video won a 1985 MTV Music Video Award and inspired an episode of the wildly popular TV drama Miami Vice, in which Frey made an acting appearance. The following year, Frey would co-write and perform the song “You Belong to the City” for Miami Vice, solidifying the association between the casually cool singer and the hit TV show.

After Miami Vice, Frey had a number of other small acting roles, making appearances on WiseguyNash Bridges and Arli$$ as well as starring in the ill-fated 1993 series South of Sunset, which was pulled after a single episode. On the big screen, he appeared in Let’s Get Harry (1986) and Jerry McGuire (1996).

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The Eagles reunited in 1994 – but Frey didn’t call it a reunion. “For the record, we never broke up,” he said onstage at the first show of their associated tour. “We just took a 14-year vacation.” The reunion came with an album, Hell Freezes Over, featuring new songs and Eagles classics. Additional concerts followed, as well as compilation discs and the 2007 album Long Road out of Eden, composed of all-new material. In 2013, the band released a documentary, History of the Eagles, and toured in support of it.

Don Henley wrote a loving tribute in the aftermath of Frey's death, including the description: “He was the spark plug, the man with the plan. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of popular music and a work ethic that wouldn’t quit. He was funny, bullheaded, mercurial, generous, deeply talented and driven.” Huey Lewis tweeted a tribute in which he called Frey “A brilliant songwriter and a really good guy. Talented, funny, cynical and sweet.” Bette Midler tweeted, “His songs, those sounds, perfectly captured those days. 70s LA...” They were just a few of the many friends and fans who mourned Frey publicly on hearing of his death.

Frey was a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, having been inducted with the Eagles in 1998. He and the band won six Grammy Awards and five American Music Awards. They were scheduled to receive the Kennedy Center Honors in 2015, but Frey’s illness prevented them from performing and they had planned to defer the honors until the 2016 ceremony.

Frey is survived by his wife, Cindy Millican, as well as their three children, Taylor, Deacon and Otis. 

We invite you to share condolences and tributes in Glenn Frey’s Guest Book.

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