Singer’s family pay tribute to ‘fierce and courageous’ star who died in Los Angeles hospital after years of battling drug problems and hepatitis C
Matthew Taylor, Martin Pengelly and agencies
Friday 1 January 2016
Her family said she died at Cedars-Sinai medical centre in Los Angeles due to complications from ongoing health issues.
“Natalie fought a fierce, courageous battle, dying how she lived … with dignity, strength and honour. Our beloved mother and sister will be greatly missed and remain unforgettable in our hearts forever,” read the statement from her son, Robert Yancy, and sisters Timolin and Casey Cole.
The singer had battled drug problems and hepatitis for many years. She had a kidney transplant in May 2009.
Fellow performers paid tribute on Friday night following the news of her death. Aretha Franklin said: “I am sorry to hear about Natalie Cole’s passing. I had to hold back the tears. I know how hard she fought. She fought for so long. She was one of the greatest singers of our time.”
Tony Bennett described her as “an exceptional jazz singer”. He said: “It was an honour to have recorded and performed with her on several occasions. She was a lovely and generous person who will be greatly missed.”
Dionne Warwick said she was “more like family than friend … My heart aches. My sincere condolences to her family and may she now rest in peace.”
The Rev Jesse Jackson tweeted: “#NatalieCole, sister beloved & of substance and sound. May her soul rest in peace. #Inseperable.”
The comedian Arsenio Hall said he named his bass guitar after her when he was in college. “As a young stand up comic I opened for Natalie Cole. She was all that, in all ways! (RIP ).”
Cole’s greatest success came with her 1991 album, Unforgettable … With Love, which paid tribute to her father with reworked versions of some of his best known-songs, including That Sunday That Summer, Too Young and Mona Lisa.
Her voice was spliced with her father’s in the title track, offering a delicate duet more than 25 years after his death. The album sold about 14m copies and won six Grammys, including album of the year, and record and song of the year for the title track.
While making the album, Cole said she had to “throw out every R&B lick that I had ever learned and every pop trick I had ever learned. With him, the music was in the background and the voice was in the front.”
Cole was also nominated for an Emmy award in 1992 for a televised performance of her father’s songs. “That was really my thank you,” she said in 2006. “I owed that to him.”
Another father-daughter duet, When I Fall in Love, won a Grammy in 1996 for best pop collaboration with vocals, and a follow-up album, Still Unforgettable, won best traditional pop vocal album of 2008.
Born in Los Angeles to Nat King Cole, who was already a well-known singer, and former Duke Ellington Orchestra singer Maria Hawkins Ellington, Cole was exposed to some of the greats of US soul music. By the age of six, she sang on her father’s Christmas album and by 11 was performing in her own right.
In 2008, she said: “I still love recording and still love the stage, but like my dad, I have the most fun when I am in front of that glorious orchestra or that kick-butt big band.”
In her 2000 autobiography, Angel on My Shoulder, Cole discussed how she had battled heroin, crack cocaine and alcohol addiction for many years. She spent six months in rehab in 1983.
When she announced in 2008 that she had been diagnosed with hepatitis C, a liver disease spread through contact with infected blood, she blamed her past intravenous drug use.
Cole received chemotherapy to treat the hepatitis and “within four months, I had kidney failure”, she told CNN’s Larry King in 2009. She needed dialysis three times a week until she received a donor kidney on 18 May 2009.
Cole toured through much of her illness, often receiving dialysis at hospitals around the world. “I think that I am a walking testimony [that] you can have scars,” she told People magazine. “You can go through turbulent times and still have victory in your life.”