Punk trailblazer Joe Strummer, the singer, guitarist and songwriter for the Clash–often credited for having brought punk rock to the masses–died Sunday of unknown causes at his home in the western England town of Somerset. He was 50.
“We do not yet know the cause of death, but we believe it was not suspicious and that he passed away peacefully,” a spokesman told Reuters Monday. “An autopsy will be forthcoming.”
The Clash formed in 1976 after Strummer met guitarist Mick Jones and linked up with bassist Paul Simonon and drummer Terry Chimes. Rolling Stone magazine called their 1977 debut album The Clash, “the definitive punk album,” but it was their follow-up double album in 1979, London Calling, that proved to be the best work of their career.
Featuring the rock single “London Calling,” the rockabilly track “Brand New Cadillac,” the reggae-inspired tune “Rudy Can’t Fail” and the Top 40 hit “Train in Vain (Stand By Me),” the album helped the band break down musical walls and proved punk’s viability in the U.S.
Strummer, who was born John Graham Mellor in Ankara, Turkey, was the son of a British diplomat. He wrote most of the band’s biggest hits, including “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” which delivered messages of anti-racism and social consciousness.
Although the Clash broke up in the ’80s, Strummer’s recent reunion with Mick Jones for a benefit in November and the band’s scheduled induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next year had sparked rumors of a possible reunion.
Strummer recently toured with his new band, the Mescaleros. At the time of his death, he was collaborating with U2 frontman Bono and Dave Stewart, formerly of the Eurythmics, on an AIDS awareness single.
“The Clash was the greatest rock band. They wrote the rule book for U2,” Bono told Reuters.
“He was one of the most important figures in modern British music, a powerful performer and wordsmith on a level with Bob Dylan,” Pat Gilbert, editor of British music magazine Mojo, told Reuters. “His music had compassion and vision, backed with an agenda to change the world for the better.”
Strummer is survived by his wife, two daughters and one stepdaughter.