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Alex Chilton Big Nashville Star Dies

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Alex Chilton, the pop hitmaker, cult icon and Memphis rock iconoclast best known as a member of 1960s pop-soul act the Box Tops and the 1970s power-pop act Big Star, died Wednesday at a hospital in New Orleans.

The singer, songwriter and guitarist was 59.

“I'm crushed. We're all just crushed," said John Fry, owner of Memphis' Ardent Studios and a longtime friend of Chilton's. “This sudden death experience is never something that you're prepared for. And yet it occurs."

Chilton had been complaining about his health earlier Wednesday, Fry said. He was taken by paramedics from his home to the emergency room but could not be revived.

Chilton and Big Star had been scheduled to play Saturday as part of the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. The band was also scheduled to play at the Levitt Shell in Memphis on May 15. It's unknown what will happen to those shows.

The Memphis-born Chilton rose to prominence at age 16 when his gruff vocals powered the massive Box Tops hit “The Letter," as well as “Cry Like a Baby" and “Neon Rainbow."

After the Box Tops broke up in 1970, Chilton had a brief solo run in New York before returning to Memphis. He soon joined forces with a group of Anglo- pop-obsessed musicians -- fellow songwriter/guitarist Chris Bell, bassist Andy Hummel and drummer Jody Stephens -- to form Big Star.

The group became the flagship act for Ardent's Stax-distributed label. Big Star's 1972 debut album, #1 Record, met with critical acclaim but poor sales.

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