Percy Sledge, who soared from part-time singer and hospital orderly to lasting fame with his aching, forlorn performance on the classic "When a Man Loves a Woman," died Tuesday of natural causes in hospice care in Louisiana. He was 74.
A No. 1 hit in 1966, "When a Man Loves a Woman" was Sledge's debut single, an almost unbearably heartfelt ballad with a resonance he never approached again. Few singers could have. Its mood set by a mournful organ and dirge-like tempo, "When a Man Loves a Woman" was for many the definitive soul ballad, a testament of blinding, all-consuming love haunted by fear and graced by overwhelming emotion.
The song was a personal triumph for Sledge and a breakthrough for Southern soul. It was the first No. 1 hit from Alabama's burgeoning Muscle Shoals music scene, where Aretha Franklin and the Rolling Stones among others would record, and the first gold record for Atlantic Records.
Atlantic Records executive Jerry Wexler later called the song "a transcendent moment" and "a holy love hymn." Sledge's hit became a standard that sustained his long touring career in the U.S., Europe and South Africa, and led to his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.
It was a favorite at weddings — Sledge himself did the honors at a ceremony for musician and actor Steve Van Zandt — and often turned up in movies, including "The Big Chill," ''The Crying Game" and a 1994 Meg Ryan drama named for the song's title.
Wilson recovering after mastectomy
Rita Wilson is recovering after undergoing a bilateral mastectomy for breast cancer. The 58-year-old actress and singer, who had been appearing in Larry David's play "Fish in the Dark" on Broadway, will return May 5, according to her publicist. Wilson, in a statement to People magazine, said Tuesday that she is expected to make a full recovery and credited getting a doctor's second opinion after initial breast biopsies found no cancer. "You have nothing to lose if both opinions match up for the good, and everything to gain if something that was missed is found, which does happen. Early diagnosis is key," she said.
canceled: A Nelly concert set for next week at Missouri State University has been canceled days after the rapper's arrest in Tennessee on suspicion of drug possession. A lawyer for Nelly, whose name is Cornell Hayes, said that the rapper will "not be associated with the contraband" once the facts come out.